Guest essay by Eric Worrall
In less than a week, the COP22 international climate conference will convene in a country which has over the last few days witnessed mass protests, sparked by the brutal crush death of a fish merchant in the back of a government garbage truck. The protests and demands for justice have been compared to the crisis which toppled the government of Tunisia in 2011.
Morocco’s Al-Hoceima protests reflect ‘a heavy legacy’
Moroccans are demanding a thorough investigation over the death of fish vendor Mouhcine Fikri.
Marrakesh – Moroccans protesting over the gruesome death of a fish seller have vowed to continue demonstrating until the full truth surrounding his death is known.
Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed to death in a rubbish truck on Friday, as he reportedly tried to protest against a municipal worker seizing and destroying his wares.
Last Friday evening, police had confiscated all of Fikri’s merchandise – about $11,000 worth of swordfish, according to media reports – a species protected in Morocco. Moments later, Fikri and his friends tried to retrieve as much of the fish as they could.
In a video recorded by a mobile phone that went viral over the weekend, his friends are seen jumping out of the lorry. Fikri, who was slightly heavier and less agile, remained stuck inside and was crushed by the grinding mechanism of the truck.
A photo of his lifeless body inspired outrage nationwide.
In 2011, when protests swept the Arab world, Moroccans also took to the streets. Demonstrations, led by the February 20 movement, demanded more social justice and more freedoms but never called for a regime change.
King Mohammed VI quickly responded by pushing for a new constitution that was passed after a referendum. A few years on, the country is still facing most of the problems that sparked the demands for change.
So far King Mohammed VI appears to have handled the situation with restraint, but the situation in Morocco still seems very much at crisis point. With large numbers of reporters, functionaries, and politicians converging on Marrakesh, ordinary Moroccans, fast running out of patience with the slow pace of reform, have an unprecedented opportunity to attract global attention to their plight.
Moroccan authorities have a fine line to walk, between ensuring the security of VIP conference delegates, ensuring the protests stay peaceful, and avoiding more authoritarian outrages which might tip the ongoing unrest into a full scale violent revolution.
The clumsy and callous brutality displayed by at least some government employees does not inspire confidence that Moroccan authorities will avoid further bloodshed and unrest.