News  Small numbers and big hopes

Montreal-based Moroccans ask for constitutional reform

This article has been modified to reflect corrections.

There has been another uprising in the Maghreb, but it has been less publicized than most.

On Sunday, about 25 Moroccan children, students, and older community members gathered in front of the Moroccan consulate on René-Lévesque to reprimand the regime of King Mohammed VI, in subdued solidarity with their compatriots. Despite the perception of a repressive and scrutinizing Moroccan government, there has been a dearth of public and media interest relative to the attention garnered by similar protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

One woman on Sunday held a sign that read in French, “We want a Morocco without tyranny.”

An older protester, who identified himself as Assou and has lived in Canada for 11 years, emphasized that the Moroccan youth were fuelling the political uprising in his home country, and that the basic grievances were poverty and unemployment.

“We have assembled here in solidarity with the youth of Morocco, who have mobilized around the 20 février movement,” Assou said in French.

February 20 marks the day that Moroccans took to the streets for the first organized movement against a centuries-old monarchy, according to a 22-year-old international law student who withheld her name due to fear of reprisals.

The student said she has not seen “any city that didn’t go [protest], which is interesting for a country like Morocco, which has been silent for a very long time.”

She attributed the small numbers of demonstrators in Montreal to the fact that many Moroccan immigrants in Canada belong to a financially comfortable upper class. She added that ten large families control the economy and government back in Morocco.

Moroccans are demanding constitutional reform that would see the king relinquish his sacred title and the institution of parliamentary democracy, as in England or Spain. As it stands now, Moroccans cannot question his authority. They are also asking for a new prime minister and the liberation of all political prisoners.

The student gave the example of Ali Lamrabet – the only qualified international Moroccan journalist – whose ten-year ban on practicing his profession ends in 2015.

Royalty is cultural in Morocco – the King is said to have descended from the prophet and as such, is designated to be the commander of all believers.

Morocco has been pursuing an economic stimulus program with the aid of the IMF, World Bank, and Paris Club creditors, but the student claimed that the existence of a “Ministry of Palaces” demonstrates a blatant misallocation of public funds.

At press time, the Facebook group for the 20 février movement had over 31,000 members – most of whom participate in discussions under false names, according to the student.

Though largely peaceful, protests in Morocco have also witnessed self-immolation.

“A woman burnt herself two days ago,” said the student. “She left behind two kids. I have heard of five other such attempts,” she added.

An estimated 15,000 have been in the streets since February 20 but have been repressed by the police through mass arrests and kidnappings. The government claims that the Polisario – the UN-recognized national liberation front for the Western Sahara – is at the root of this public movement, according to the student.

The student also said she knew of a friend who spent two nights in jail because she was accused of being a Spanish spy.

“There have been over 200 arrests this past week. People with PhDs are sleeping in front of ministries, asking for their basic right to work. They are the brains of the country – how could you say they are betraying the country?” she asked.

In the original version of this article, the source was quoted as saying that Ali Lamrabet’s prison sentence ends in 2015, when in fact a state ban on his practise of journalism will expire in 2015. The student spoke anonymously because of fear of reprisals, not necessarily threats from the Moroccan government, as originally indicated.

The Daily regrets the errors.