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Morocco Rocked by Protests and Arrests

By Albert Nachmani | The Media Line

November 2, 2016

Protesters shout slogans in the northern city of Al Hoceima on October 30, 2016, following the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri, who was crushed to death on October 28 in a rubbish truck in Al Hoceima, as he reportedly tried to protest against a municipal worker seizing and destroying his wares. Getty Images
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King Mohammed VI orders investigation into death of fish vendor

The death of a Moroccan fish vendor crushed in a garbage truck has sparked mass protests throughout the country, spurring King Mohammed VI to order a thorough investigation which has led to the arrest of 11 people, according to Moroccan officials.

Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was killed last Friday night in the northern city of Al Hoceima while trying to salvage a large quantity of swordfish confiscated by local police. Graphic video of Fikri jumping into the back of a garbage truck and being crushed to death circulated on social media, spurring thousands to attend Fikri’s funeral and triggering widespread protests in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez and smaller cities.

Morocco’s official news agency, MAP, said that “the public prosecutor at the Al Hoceima’s appeal court decided to bring before the examining judge 11 people, including two policemen, the head of the fisheries delegation department, and the chief of staff of the veterinary department for report forgery and manslaughter following the death of Mouhcine Fikri.”

In a statement made to Moroccan news site le360.ma on Tuesday, Mohamed Aqwir, Al Hoceima’s public prosecutor, said that a preliminary investigation had established that there was no order to kill or harm Fikri.

The statement explains that Fikri’s swordfish, a protected fish which may not be harvested between October 1 and November 30, was confiscated by police who then ordered its destruction by a garbage truck, whose operator demanded a formal order of destruction. The order he received from authorities turned out to be a forgery.

“At that moment, the compactor began running, following the activation of machinery on the rear right side of the truck, which caused the death of the deceased, Mouhcine Fikri,” the statement said.

It was not clear how the compactor was activated. The prosecutor’s office concluded that the death was an “involuntary homicide”.

Slogans chanted at the demonstrations included “Down with the Makhzen”, referring to the system of power in Morocco, and references were made to “hogra”, a term which refers to the authority’s contempt for the people and a deep sense of injustice felt by citizens.

“The whole incident was carried out illegally: Fikri’s car was detained illegally, his products were destroyed illegally. It was not the job of the municipal workers asked to destroy the fish, as demanded by the police,” Taïb Madmad, the Secretary General of the AMDH –- the Moroccan Human Rights Association — told The Media Line. “All of Al Hoceima’s authorities, including the director of the city’s port, were involved in this crime.The massive protests are an expression of the Moroccan people’s anger at the authority’s disdain for their rights and the government’s sense of impunity.”

Madmad said that King Muhammad VI’s rapid response in the form of asking the interior minister, Mohammed Hassad, to visit Fikri’s family and ensure a “meticulous” investigation was just a move to appease the growing anger that is widespread, especially among Morocco’s youth.

Madmad told The Media Line that “the AMDH demands the government carry out an honest investigation regarding all the authorities involved and that the flouting of citizen’s rights should come to an end with the ultimate goal being the establishment of a true democracy.”

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy whose king’s vast powers include appointing and dismissing cabinet ministers, vetoing parliamentary legislation and dissolving the Parliament. As Mohammad Daadaoui of The Middle East Institute wrote: “All royal decisions are sacred since they emanate from the Amir Al-Mu’minim [Commander of the Faithful as the King claims to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad], whose will is divine. The King dominates the constitutional edifice from the height of his spiritual rank.”

Contrary to reports in the media comparing these protests to those that took place in Tunisia that led to the Arab Spring, Intissar Fakir, the editor in Chief of Sada at The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Media Line that “these demonstrations will not destabilize the monarchy; they are an expression of public outrage, the need to hold someone accountable for the incident. This is not a revolutionary movement but a movement of genuine public outcry.”

“The main grievance the people have is ‘hogra’ – the disdain authorities have for ordinary citizens, and the oppression they experience at the hands of the government”, Fakir continued. “These demonstrations show the willingness of the people to express themselves. There is more law and order in Morocco than in other Arab countries; people go out and vote more as was seen in the latest elections last month in which the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won a plurality of seats in the directly elected House of Representatives.”

Fakir was dubious as to whether or not the government’s investigation will address the underlying core issues of civil liberties. Echoing the sense of grievance and of powerlessness prevalent in Morocco she asks: “How does one instill a culture of respect for human rights and accountability?” One can only hope that Fikri’s death will bring Morocco closer to answering that question.

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