Can fresh Morocco protests build momentum for reform?
Thousands of activists took to the streets Sunday, but many Moroccans are satisfied at the pace of change in the kingdom, especially after King Mohammed VI's Friday speech promising reforms.
(Page 2 of 2)
They also suspect that the king is trying to rush a referendum on proposed reforms – he set the vote for July 1 – before mass resistance can be mobilized.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The activists push back
The pro-democracy movement – called February 20 (after the first day of widespread protests in Morocco) – is made up of the web-savvy youth, left-leaning parties, and Islamists.
Peaceful rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people. A few of these demonstrations have been violently dispersed by government forces but not as brutally as protests in much of the Arab world.
Athman Hajhamou and Maniar Othmane are engineering students and activists in Fes. They argue that those who support the king do so because they’ve never known any other alternative. The current dynasty has ruled for more than 350 years.
Unlike his father, the 47-year-old king remains popular for improving women’s rights and ordering a probe into tortures committed by the state during his father’s reign. More recently, Morocco has been accused of torturing Islamist figures suspected of terrorism after suicide bomb attacks killed 45 people in Casablanca on one day in 2003.
“You elect your leaders, you support them, and you can reject them,” says Mr. Othmane. “You don’t have to love your ruler; you love your country.”
Will the movement lose steam?
Some observers predict that the movement will lose steam. Unlike the regimes of other Arab countries, the monarchy in Morocco has a certain legitimacy that can’t be dismissed, analysts say.
“The February 20 movement is finished now, because the king has answered the people’s movement,” says Jawad Kerdoudi, head of the Moroccan Institute of International Relations, speaking by phone from Casablanca.
February 20 has more than 60,000 followers on Facebook and they are calling on people to study the draft of the constitution, but 44 percent of Moroccans are illiterate. Activists are concerned they may be "duped" by the king's speech.
“Change depends on the strength of the movement," says Athman, "its ability to mobilize, to protest on the streets, to keeps its peaceful nature, and for democratic forces to remain united.”