Activists from the Hirak Rif movement protesting in downtown Rabat against the marginalisation and impoverishment of the Rif region

Morocco has recently been hit by another round of protests and strikes. Most worrying for the authorities was the large demonstration held in downtown Rabat on 21 April to protest about the upholding of prison sentences for activists from the Hirak Rif movement.

The activists had led the mass protests in 2016 and 2017 that began in the impoverished and mainly Amazigh (Berber) Rif region. The regime responded heavy-handedly and arrested 42 activists including the ringleaders of the Hirak Rif movement.

The Casablanca Appeals Court upheld the sentences in April 2019 which sparked mass fury in the Rif region, prompting thousands to march on Rabat to demand the activists’ release and an end to the marginalisation and impoverishment of the mountainous Rif region.

These protests were particularly potent for the Moroccan state. The Rif issue has been an open sore for Morocco over decades. In the 1950s, King Hassan II sent thousands of troops into the region to put down a rebellion that was calling for social and political rights. Since then, the mountainous region has been subject to tough military and security measures, with little, if any, real development or investment in the area.  Added to this, there is a real sense within the Rif that the region has been abandoned by everyone and not only the authorities. The state’s insistence on trying to pass the Hirak Rif movement off as a foreign backed secessionist campaign is not helping matters either. Although some activists in the region would like to see the Rif become independent, the reality is that there is little appetite in the region for secession.

These protests are instead an expression of what are heartfelt grievances surrounding the lack of jobs, services — including healthcare and education which are both decimated — and opportunities, as well as at the regime’s locking up, in some instances for decades, of those who have tried to demand change.

With grievances mounting, it is becoming increasingly clear that the state’s long held policy of repression is insufficient to contain the anger. The region is a ticking time bomb that could explode at any moment unless the authorities respond and start to invest properly in the area.

This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive your free sample copy.

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