Morocco

By Cyana Chilton

            Morocco’s protest movement was launched on Feb. 20, 2011 by a youth coalition. The demonstrations spread to major cities – including Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Fez and Marrakesh – in March and April.

           Unlike other regional leaders, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI responded to the burgeoning opposition with political initiatives. On March 9, he announced that Moroccans would go to the polls in July to vote on constitutional reforms, including provisions to diffuse his sweeping powers as head of state and mosque. Other concessions, including pay hikes, prevented Morocco’s protests from gaining greater momentum over the next four months.

            But in early June, protester Kamal Amari died of injuries suffered when security forces cracked down on a protest in Safi. By June 5, demonstrations had grown to unprecedented numbers, with 60,000 people turning out in Rabat and Casablanca to rally against police brutality.

            Anger dissipated after the July 1 constitutional referendum was approved by a majority of voters. The constitutional revisions transferred some of the king’s powers to the prime minister, although the monarch remained Morocco’s highest religious authority.

            In November 2011, the Justice and Development Party (PJD)—a moderate Islamist movement that had run and won seats in earlier elections—won a plurality in parliamentary elections for the first time. The PJD then formed a coalition government with two secular parties.

           For the next year, the party struggled to appease conservative Islamists – by introducing strict rules for state television programs, for example – as well as secular and liberal forces. Tensions flared particularly in April 2012 when Amina el Filali, 16, killed herself after being abused in her marriage to a man she had accused of rape. The case, which sparked protests, petitions, and a general public outcry—prompted the government to alter a so-called family law that had allowed rapists to escape prosecution if they married their victim. Other comparatively smaller protests in Morocco continued almost weekly in the larger cities.

           On Aug. 12, 2012 hundreds of Moroccans protested in major cities against corruption and the high cost of living. On September 13, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca to protest against an anti-Islam film. Ten days later, 500 supporters of the February 20 Movement marched in Rabat to condemn political detentions.

Chronology 2011

Feb. 20: Youth-led protest mobilizes 37,000 in Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Tangier to protest the king’s powers. The first protest on Feb. 20 gives the new opposition its name—the February 20 Movement. Five die after trying to loot a bank that was set on fire during the demonstrations.

March 9: King Mohammed VI announces a July referendum on proposed constitutional revisions.

March 13 and 20: Tens of thousands in more than 60 cities protest corruption and demand reform. Police injure dozens in Casablanca on March 13.

March 22–25: Several hundred teachers demonstrate in Rabat for better pay and benefits. On March 25, several are injured by police.

April 14: The king pardons or shortens the sentences of 190 prisoners, including affiliates of an Islamist political party.

April 24: Thousands attend February 20 Movement protests.

April 27: The government raises public sector salaries and pensions, private sector minimum wages, and state subsidies.

April 28: A Marrakesh café frequented by foreigners is bombed, killing 16 and wounding more than twenty. The bombing is attributed to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

April 29: Rachid Nini, editor of al Massae newspaper, is arrested and accused of threatening national security. Nini had published articles exposing government corruption. He is later sentenced to a year in prison.

May 1–29: On Sunday throughout May, thousands protest the April 28 bombing and demand further reforms. Trade unions participate for the first time since February. Police beat protesters on May 15, 22, and 29. Kamal Amari, a Safi protester, sustains major injuries on May 29.

May 6: Police arrest three for the April 28 Marrakesh bombing.

May 13: Youth and Sports Minister Moncef Belkhayat announces a series of youth meetings to involve young activists in the reform process.

May 25: In Rabat, 8,000 doctors protest to demand better work conditions and health insurance, but are forcefully dispersed.

June 2: A protestor, Kamal Amari, dies of injuries sustained on May 29 in Safi.

June 5: In Rabat and Casablanca, 60,000 turn out to protest Amari’s death.

June 9: The government launches an online forum on constitutional reform. The majority of respondents oppose the king’s absolute executive powers.

June 12–July 3: Thousands march in Casablanca and Rabat on Sundays to demand further reform. On June 26, violence breaks out between supporters and opponents of the monarchy. Police also prevent 2,000 from joining the anti-monarchy protests.

June 17: The king proposes constitutional reforms for the referendum. They include requiring the king to appoint a prime minister from the largest party elected to parliament; giving the prime minister the power to appoint officials and dissolve parliament; and making Berber a national language. But one provision also acknowledges the king as the highest religious authority in Morocco.

June 29: The February 20 Movement, three leftist parties and two banned Islamist parties call for a referendum boycott.

July 1: The constitutional revisions win approval from 98 percent of voters. The turnout was reportedly 73 percent.

July 3–24: Every Sunday in July, thousands in Casablanca, Rabat, Oujda, Agadir and Tangier demonstrate to demand greater reforms.

July 9–14: Protesters demanding work block a railroad between the phosphate mines in Youssoufia and the chemical plants in Safi. Protests end when the state-run phosphate monopoly promises to consider them for jobs.

July 13: The independent Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) questions the validity of the constitutional referendum.

Aug. 15: The government moves up parliamentary elections from September 2012 to November 2011.

Aug. 23: The new Moroccan Youth Movement for Political Representation Now meets with Youth Minister Belkhayat to demand that parliamentary seats be reserved for youth.

Aug. 24: Parliament passes a judicial reform bill to increase transparency.

Sept. 9: Parliament passes a law reserving 60 seats for women and 30 for candidates under age 40.

Sept. 11–25: Throughout September, protests erupt in major cities on Sundays to demand reforms and an end to corruption, with 100,000 protestors in Tangier on Sept. 25.

