Is Morocco Being Groomed For Another Arab Spring?

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Written and produced by SF Team: J.Hawk, Daniel Deiss, Edwin Watson; Voiceover by Oleg Maslov

In nearly every case of a forcible, West-led, regime change in the Middle East or Ukraine, the process began with low level public protests against a real or imagined abuse of power by security forces. Morocco’s current situation appears to follow the same scenario. The killing of Mouhcine Fikri, a fisherman who was crushed by a truck while attempting to retrieve fish that was confiscated by the police in October 2016, had sparked several waves of unrest and civil disobedience initially in the city of Al-Khoseima which later spread to other parts of the Rif region.

These protests quickly produced an informal leader, Nasser Zefzafi, a 39-year-old unemployed man with considerable rhetorical skill and a populist touch. Zefzafi’s demands quickly escalated beyond the initial case of Fikri’s death and included Morocco’s corruption, repressions, absence of investments and subsidies to the Rif region, onerous security forces’ presence, even Morocco’s foreign aid to African countries and the King Mohammed VI’s claim of supreme spiritual authority.

Zefzafi, moreover, demanded to enter into negotiations with the king himself rather than his representatives, a demand that was bound to be rejected due to its unprecedented nature. Interestingly, Zefzafi accused the king of having entered a scheme with Gulf Arab states in order to settle Arabs in Morocco, thus displacing the native Berbers.

Morocco’s government responded by dispatching a delegation with promised 1 billion euro over the course of five years and by accusing the protesters of separatism and, on May 29, arresting Zefzafi and other protest leaders who now stand accused of promoting separatism, encouraging rebellion, obtaining financial support from foreign powers, attempting a forcible regime change, which under Morocco’s criminal code may be punished by death.Ultimately 32 of the key activists were sentenced to 18 months of prison, while others received 2 or 3 month sentences.

Alas, far from tamping down on the unrest, the trial proved a rallying point for a variety of forces  which hope to capitalize on the protests and turn them to political advantage. About 600 attorneys representing the vast majority of legal offices in the country expressed willingness to challenge the ruling. In Rabat there was held a solidarity protest with up to 40 thousand participants which included such organizations as the February 11 Movement which appeared during the original Arab Spring, the Istiqlal Party which is now much diminished in spite of having won the country independence in the 1950s, and the Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane (Justice and Spirituality), a semi-legal Islamist association, which is tolerated by the Moroccan authorities. It also took part in protests of the Arab Spring with the slogan of introducing Sharia law in Morocco which refuses to participate in the legitimate political process and has a strong presence in Rif. Mohammed VI, clearly not wishing to see the situation escalate into bloodshed, recognized the right to protest and indicated the need to investigate why the 650 million euro development plan for Rif was not implemented.

Indeed, the economic situation in the Rif region is the reason why so many segments of society jumped on the bandwagon of protest, which is a recurring phenomenon in this part of Morocco. The most important form of economic activity is the…cultivation of cannabis and smuggling of Latin American narcotics from West Africa. Even though this is fairly lucrative trade, little of it trickles down to ordinary citizens, with government officials being accused of skimming off the profits. The poverty also prompted many of the region’s young men to join various terrorist factions in Iraq and Syria, and with the fighting in these two countries slowly coming to a close, these men now pose a threat to the long-term stability of Morocco.

Morocco is fortunate in that, unlike in the other cases of regime change, the wave of protests did not coincide with an effort by the US or other Western powers to overthrow its government. Washington appears pleased with the monarchy and is not calling on Mohammed VI to step down. Morocco’s main strategic rival is Algeria which seeks to wrest away Western Sahara, but is in no position to mount major actions of any kind. The unrest in Morocco did coincide with the Saudi-Qatari confrontation and, considering that various Moroccan factions have ties to either Saudi Arabia or Qatar, the future of this country’s politics will be influenced by the outcome of the Gulf power struggle. Mohammed VI is fairly close to the House of Saud and the UAE which are major investors in Morocco (investments in 2016 France – 22%, UAE – 15,2%, SA – 11,2 %, USA – 9,6%, Qatar – 7,8%).  According to some experts, in this situation, protests could be initiated by Qatar through several religious movements which are under its control.

