When Morocco’s pro-democracy movement first took to the streets on February 20, the government was fighting a war behind the scenes to destroy it, while in the meantime it was embracing it in public.
On the one hand, security services and their servants tried to sow divisions within the group and launched a smear online media campaign against it. On the other hand, they were embracing it in public. During a visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said, referring to the group, “We are proud of them.” The government initially did not expect a movement born in the sphere of virtual communication to gain momentum and reach a level where it would threaten its political agenda and the interests of those in power.
In the recent weeks, when the movement grew in power and became seriously challenging to the status quo, authorities started to brand it as a collective mass of extremists made up mainly of the outlawed Islamist Justice and Charity Group and the Marxist Democratic Path.
These groups are perceived as threats to the democratic process, and because they are part of the February 20 movement the latter is also lately portrayed as an obstacle to stability and to the alleged democratic course taken by the government. By the government I mean the ruling establishment not the cabinet, which is made up of ministers who come and go.
Following last Friday’s speech by King Mohammed VI in which he unveiled a daft constitution and called upon political parties to mobilize the people to vote “yes” for the project in a referendum scheduled for July 1, there was speculation that the protest movement would disintegrate as the demands of some of its components, mainly the Amazigh cultural movement, were allegedly answered in recognizing Amaizgh as an official language of Morocco.
The speculation proved inaccurate as thousands of people took to the streets in different cities to denounce the constitutional reforms and to demand a genuine democratic change in the country.
Almost all the components of the February 20 movement criticized the draft constitution and called the changes cosmetic. The giant masses of people who marched peacefully in the cities of Casablanca, Tangiers, Fes and even Marrakesh, which is still recovering from the shock of a terrorist attack, are a proof that the conflict between the establishment and the opposition is still alive. Even more, the protests and the recent government reaction to them signaled that Morocco is going down a dangerous slope.
The establishment will rely on the elites revolving in its orbit and on the majority illiterate and low-educated masses to support the constitutional reforms. But the educated people from student unions and opposition groups, who tend to be conduits of political change, are unlikely to be tamed.
Before the draft constitution is passed, I see that there is a door of opportunity to revise things and engage in an honest dialogue with the only real opposition group we currently have in Morocco, the February 20 movement. After the constitution is passed, the chances to diffuse tension will be less.
Originally published on english.alarabiya.net on June 20