Arrest of protest movement leader divides Moroccans on social media
Casablanca- The arrest of the leader of a protest movement that has gripped Morocco’s northern Rif region for seven months has divided Moroccans.
A prosecutor ordered the arrest of Nasser Zefzafi after he allegedly “obstructed, in the company of a group of individuals,” a preacher’s sermon at the Mohammed VI mosque during Friday prayers.
Zefzafi, the leader of the emerging al-Hirak al-Shaabi — Popular Movement — and four of his friends were arrested on May 29 in Al Hoceima and sent to Casablanca for questioning.
Officials said 40 people had been arrested as of late May in connection with disturbances in Al Hoceima, Imzouren and Beni Bouayach. The prosecutor said in a statement that those arrested would be investigated for allegedly “undermining the security of the state and other criminal acts.”
“Have we entered into new years of lead, a new reign version?” Moroccan writer Jaouad Mdidech wrote on Facebook. “Anger against injustice is not treated by repression, torture and political imprisonment. The past has shown it. This anger must be treated by listening and dialogue, by deep reforms.”
However, others on Facebook accused protest leaders of seeking independence for the region after some protesters were seen holding up the flag of the Rif republic, which existed from 1921-26.
“Zefzafi is a great racist. If he wants to defend Moroccans’ rights, he only has to raise the Moroccan flag. Why is he satisfied with the Rif flag?” wrote Naima Berrada. “He seeks to separate us. He seeks to destroy Morocco and wants to turn it into the situation of Syria or Iraq.”
Prior to his arrest, Zefzafi insisted that “they’re not separatists.”
“Our demands are social and economic. It has never been about creating an independent state,” he said.
Authorities accused the protest leaders of receiving money and other support from abroad “to carry out propaganda activities.”
The restive Rif region has been a scene of regular protests since the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri, who was crushed in a rubbish truck last October in Al Hoceima as he apparently tried to protest the seizure and destruction of hundreds of kilogrammes of swordfish, which are not allowed to be caught in autumn.
Fikri’s death sparked a grass-roots movement demanding social justice, jobs and health care.
A large government delegation, headed by Moroccan Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit, visited Al Hoceima province in late May to quell the protests.
The delegation’s mission was to evaluate projects in the province and consult with local officials. It sought to renew the dialogue and accelerate the development projects, one of the main demands of the popular movement.
Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Aziz Akhannouch said during the visit that “there are solutions to all the problems,” reaffirming the government’s support for local fishermen.
First Vice-President of the Brussels Parliament Fouad Ahidar, who is originally from the Rif region, called for dialogue between the government and protest movement.
Ahidar, who was one of the last people to meet with Zefzafi before his arrest, told Medias24 that “Zefzafi insisted that people were not going to listen to the government’s proposals because these same people have designated him as responsible for al-Hirak al-Shaabi.”
“If today we want to find concrete solutions to this problem, we will sooner or later sit down with these people and discuss with them,” said Ahidar.
Thirteen intellectuals and activists released a statement in support for “satisfying the legitimate demands of the inhabitants of the Rif,” citing the need to find “radical solutions” to the issues raised by the demonstrators.
The signatories listed seven conditions for the success of this dialogue, including the recognition of the legitimacy of the social, economic and cultural demands of the Rif and breaking with all the accusations of treason directed at the protest movement.