Dispatches From Morocco: Protests In the Capital

I arrived at the protests this morning soaking wet. Overnight in Rabat, a rainstorm came through and didn’t end until lunchtime. However, that didn’t stop the thousands of Moroccan protesters who took to the streets of Bab el-Had in the country's capital demanding changes from the government.

Reports place the crowd count at anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 and by midday, Avenue Mohammed V, the main boulevard in the capital city, was engulfed with activists, young and old, inspired by their Arab state neighbors and hopeful that their voices would be heard. Their march, from the door of the old medina to the gates of the Parliament, was peaceful yet enthusiastic; respectful but unyielding. Among their chants, were “Stop Increasing the Number of Police, Start Increasing the Number of Schools,” “This is Morocco, God is Generous,” and refrains from the Moroccan national anthem. Signs read “The King Must Reign, Not Govern,” and “The People Want To Change the Constitution.”

One man walking silently in front of the large crowd held up a small placard that read “100% Peaceful,” an accurate assertion, especially considering the violent outbursts in nearby Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and Bahrain.

“We just want our voices heard,” a middle-aged man named Aziz told me. “We don’t want corruption in our government. We don’t want to live in poverty. We love our king but he is surrounded by a powerful entourage that must go.”

That entourage, according to Habiba Diouani, included Abbas El-Fassi, the Moroccan Prime Minister. “El-Fassi is corrupt,” Diouani said bluntly. “He takes government jobs away from Moroccans and gives them to his friends and family. He is corrupt and we want him to leave. We want them all to leave. The king is surrounded by a mafia. We want to elect our leaders, not have them chosen for us.”

Under Morocco’s constitutional monarchy, the king appoints the prime minister as well as the ministers of justice, foreign affairs, defense, interior, and religious affairs. He can also impose a state of emergency, dissolve parliament, and block laws — powers that Diouani and other protestors say must be checked.

Though the government had shut down the train and bus system running from nearby cities (a measure designed to prevent a mass influx of outside crowds), their attempts to limit the demonstrations were few. Notably absent from the scene were police officers. While they were scattered throughout the downtown area monitoring the scene from afar, some waved and smiled as the crowds passed by. A cab driver told me on my lunch break that the king had spoken earlier this morning, instructing the police to leave the protestors alone and let people express themselves freely.

While there is a general consensus among those gathered that the demonstrations will continue everyday until there is change, the government seems to think otherwise. “February 20 is February 20,” one cop told me. “They have a permit for today, but tomorrow, it’s back to normal.”

Photo Credit: Nathan Lean