Euphoria of Morocco's Arab Spring has fizzled out

Euphoria of Morocco's Arab Spring has fizzled out
3 min read
18 February, 2021
Morocco has surpassed dissent in the kingdom, after a short protest campaign during the Arab Spring.
Protesters accused the state of crushing human rights. [Getty]
Ten years after Morocco's short-lived protest movement, campaigners say rights in the kingdom have been rolled back and the authorities are using smear tactics and fear to silence dissent.

Activist Fouad Abdelmoumni, 62, says the "methods of intimidation" and "regression of freedoms" in the north African country are now worse than in his student days when he was jailed for five years.

Moroccan authorities prefer to see things in a different light.

"Morocco isn't a paradise for human rights but, at the same time, it's not a hell riddled with violations as some people are trying to falsely make out," Human Rights Minister Mustapha Ramid said in a statement to AFP.

Ramid himself took part in the protest movement named after its February 20, 2011 launch, which erupted amid the wave of demonstrations sweeping the Middle East a decade ago.

He insists that since then Morocco has undergone a "palpable and continuous evolution" towards an improvement in civil rights.

In the heat of the Arab Spring, thousands of Moroccan demonstrators took to the streets demanding "more social justice, less corruption and less autocratic rule".

 

King Mohammed VI moved quickly with a promise of reforms.

A new constitution was adopted with provisions to boost civil liberties and promote the independence of the judiciary, the powers of the head of government and of parliament, while retaining the monarch at the centre of Morocco's political system.

But once popular discord was appeased, the official strategy has been to "terrorise the intellectual elites capable of offering another perspective and negotiating change," Abdelmoumni said.

He says he has been the target of a "campaign of defamation aimed at silencing" him.

Last year, his relatives received on WhatsApp a video of his sex life, which he said appeared to have been filmed by two small cameras hidden in the air conditioning unit of his bedroom.

Civil society groups last year called for a halt to the "public lynching" of and the "sexual accusations" against opposition figures, and even the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) which won elections in 2011 issued a statement in January condemning "defamation campaigns against public figures and activists".

Minister-turned-critic

Among those targeted has been Mohamed Ziane, a 77-year-old former rights minister turned critic of the regime.

In November, an internet television channel broadcast compromising images of a sex-scene which claimed to show Ziane, a lawyer at the time, meeting up with a married client.

"Such methods are worthy of the worst police state!" the former deputy angrily told AFP. He has denied that he is the man seen in the images.

The interior ministry has hit back by charging him with insulting state institutions.

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Amnesty International regularly accuse Rabat of stifling critical voices, such as journalists Souleimane Raissouni and Omar Radi who have been held for several months on rape charges.

Ramid counters that Morocco is "committed to abiding by its international commitments in the field of human rights”.

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"Errors can be made here and there" but this "by no means constitutes a general and methodical state policy," the minister said.

His party, the Islamist PJD, has called for the "right formula to be found to release ... the detained journalists, in the name of a spirit of fairness and reconciliation".

At the end of last month, however, 60-year-old historian and outspoken rights activist Maati Monjib, was sentenced in absentia to one year in jail for fraud and endangering state security.

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