The Moroccan rapper, Mohamed Mounir (a.k.a. Gnawi) was sentenced to one year in prison for offending public officials and public bodies. The charges relate to a live social media post from October in which Gnawi ranted against the police after they had stopped him and checked his identity papers. Gnawi — who later said he was drunk when he did the live stream — felt he had been mistreated by the police and was venting his anger online.
However, the real reason for Gnawi’s arrest was a video that he posted online of him and two friends performing a rap song called Aâcha El Chaâb (Long Live the People). It was a bold and angry statement about life in Morocco. He and his colleagues condemn poverty, torture, drug abuse and corruption in the kingdom in the most explosive and hard hitting of ways. The lyrics include the following words:
I am the mother who was left behind, whose children died at sea;
I am the father who sacrificed his children because you threw them to the border;
I am the tortured citizen;
I am the humiliated poor;
I am the graduate who is beaten;
I am the Rifi, who dreams of the a more beautiful Rif’
As if the reference to the impoverished Rif wasn’t enough, it also refers to the ‘man from the Rif’ and the ‘free man behind bars.’ This relates to Nasser Zefzafi —the leader of the Hirak Rif protest movement — who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2018 for ‘threatening state security’. The song also bitterly complains that those who dare to speak out are treated as ‘Islamist extremists or terrorists.’
Even more controversially, however, the rap is a blatant and furious attack on the King and those around him. The title of the song, ‘Long live the poor’, is clearly a play on ‘Long live the King’. The lyrics also play on the King’s title of ‘Commander of the Faithful’ (Amir al-Mumineen), with the lines, ‘The addict’s Commander wears the cape of faith’.
The lyrics also refer to the King’s men as ‘dogs’, or ‘dogs of the state’ who oppress its people. They contain the line, ‘The sons of dogs put our dreams in handcuffs so that we would remain their slaves’. They also talk about ‘repressive dictators.’
With such a direct attack against the King — an absolute red line for Morocco — it is evident why the rap caused such a stir. Gnawi, through the choice of his penname, would appear to be placing himself in the same tradition as the Gnawa bands that have protested against the state — such as Nass Al-Ghiwane and Jil Al-Jilala — but for many Moroccans, this was a step too far.
As the Al-Youm 24 website described, ‘We are faced with a political song the likes of which Morocco has never known in terms of clarity, directness, strength of message, and speed of spread’. The video went viral, notching up more than 8.5 million views within just a few days of being posted on YouTube, and with that number currently at over 14 million.