One of the weakest aspects of royal power is the religious sector. The king has complicated relations with Islamic movements within the country. After the terrorist attack in Casablanca in 2003, Mohammed VI began actively strengthen personal power in religious institutions trying to achieve firm control over the religious sector. During his reign, new Islamic governance bodies were established, and many Islamic research centers were opened. Currently Mohamed 6, being a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohamed, is viewed as the highest religious authority in the country and the commander of the faithful (amir al-muminin). He positions himself as a defender of traditional moderate ‘maliki’ Islam. The Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidine and Morchidate, which was established in 2015, annually trains hundreds of imams from Nigeria, Chad, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia and France. Morocco, along with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is one of the world leaders in the field of Islamic education. This allows the country to influence foreign states. However, the king was not able to substitute fully for his control of the religious sector.

According to some experts, a significant part of Muslims within the country are affected by the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar. Qatar’s possible link to Morocco’s politics is the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) which has been pressing the king to relinquish part of its powers by allowing a new constitution. The PJD leader Abdelilah Benkiran for several years (November 2011- april 2017) was the prime minister of Morocco. The current prime minister Saadeddine Othmani is the incumbent PJD Secretary-General.  It is known that PJD has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Though PJD didn’t take part in the protests and there is no direct evidence Qatar was involved in stoking the protests, Qatar’s involvement cannot be ruled out. The Moroccan protests would have been advantageous to Qatar as a means of demonstrating the country’s ability to destabilize Morocco and therefore compel the Mohammed VI to stray from his Saudi-friendly position and, indeed, Morocco has not joined the Saudi economic and political blockade of Qatar.

For the moment, Morocco’s political future is not facing any clear threats. The country’s economy is performing reasonably well and the king is popular and has the backing of the army and security forces. The wild card, as usual, is the United States which has been known of turning on its own allies without a moment’s notice in order to achieve its economic objectives. It is possible that Morocco owns a golden share in the current conflict in the Gulf, this may affect the future of Morocco which may yet find itself the battleground for the struggles between the world giants. The Rif protests may have been simply the first volley of that war.

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  • Expo Marker

    Morocco and Algeria have remained stable despite what is going on in the region, and it would be a shame to see Trump and friends make a new bogus claim for regime change and overall destabilization.

    • Tom Tom

      Donald’s just a puppet like Obomber was (is).

  • Justin Ryan

    HI EVERYONE…
    CHECK OUT WHAT THIS PIECE OF SHIT WROTE!
    https://image.ibb.co/eB8tga/Screen_Shot_2017_08_05_at_2_10_19_pm.png

    • dutchnational

      Thanks for copying my comment on a totally other subject then this article.

      I wonder about the relevance here but as the anally obsessed person that you seem to be, I am not really surprised.

      Man, I just love your weird and irrelevant rantings. They make my day. One day I will publish a collection of them on one of your gay oriented sites.

      • John Whitehot

        it was some bs anyway because

        1: HTS is in no position to perform any significant attack, oppositely, it has learnt the hard way that trying to go offensive brings them unsustainable losses. To perform attacks like that they are lacking manpower, reserves, freedom of movement and some other things.
        Even if they did solve all the above problems and do as you suggest, it would only accelerate the end of their presence in Syria, as the SAA would quickly move forces and reserves into encircling and destroying them.
        “Hold two weeks”? are you kidding?

        2: As I already stated countless times, this is not 1915. The SAA has been encircled in Deir Ezzor by ISIS for years, yet it held its ground and it’s on the verge of being releived.
        In 2017 supplies and reinforcements have ways to be moved around, especially when distances are so short like in Syria and above all, you have uncontested air dominance.

        Hence your wishful statement of SAA collapsing everywhere is devoid of any sense.

      • Justin Ryan

        I am advertising WHO YOU ARE!
        I think u are a troll to this site!
        So I will troll the troll!
        It is posted on every page in order to reach the maximum amount of people!
        I want to make sure EVERYONE knows who u are!
        RAT!

        • Wahid Algiers

          Dutchnational is a Netherland who loves kurds because he is fucked by them at the railway station for free.

