As the waves of protest inspired by Tunisia continue to roll across the Middle East and North Africa, analysts have remained puzzled by the mysterious timing, incredible speed and cross-national snowballing of these uprisings or intifadas. In the six months following the electrifying scenes of thousands occupying Avenue Habib Bourguiba in downtown Tunis, directing the imperative Dégage! (Get out!) at President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian “virus” has spread across the region, unleashing apparently similar moments of resistance and revolution. Yet a “back-door” view of the intifadas reveals wide variations.
Nearly 50 years after independence, the North African states of Algeria and Morocco face challenges to their national unity and territorial integrity. In Algeria, a
Morocco serves as the backdrop for such Hollywood blockbusters as Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and Body of Lies. The country’s breathtaking landscapes and gritty urban neighbourhoods are the perfect setting for Hollywood’s imagination.
Unbeknown to most filmgoers, however, is that Morocco is embroiled in one of Africa’s oldest conflicts—the dispute over Western Sahara. This month the UN Security Council is expected to take up the dispute once more, providing US President Barack Obama with an opportunity to assert genuine leadership in resolving this conflict. But there’s no sign that the new administration is paying adequate attention.
"And now no one wants to get married,” says Muhammad, describing the reaction among men at his mosque to Morocco’s 2004 reform of personal status law. “Everyone is afraid to.”
In late February 2007, Western Saharan nationalists celebrated the thirty-first anniversary of their government, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic. The official ceremonies did not take place in Laayoune, the declared capital of Western Sahara, but in the small outpost of Tifariti near the Algerian border. This is because most of Western Sahara is under the administration and military occupation of Morocco, which claims the desert land as its own.
"’Black locusts’ are taking over Morocco!" So ran the September 12, 2005 headline of al-Shamal, an Arabic-language Tangier newspaper, describing the forays of masses of in-transit sub-Saharan Africans trying to scale the security fences separating Morocco from the Spanish-ruled enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Moroccan authorities immediately banned al-Shamal for employing this racist language, but the press on both sides of the Mediterranean continued to use terms like “massive invasion” and “plague” to denote the sub-Saharan migrants’ repeated attempts in September and early October to escape from Africa into the territory of the European Union.
When primary school students in the major Berber-speaking regions of Morocco returned to class in September 2004, for the first time ever they were required to study Berber (Tamazight) language. The mandatory language classes in the Rif, the Middle Atlas, the High Atlas and the Sous Valley represent the first significant policy change implemented by the Royal Institute of the Amazigh [Berber] Culture, a government body established by King Mohammed VI on October 17, 2001, following through on a promise made in July of that year on the second anniversary of his ascension to the Moroccan throne.
Since King Mohammed VI ascended the throne in 1999, Morocco has created various bodies to pay cash awards to Moroccans "disappeared," imprisoned or tortured for their political beliefs under the reign of his king father. But there have been no trials of the jailers and torturers. Former prisoners continue to resist regime efforts to "turn the page" on Morocco's repressive past without genuine truth and accountability.
On July 31, 2003, the UN Security Council voted to "support strongly" former Secretary of State James Baker's proposals for resolving the Western Sahara dispute, the last Africa file remaining open at the UN Decolonization Committee. Baker has been the personal envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan since 1997, charged with making progress in the 1991 Settlement Plan for the Western Sahara even after Annan had damned it as a "zero-sum game," while also pursuing alternatives.
Fatna El Bouih was born July 10, 1955, in Benahmed, a village in Settat province. In 1971, she received a boarder's scholarship to Casablanca's prestigious girls' high school, Lycée Chawqi, and became active in the national union of high school students (Syndicat National des Elèves). Arrested the first time as a leader of the January 24, 1974 high school student strike, for her second arrest she was forcibly disappeared from May 17 to November 1977 in Derb Moulay Cherif, Casablanca's notorious torture center, with other women activists, such as Latifa Jbabdi, Ouidad Baouab, Khadija Boukhari and Maria Zouini. Transferred to Meknes Prison, they were held from 1977-79 without trial.
Within two months of the death of King Hassan II and the enthronement of his eldest son, King Mohammed VI in July 1999, a series of demonstrations erupted in the Western Sahara. This territory has been administered by the Kingdom of Morocco since 1976, though Morocco’s claim of sovereignty in the Western Sahara is not recognized internationally. Since September 1991, the United Nations has deployed a mission there to organize a referendum that would give qualified Sahrawi voters the choice of integration into Morocco or independence.
There’s a Moroccan expression similar to the English expression “the apple never falls far from the tree.” In Morocco, it’s phrased as a rhetorical question: “Where does wood come from? From the tree.” A year and a half after King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne, many Moroccans are wondering just how much the wood will be like the tree.
What are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention. If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it acquires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues people, it openly arrogates itself the title of kingdom.
— Saint Augustine