art of resistance, Morocco

Morocco | Death Of A Fish Salesman.

fish/Naples, Fish seller, painting by Keith Vaughan/

When a fish vendor was gruesomely killed trying to stop police destroying his catch, his death sparked Morocco’s largest protests since the Arab Spring. Sam Metz (Roads & Kingdoms) went to Al Hoceima to investigate the aftermath.

Metz writes:

“Protests lit up Al Hoceima almost immediately in the following days. They quickly spread across the country to cities like Rabat, Casablanca, Nador, Tangier, and Marrakesh. In each city, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets for planned demonstrations week after week to bring attention to hogra, a term that refers to shame and anger, specifically in the context of government subjugation. Many saw themselves and their own disillusionment with the Kingdom’s politics wrapped up in the story of Mohcine Fikri being ground to death.”

He continues:

“As protests spread throughout Morocco, the vigor of protests in Al Hoceima started to garner global attention. Newspapers compared Mohcine Fikri to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor whose self-immolation lit the match that started the Arab Spring. Despite the fact that Fikri does not seem to have forfeited his life willingly, there are some clear similarities: both were North African; both sold food; many observers saw them both as having been arbitrarily targeted by police; and their deaths became symbols for broader political grievances throughout their respective countries.

But, this comparison glosses over what makes Al Hoceima, Al Hoceima. Morocco is not Tunisia. Even before Fikri’s death, the Rif region has long held a reputation for being an epicenter of resistance and anti-government protest; a lot of these protests revolved around demands for regional autonomy and cultural recognition, a context Tunisia does not share. The people here identify ethnically as Amazigh, also known as Berber.

Unlike Morocco’s Arab majority, the Amazigh speak a different language, have different cultural customs, and remember the nation’s past differently. In the 1920s, led by Abdelkrim El Khattibi, Riffians, as the people of the region are known, declared themselves independent from both Spanish colonists and Moroccan Sultans. In the 1950s, this region also protested against the newly independent kingdom and later, in the 1980s, against the harsh rule of King Hassan II.

After Morocco gained independence, many Amazigh felt that the restored monarchy exercised the same kind of illegitimate control as the European colonizers. As Morocco began creating a new national identity, Amazigh history was erased, children were forced to speak Arabic in schools, and the region remained isolated and underdeveloped. This legacy was invoked during the Fikri protests, first in Al Hoceima, where protests were most energized, and later throughout Morocco as demonstrators flew Amazigh flags.

Moroccan authorities arrested eleven of those involved in Fikri’s murder for involuntary manslaughter and forgery in November and have arrested a twelfth man this month, a strong response that many observers felt was meant to dispel political anger. Protests have now recededed throughout the country, but in Al Hoceima, the underlying issues that Fikri’s murder brought to the forefront remain unchanged; the city and surrounding area are still victims of underdevelopment and governmental neglect.

In a time when Morocco invests heavily in industry and construction in other parts of the country and plans to build a high-speed train along the Atlantic coast, Al Hoceima continues to have some of the worst roads in the country, as well as comparatively higher unemployment.”

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Read the full story on Roads & Kingdoms.

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Libya

Libya: A Story Forgotten.

Libya. A story forgotten. In Bedtime Reading for the Unborn Child, Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa writes: “Night girl, night girl/your book is full now/You have drawn all the pictures/You have seen many weepers.”

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Unfortunately, it seems like it is still not time for dawn in Libya. The country was destroyed by a war prosecuted by NATO, and the wreckage is now more visible than ever. I went through the photos Magnum’s photographer Michael Christopher Brown took during the Libyan civil war in 2011. The paradoxes and ironies of these photos are so bitter and obvious, as I am reading news from Libya now, four years later.

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Gaddafi’s death (the killing of Gaddafi) didn’t bring freedom. And it didn’t bring peace. NATO’s intervention in Libya was not, as many have praised it, a humanitarian success. It wasn’t, as it was hailed, a ‘model intervention’. It was a boomerang that came back to beat up the people of Libya.

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Libya’s civil war continued, and the number of victimis (tens of thousands of civilians) continues to grow to this day. This so praised intervention was a model of failure (as most of the interventions are). We now know that Gaddafi did not initiate Libya’s violence by targeting peaceful protesters. The United Nations and Amnesty International have documented that in all four Libyan cities initially consumed by civil conflict in mid-February 2011—Benghazi, Al Bayda, Tripoli, and Misurata—violence was actually initiated by the protesters.

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That is not to say that Gaddafi didn’t have his sins and his share of wrongdoings. But NATO’s main goal in Libya was not protecting civilians, it was not ‘justice, finally’. Its primary aim was to overthrow Gaddafi’s regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans. And that is what happened.

NYC136529Libya is now a true victim of the Arab Cold War, where the regional entities are utilizing Libya as a battleground for their own particular policy, whether it’s Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on one side, or Turkey and Qatar, on the other. And now – the western governments remain silent. The American Embassy is no longer in Libya, it is in Malta. Not our business anymore.

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The two competing governments in Libya are mainly fighting about oil, of course. The people of Libya are left to wander in the dark abyss, forgotten and ignored by their government(s) and by the international community.

NYC136549It’s a state of total chaos. Radical Islamist groups, which were suppressed under Gaddafi, emerged as the fiercest rebels during the war. And it is not just Libya. Mali, which previously had been the region’s exceptional example of peace (and democracy) went through many changes. After Gaddafi’s defeat, his ethnic Tuareg soldiers of Malian descent fled home and launched a rebellion in their country’s north, prompting the Malian army to overthrow the president. In 2012, the northern half of Mali had become ‘the largest territory controlled by Islamic extremists in the world,’ according to the chairman ofthe U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa.

NYC136560And now we have ISIL. The whole MENA region changed drastically. Libya, Syria, Iraq, Egypt… You name it. As Riverbend wrote: “When will things improve? When will be able to live normally? How long will it take?” These questions, asked by the ‘regular’ people, the biggest victims of all the conflicts that ever took place on this great Earth, are met with silence.

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The silence, once again, drowns the screams. And peace? Peace is a dream buried by the indifference.

//all photos © Michael Christopher Brown/Magnum Photos, Libyan Civil War 2011//

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For more on Libya, I recommend reading Alan J. Kuperman’s Lessons From Libya: How Not to Intervene.

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