  • paul

    I have no real comment here except to say presentations like this
    emphasize the value of SouthFront. To be honest I know nothing about
    Morocco. At least now I have some idea of the situation whereas
    previously I had none.

  • Nigel Maund

    Very good brief analysis totally absent from Western MSM. SF is ahead of the pack in this type of analysis. Thanks to all the team! Morocco is the world’s largest supplier of super – phosphate for fertiliser having some 50% of global resources. The country hold’s an important strategic position and also has significant resources of cobalt, silver, tin, uranium, copper, lead and zinc.

  • Mohamed Charif

    As a Riffian from Alhoceima, you lied so much that i warn everyone against you.

    • gender studies engineer

      no, look, you need to give some valid arguments, which are the top 5 lies in this article? you can’t just say “it’s a lie” and walk away sir

      • Mohamed Charif

        First: the demands where not that of zefzafi but that of the people, and nowhere did we talk about the king or his authority.

        Second: nobody believes that the king wants to settle arabs in the rif, we are against sextourism(for the khaleej arabs) which the govermant supports indirectly.

        Third: most of the isis fighters from morocco come from the large cities and not from the rif, so he tried just to link a populare seculare movement with extremists. He tried to do this again by stating that the party of abdeslam yasine has a “strong” presence in the rif which is not true, it has some precence in nador but nothing in alhoceima.

        And many more mistakes
        He tried to link us with extremists and terrorist and separatist movements. This is and will be a human rights movement which demands basic rights.

        The history of the rif with morocco is longer than the arab spring, heck whe are not even arabs so whe have nothing to do with that.

        • heydad

          Thanks for your clear points, but I may think you took the narrative of this article to proclaim some anti-movement bias. My one point being that they only very lightly make ties to extremist, while this is almost in some way always the case. When the people are suppressed in their movements they may irrationally join into militant groups and the foreign fighters in Syria are paid very well considering economic status of rural Arab areas. But even if a few of supporters are radicalized, it shouldn’t tarnish the entire movement. As long as a movement can remain secular and doesn’t push for extreme forms of religious persecution, I think they should be allowed and addressed in a professional way. The article does make a solid point that these situations can be directly handled without overhauling the entire government, as long as major foreign powers do not intervene and boost the radicalization process.

        • French Patriot

          Si ton nom de famille est réellement Charif, c’est que tu dois avoir un peu de sang arabe! Peu importe le sang de toute façon! Ce qui n’enlève rien à ta qualité de fier Rifien! Peut-être même bien que tu es un des nombreux descendant de Mohamed saws, présents dans tout le Maghreb surtout en Algérie et au Maroc ;) ? Je vous souhaite que le Rif continue d’être protégé du tourisme sexuel et autres pathologies sociales et dégénérescence d’origine occidentale qui touche le reste du Maroc et bien du courage pour supporter l’Usurpateur qui tout en se réclamant du Prophète saws, prostitue et vend son peuple dont il a la responsabilité à la Corne Du Diable.

          Sorry my English is not so good.

  • Jonathan Cohen

    I appreciate mapping out the alliances and wish I had such a map for Congo especially, but I think the analyst may be reading too much into it as it looks to me like the protest origins are truly local. I wonder which factions defend abortion rights? if any? I guess if none do then I will get the popcorn and hope they all kill each other.

  • Keith Smith

    good video, interesting information

  • TrulyMe16

    Lo and behold! Since when did the king of Morocco, an indigenous Moroccan, become “a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohamed”? That idea has become the buzzword for just about all corrupt & unpopular Arab rulers .. using the name of the Prophet (pbuh) as leverage. The puppet kingdom of Jordan selecting the title of “Hashmite” also claims the same, and the bedouin oil-rich kings & sheikhs too … as if the Prophet’s lineage is on auction. Most certainly, none of these supreme idiots have any connection with the Prophet (pbuh). If these incompetent leaders want the support of the people, they should work hard to acquire it … and not falsely use the Prophet’s family.

  • TrulyMe16

    Regime change would only make matters worse ……

  • Sean Glennie

    Reminds me of a mission from a Hitman video game.