Rabat – On Monday October 28, it was exactly three years since fishmonger Mohcine Fikri tragically died in a trash compactor in Al Hoceima, after trying to retrieve merchandise that had been confiscated by Moroccan police.
Last weekend, a protest took place in Paris in memory of Fikri, but also to draw attention to the situation in the Rif. Hundreds of protestors gathered to express their solidarity with the Hirak movement. The movement was sparked by Fikri’s death and took off under the leadership of Nasser Zefzafi, currently serving a 20 year prison sentence in Morocco.
Echoes of a Manifesto
Working as an entrepreneur in Belgium, Nourdine Aouragh’s roots can be traced back to Ait Touzine, one of the largest tribes living between Nador and Al Hoceima. He told Morocco World News: “I came this weekend to express my solidarity with the Hirak movement and to pay my respects to the legacy of Fikri. I actually have a strong connection with the region, since my grandfather is from the Rif himself”
But the protest in Paris did not only attract supporters such as Nourdine, but also more outspoken intellectuals. As a Dutch-Moroccan, Laila Ezzeroili is one of the signatories of the recently signed manifesto, calling for the right to give up the Moroccan nationality.
As one of the attendees of the protest, Ezzeroili witnessed how Moroccans of varying backgrounds gathered this weekend. “The solidarity with the Hirak movement was expressed by many protestors among the Moroccan diaspora. The flags of France, the United Kingdom, Norway, Spain, Catalonia and even a rainbow flag weaved into the Amazigh flag, were all present at the protest.”
“The Hirak movement has created a newfound sense of citizenhood among Moroccans who are living in Europe. And with that a profound sense of gratitude for the freedom and democratic rights you can exercise,” Ezzeroili explained to MWN.
In addition to expressing solidarity, Ezzeroili claims Moroccans in Europe echoed the spirit of the manifesto. “Moroccans in Europe express they want to be free from the long arm of Rabat too.”
Not unlike Nourdine, Ezzeroili has an emotional connection with the Rif too. “I actually have family living in the Rif who are putting up with disastrous living conditions. The only difference there is between myself and my cousins, is that they were not born in Europe. That is how I can relate to them and stay connected with the people who are living in the Rif.”
“I have no need for or interest in a relationship with the Moroccan state. However, the Moroccan nationality binds me to the state, not to the people,” Ezzeroili concluded.
Outrage and condemnation
The protest in Paris led to widespread outrage and condemnation when protesters burned a Moroccan flag. The Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad (CCME) strongly condemned the action on Sunday by stating, “it was a serious violation of one of the symbols on national sovereignty and the dignity of Moroccans.”
As Secretary-General of the CCME, Abdellah Boussouf added, “The desecration of the national flag is a criminal act that has nothing to do with freedom of expression.”
Politicians did not only take their outrage to social media, but collectively responded to the action by singing the national anthem in parliament on Monday. Salah El-Ouadie, as president of the political movement ‘Damir’ and member of the Civil Initiative for the Rif, stated that these people “burned their own skin with this flag,” as reported by media outlet Hespress.com.
Not only did politicians express their outrage, but within academic circles professionals condemned the action as well. Political Scientist Omar Cherkaoui stated the action was “neither heroism nor victory. It is the culmination of futility and carelessness,” Barlamene reported on Monday.
And various organisations at home and abroad condemned the action as well. President of l’Association Grand Rif des Droits de l’homme, Said Chramti, took his anger to social media by releasing a video of himself. Chramti stated in the video that, ”we strongly condemn this action, carried out by a small group of separatists who burned and trampled the flag of Morocco on French soil,” as reported by media outlet HuffPost Maghreb.
The Brussels based organisation ‘MarBel’ denounced the action in Paris and stated that the action was “despicable and cowardly.” In addition, the French organisation l’Association des tribus sahraouies marocaines en Europe (ATSME) decried the action as “hideous”, according to Atlasinfo.fr.
Working as a freelance journalist, Yassin Akouh points out the action is not necessarily new however. “Back in 2015 the boxer Zakaria Moumni tore his Moroccan passport on French television, while talking about his book ‘L’Homme qui voulait parler au roi’ [The man who would like to speak to the king],” he explained to MWN.
“And last year we saw how a group of young students protested the sudden decision of the Moroccan government to maintain Day Light Saving Time (DST) by trampling on the Moroccan flag,” Akouh concluded.
Last year, Rabat was the stage for the Hirak march, after the controversial sentencing of 54 Hirak activists. In Paris too the protestors, hoped to draw more international attention to the living conditions in the Rif, reiterated their demands for the release of the condemned prisoners and for the Moroccan government to resolve the complex situation in the region.