Morocco's teacher protests trigger political crisis after government violence
Hundreds of trainee teachers from different training centres across Morocco have been protesting and boycotting their training programmes since Thursday.
The protests came in response to calls by the National Coordination Committee against two recently issued government decrees.
The first decree cuts the amount of teacher training grants by half, reducing a teacher trainee's monthly stipend of 2,500 Dirhams ($252) to as little as 1,200 Dirhams ($121).
In a country with some of the lowest teacher income rates in the world, trainee teachers who barely survived on an already-low pay would therefore be forced to find other sources of income to make ends meet.
The second decree separates teacher training from recruitment. At the end of the one-year training programme, trainees would have to sit for a recruitment test, which would determine whether they get officially hired or not.
The second decree threatens to worsen the unemployment crisis already hurting Moroccan teachers.
According to the Finance Ministry, the 10,000 current trainee teachers across Morocco would have to compete for roughly 7,000 teaching positions, leaving 3,000 unemployed with an "unworkable" diploma.
Police and government response
In response, security forces violently dispersed the peaceful protests in several cities across the country, including Marrakesh, Casablanca and Inzeggane.
The heavyhanded crackdown on the protesting trainee teachers led to dozens of injuries.
Shocking images of the assault went viral on social media, sparking outrage and drawing local and international condemnations, with many people denouncing the excessive use of force by the police.
On Saturday, Morocco's security chief Abdellatif Hammouchi ordered a special committee to look into the violence that was used by some police officers to disperse trainee teachers during national demonstrations on 7 January.
According to local media, Hammouchi promised to take instant measures and impose sanctions against "any police officer found guilty of the use of excessive force during the events".
During a national gathering of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) on Saturday, the party president and head of government Abdelilah Benkirane insisted on going through with the two decrees.
"We won't cancel the two decrees regarding trainee teachers, even if this [the wave of protests] brings the government down," Benkirane stressed.
"I am ready to step down if I am found directly responsible for the violence that took place."
Benkirane's 'unpopular decisions'
Political analyst and co-founder of Morocco World News Samir Bennis blamed the policies adopted by Benkirane's government, including the one regarding education, saying that they "go against the aspiration of the Moroccan people".
"What happened on Thursday goes against the rights and principles enshrined in the 2011 constitution, especially article 22," Bennis told The New Arab.
According to article 22 of Morocco's 2011 constitution, "the physical or moral integrity of anyone may not be infringed, in whatever circumstance that may be and by any person that may be, public or private."
|The way in which teachers were dealt with sends the wrong message about the progress that has been achieved in Morocco since 2011.
- Samir Bennis
Bennis also argued that the government could have resorted to other ways to balance its budget deficit.
"The way in which teachers were dealt with sends the wrong message about the progress that has been achieved in Morocco since 2011," he explained.
"The government has to open channels of dialogue with teachers and seek a common ground that would meet their demands."
The Moroccan political analyst also predicted the "downfall" of the JDP in the next legislative elections if Benkirane continued to impose his "unpopular decisions", ignoring the "demands and concerns of the public opinion".
The two government decrees and the subsequent use of violence to disperse the trainee teachers' protests have sparked outrage and drawn condemnations by local and international parties.
The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) spoke out against the "brutal assault" on the young trainee teachers.
"The attack on the protesting trainee teachers is a brutal assault on the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed in all the international charters and conventions," ANHRI said in a statement on Sunday.
"It is a violation of the right to peaceful protests, and attempt to impose decrees and laws that affect the citizens' lives forcibly and violently, which are completely outdated methods."
|The attack on the protesting trainee teachers is a brutal assault on the right to freedom of expression that is guaranteed in all the international charters and conventions.
The Cairo-based human rights group also called on the Moroccan authorities to open a "rapid and transparent investigation" in order to identify those responsible for the attack, as well as to respond to the trainee teachers and hold a dialogue with them to reach solutions that match their demands.
In Morocco, the National Federation for Education Staff, which operates under the National Labour Union, condemned the "violence and oppression" used against trainee teachers, calling for an emergency meeting to discuss possible solutions.
The Federation also announced its decision to escalate against the education ministry to "defend members of the education system".
Nabila Mounib, Secretary General of the Unified Socialist Party, has joined expressed solidarity through the Arabic hashtag "don't touch my teacher".
In addition, a Moroccan activist launched an online petition on Thursday demanding that the officials responsible for the use of excessive force against trainee teachers be held accountable.
Under the title "together to punish anyone involved in the brutal oppression of trainee teachers", the petition has gathered 6,455 signatures out of its 7,500 target since its launch.