Morocco: Rabat Protests

Scattered protests flared in Rabat during the evening of Tuesday May 24 as a crowd of approximately 100 youth demanded that the government answer to the rampant problem of poverty and unemployment.

“People are suffering. There is no work,” said one protester, who would not give his name for fear of the authorities. “These are college graduates and they can't find jobs,” he said, pointing to the crowd.

He went on to explain that this evening's protests are part of the ongoing youth protest movement throughout Morocco, with such demonstrations occurring daily on Muhammad V Avenue and larger mobilizations taking place every Sunday. “This is happening in the whole Arab world,” he declared.

Protesters proceeded down Muhammad V Avenue, which runs past Parliament to the entrance of the Old City, chanting slogans: “We want human rights,” and “They are spending millions on the Festival Mawazine while we don't have jobs.” This annual festival brings international and regional celebrities to perform concerts throughout Rabat, with this week's lineup including big names such as Cat Stevens, Kanye West and Shakira. These lavish concerts are provided for free every year by the government.

The crowd was scattered by three dozen police wielding batons, with roaring sirens indicating that more police were on the way. Within minutes, the demonstrators regrouped near the entrance to the old city, where they were then met by an encroaching police presence. A protester, who also did not give her name, explained that the police have been much more violent in recent days. “Police have gotten extremely repressive,” she said. “They are not tolerant of journalists.”

Morocco has seen an escalation in demonstrations calling for pro-democracy reforms and an end to poverty, in conjunction with the wave of protests and revolutions sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Launched by a massive protest on February 20 of this year, these ongoing mobilizations have been termed the “February 20th Movement,” and have been met with harsh police repression, including riot police beatings of nonviolent demonstrators in Rabat last Sunday that garnered international attention.

King Muhammad VI is a close ally to the United States government, which is a major arms provider for the protracted Moroccan military occupation of Western Sahara. A 2006 Free Trade Agreement established Morocco as a “privileged” trading partner of the Middle East and Muhammed VI has repeatedly drawn praise from the Obama administration for his alleged embrace of democratic reforms.