Sept. 30: The Ministry of Islamic Affairs raises the salaries of 46,000 imams.

Oct. 2-16: Every Sunday in October, thousands protest corruption and call for greater freedom. On Oct. 9, dozens of imams protest state control of their preaching.

Oct. 5: Parliament ratifies a witness-protection law for whistle-blowers on corruption and embezzlement cases.

Oct. 11: Justice and Charity, an Islamist party, calls for a boycott of the parliamentary elections.

Oct. 23: The February 20 Movement organizes thousands in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez and Tangier to demand an election boycott. In Rabat, riot police kick and beat protesters with truncheons.

Oct. 25: In Casablanca, 4,000 unemployed graduates demand public sector jobs.

Oct. 28: Nine Moroccans accused of the Marrakesh bombing on April 28, 2011 are convicted. The ringleader is sentenced to death.

Nov. 12: Parliamentary campaigning begins. On Nov 20, thousands protest in Tangier, Casablanca, and Rabat to demand an election boycott.

Nov. 25: Election proceeds. The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) wins a plurality of parliamentary seats and the right to name the prime minister. But voter turnout is only 45 percent.

Nov. 30: PJD Secretary-General Abdelilah Benkirane is appointed prime minister by the king. He had earlier promised to award positions based on merit, decrease the number of ministers, and not curtail civil liberties.

Dec. 8: The PJD forms a coalition that includes two secular parties, the Popular Movement and Istiqlal. Together, they hold 199 seats, one more than a majority.

Dec. 9: Prime Minister Benkirane lists the coalition’s priorities as “justice, education, unemployment, health and housing.” He says that no female dress code will be imposed.

Dec. 19: Justice and Charity pulls its youth wing out of the February 20 Movement on grounds that the protest movement had marginalized Islamic ideology.  

2012

Jan. 3: The king names PJD members to several ministries but keeps the powerful ministries of interior, defense, agriculture and religious affairs for his close advisers. A woman is named Minister of Social and Women’s Affairs.

Jan. 26: Parliament approves the new government's five-year budget centered on greater economic growth to boost job creation.

Feb. 5: On the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, the king pardons several prisoners, including ultra-conservative Salafists accused of the 2003 Casablanca bombings.

Feb. 14: Abdelsamad Haydour, a student from Taza who posted an anti-monarchy video online, is sentenced to three years in prison.

Feb. 22: Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid presents a 13-point plan to make the justice system “modern, independent, and transparent.”

Feb. 20: The February 20 Movement marks its anniversary with nation-wide rallies.

March 2: Bachir Benchaib, a February 20 Movement leader, is arrested. State-run news calls Benchaib "a gang member who is implicated in criminal activities."  His arrest sparks 10 days of protest in Beni Bouayache, a small town in the Rif Mountains.

March 10: Amina el Filali, 16, kills herself after months of abuse in her forced marriage to a man she had accused of rape.

March 12: Protestors in another Rif village, Imzouren, are injured by police. From March 14–22, activists create Facebook pages to protest el Filali’s death and demand changes to Article 475 of Morocco’s family law, which allows a rapist to avoid jail if he marries his victim.

March 15: Communications Minister Mustapha el Khalifi says the government will revise Article 475.

March 26: Benkirane meets with businessmen to draft a law regulating strikes.

March 29: The Supreme Court of Audits finds evidence of graft, corruption and insider trading in state-owned firms. For the second time, rapper El Haqed is arrested and charged with insulting public authorities, this time in a song about police corruption aired on YouTube. He is later sentenced to a year in jail; he begins a hunger strike on July 9.

March 31: Communications Minister el Khalifi announces new rules for state television. They include: a ban on gambling; required broadcast of the call to prayer; shows for youth featuring a religious official; and reduced use of the French language.

April 4: Activists present lawmakers with a petition signed by 780,000 demanding the repeal of Article 475 allowing a rapist to avoid jail by marrying his victim.

April 9: Parliament passes budget amendments expanding the so-called social solidarity tax on companies. New revenues are pledged to develop poor communities.

May 7: More than half of Morocco’s judges sign a petition calling for prosecutors to operate independently of the executive branch.

May 15: Almost 3,000 judges launch a week-long strike to protest judicial corruption and interference from the executive branch.

May 27: Organized by trade unions, tens of thousands protest in Casablanca.

July 14: At the first PJD conference since the November 2011 elections, Prime Minister Benkirane is reelected head of the party. The conference is attended by Khaled Mashal, the politburo chief of Hamas.

Aug. 10: An unspecified number of police and customs officials are arrested and accused of corruption.

Aug. 12: Hundreds protest in main cities against corruption and the high cost of living.

Aug. 31: A court sentences a young protestor to three months in prison for eating in public during Ramadan. He wanted to express his right to not fast.

Sept. 1: Moroccan authorities ban the closing ceremony of the PJD’s youth conference in Tangier.

Sept. 13: Hundreds peacefully protest the anti-Islam film outside the U.S. Consulate in Casablanca.

Sept. 17: Human Rights Watch urges the government to determine if February 20 movement activists were tortured while in custody of the police.

Sept. 23: 500 demonstrators from the February 20 Movement marched in Rabat to protest against political detentions.

Sept. 26: The World Bank confirms a $300 million loan to deal with youth unemployment and expand economic opportunities and services for women.

Oula Alrifai, Avideh Mayville and Garrett Nada contributed to these chronologies.

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