Moroccan activists plan protests to coincide with UN climate summit

Delegates from around the world will meet in Marrakech as protesters vow to step up unrest triggered by a fisherman’s death

Moroccan activists are planning to extend countrywide protests through the weekend so as to bring issues of marginalisation and inequality to international attention at a major global climate summit taking place in Marrakech next week.

Moroccan cities have witnessed the most serious protests since the Arab spring in recent days following an incident in which a fisherman died in an altercation with police. Mouhcine Fikri was crushed to death in a rubbish truck trying to retrieve 500kg of fish allegedly caught out of season which had been confiscated.

“It could have happened to any one of us in Morocco”, said 29-year-old Iman, a young mother and student from Marrakech.

“We are not treated as humans by the police or anyone who has any sort of power,” added Yugerten, a 28-year-old student activist, who has been coordinating protests in the city that were attended by thousands last week.

Demonstrators want to maintain their actions to catch the eye of visiting delegations to the UN climate change talks that start on Monday. Yugerten said Facebook was the principal means of getting people together.

“We cannot ask someone on the street to come along, or talk freely to foreign journalists, but on Facebook we are open, even though we know the authorities are watching us there too,” he said. “But we have to keep going because what we have right now isn’t living.”

Iman said one of the principal complaints was how much control the authorities have over ordinary people’s lives. “They can stop us getting a job, or scare our families but ... even if you have a job, there is no law to protect you anyway. Look at what happened to Mouhcine.”

When Fikri died, parallels were quickly drawn with Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller who set himself on fire after the police confiscated his goods, triggering the Arab spring.

Climate of protest Photograph: Abdelhak Senna/EPA

But Yugerten explained that this is not a new movement, or one that is seeking to overthrow the government, but part of an ongoing fight for some semblance of democracy. The arrival of thousands of participants for the COP 22 summit is timely.

Activist Nadir Bouhmouch, who also participated in the protests in Marrakech, told Democracy Now that people feel the “state is using this conference to greenwash its abuses, to greenwash the economic, social and environmental injustices that the people of Morocco face”.

Yugerten said he and his friends are against the climate talks because they legitimise the tight grip the country holds its citizens in. And last week there was a virtual protest to warn visitors that even if they are able to use WhatsApp calls and Skype, after they leave Moroccans will again be banned from using the services.

Virtual "protest" in #Morocco ahead of #COP22 #VoIP #WhatsApp #skype #viber

— Houcine Ait Hammou (@Hssiko) October 25, 2016

With international eyes on the country, the authorities have acted quickly to try to defuse tensions. On Tuesday 11 people were arrested in connection with Fikri’s death, but analysts see this as a knee-jerk attempt to be seen to be doing something.

Both Iman and Yugerten are educated millennials, but say people from all walks of life have taken to the streets, from traders to taxi drivers and elderly women. Yugerten said he had been encouraged to see “new faces” in Marrakech this week too.

The authorities are believed to be mounting their own social media campaign to dissuade people from turning out. A message has been doing the rounds on Facebook and WhatsApp accusing the protesters of being un-Islamic and trying to turn Morocco into Syria.

Some names have been changed


Maeve Shearlaw in Marrakech

The GuardianTramp

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