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Morocco's Spring: gone but not forgotten

The three-year anniversary of Morocco's February 20 movement failed to unite the nation.
Last modified: 21 Feb 2014 15:49

Three years ago, Rachid Belghiti was having an early breakfast with some friends in a downtown cafe in Rabat. The group was young and anxious. They had spent days and nights preparing for their D-Day – the February 20 movement was about to be born.

On that day, tens of thousands of Moroccans, took to the streets of the kingdom. They were responding to the call of a video posted on the internet by young girls and boys asking the people to demonstrate against the regime. The slogan was simple: "The people want the end of autocracy. The people want the end of corruption."

The protests were a success: Among those taking part were the young, old, girls, boys, rich, poor, seculars, conservatives, liberals, religious, veiled women. A political movement of Moroccan society was shaped on that Sunday, February 20, 2011.

It was an unprecedented occasion. The barrier of fear was broken. Authorities were watching. Security forces were on high alert. The country was holding its breath.

Seventeen days later, King Mohammed VI appeared on national TV to announce a drastic revision of the country's constitution. For the first time in Morocco's history, the head of state agreed to surrender some of his powers to an elected prime minister.

Smart moves

Observers say that move was a smart one. So to was refraining from the use of excessive violence against the protesters.

Elections were held on November 2011 and brought forth an Islamist government lead by the Justice and Development Party (PJD).

PJD’s militants were an opposition group. They used to claim – and still do - their Islamist background. During the November 2011 general election people gave them the lead, because other parties have long before lost all credibility. But there’s another explanation.

During the February 20 protests, PJD’s leader Abdelilah Benkiran came out to voice his opposition to the movement. Weeks later he was on the frontline defending the monarchy as the cement of Morocco’s society.

It was especially voiced by the man, who’s now Morocco’s prime minister, during the debates about the phrasing of the new constitution, mainly the discussions about the article on the freedom of belief and Islam as the state religion. Benkiran and his friends were adamant: new constitution or not, Islam must remain the country’s main source of law, and so was the Royal Palace conservative entourage.

Faded aspirations

And so, three years on, the voice of February 20 movement has faded away.

A call was launched to celebrate the third anniversary of the movement with demonstrations across the kingdom, but few answered the call; about 100 in Rabat; another 100 in Casablanca; and an average of 20 to 50 people in other cities and towns.

Belghiti, a blogger, looks back and says that it is time to move on and to forget about the Feb 20 movement as an organisation.

But for him, the spirit of the movement remains alive in the hearts and minds of all Moroccans.

The movement has died, he says, but its idea will live forever.