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Morocco: Parliamentarians Call for Reducing Social Disparities

Moroccan

Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine el-Othmani delivers his first speech presenting the government’s program at the Moroccan Parliament in Rabat, Morocco April 19, 2017

Rabat – A group of Moroccan deputies from both majority and opposition blocs have called on the government on Tuesday to speed up the implementation of measures aimed at reducing social disparities in the different Moroccan regions, by guaranteeing equal access to developmental programs.

Several areas in Morocco are suffering from poor basic services, such as education and health, as well as deterioration of the infrastructure and high unemployment rate.

During Wednesday’s oral questions and answer session at the House of Representatives, Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine Al-Othmani stressed the presence of “lucky areas and other unlucky regions”, due to the differences in the pace of development.

He noted that development indicators still divide Moroccan regions into areas with concrete fairly acceptable development pace and other ones with no manifest development.

“In some areas, development is intangible and unacceptable due to decades of mismanagement,” he stated.

Asked whether the new reform initiative was linked to protests in some areas, the Moroccan prime minister said it was his government’s duty to reach out to citizens in underprivileged areas, whether they are protesting or not.

“We have to give poor and remote regions their rights in terms of development through building up roads, health services and schools,” he stated.

In this context, Othmani said that his cabinet was seeking to reduce regional inequalities by allocating MAD 5 billion to rehabilitate poor and remote areas.

Earlier this month, the Moroccan premier said his cabinet was deploying all efforts to curb unemployment.

“The government was appointed only 42 days ago. It is still early to speak of achievements,” he stated.

“I will keep fighting unemployment, and I will perform the task assigned to me since my appointment by the King and the vote of Parliament on the government program,” he added.

(Source / 21.06.2017)

Morocco promises no water shortages in Al Hoceima

Hundreds of people attend a demonstration in support of ongoing anti-government protests taking place in the northern Rif region on June 2, 2017 in Al-Hoceima, Morocco

The Moroccan government has promised that there will be no water crisis or shortages in the turbulent Al Hoceima until 2035.

The promise was made yesterday during a meeting held by a delegation led by the Minister of the  Interior, Abdelouafi Laftit, the Secretary of State for Water, Abdelkader Amara, minister of equipment, and the director general of the National Office of Electricity and Drinking Water (ONEE).

The delegation devoted the agenda of its meeting to the question of water as the province experiences a shortage which worsens during the summer months.

The delegation took stock of the state of progress of the water infrastructure strengthening projects which received nearly $1 million in funding.

Read: Thousands march in Rabat to demand release of protest leaders

President of the region, Ilyas El Omari, told HuffPost Morocco that he took advantage of the meeting to draw attention to the problem of access to drinking water in the entire region. “I have intervened to remind you that not only Al Hoceima, but also other provinces in the region, do not yet have access to drinking water,” he said.

In Chaouen, the situation is more alarming than in Al Hoceima, where 50 per cent of the city’s population does not have access to drinking water, [which is] about 200,000 people.

According to El Omari, the inhabitants of the region have suffered greatly from the shortage of water accentuated by the drought in Ouazzane and Chaouen. “Several residents of the region complained about this situation last year,” he recalled.

For El Omari, the origin of this situation also lies in the lack of financial developments in the region. “The transfer of the powers to the regions has not yet been made … we receive from the government a percentage of the taxes of a value of 400 to 450 million dirhams [around $40 million per year],” he said, stressing that at the next session of the regional council in July it is expected that the region will get better and more involved in the supply of water and electricity by giving financial support to the municipalities.

Secretary of State, Charafat Afailal, said in a statement to the press that “this dam will strengthen the water infrastructure and meet the province’s drinking water needs.”

(Source / 14.06.2017)

Thousands march in Rabat to demand release of protest leaders

Protesters, supporting Rif Movement leader Nasser Zefzafi, stage a demonstration demanding the government to take action for developing the region in Hoceima, Morocco on June 11, 2017 [Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency]

Protesters, supporting Rif Movement leader Nasser Zefzafi, stage a demonstration demanding the government to take action for developing the region in Hoceima, Morocco on June 11, 2017

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Rabat yesterday to call for the release of detained members of the Rif protest movement, Hirak Al-Shaabi, reported local media. The protesters included members of many of Morocco’s civil and political organisations.

The protest march began at around noon in Bab El-Had in the centre of the city and was largely peaceful. A small group of counter-demonstrators chanted their support for King Mohammed VI.

According to Maghreb Arab Press, around 12,000 to 15,000 people attended the protest in the Moroccan capital. It was the largest since the Arab Spring protests in 2011.

Des milliers de manifestants à Rabat en soutien au Rif

Supporters of the Islamic Justice and Spirituality Movement — Al-Adl Wa Al-Ihssane — also responded to the call from its leader, Mohamed Abbadi, to attend the protest.

Quiet easily the biggest political demonstration/march in Rabat since days in 2011.

The protesters demanded the release of the arrested activists who have lead the Rif movement’s calls for better opportunities and funding in the largely neglected north of Morocco.

Read: Morocco’s treatment of protests ‘confounded’

Slogans supporting the protesters of Al Hoceima and their demands were chanted as well as calls for social justice. The parents of Nasser Zefzafi, the protest movement leader who was arrested last month, were also among the protesters, said LeDesk.

(Source / 12.06.2017)

Morocco refuses to hand over stranded Syria refugees

Image of Syrian refugees at the Algerian and Moroccan border [INP PLUS‏/Twitter]

Image of Syrian refugees at the Algerian and Moroccan border

Moroccan authorities have refused to extradite an estimated 42 Syrian refugees who have been stranded for the last two months between the Algeria and Morocco border, to an Algerian delegation following Algeria’s decision to accept them.

Last month, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR urged Morocco and Algeria to allow the group safe passage after they had been trapped for weeks in a dispute between the North African neighbours.

Read: Algeria accepts Syrians trapped on Morocco border

The Algerian delegation, which was supposed to meet with Moroccan authorities at the border today to finalise the move, was comprised of Algerian authorities and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was accompanied by the Red Crescent, representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The delegation reportedly arrived at the border expecting to receive the Syrian refugees but was met with refusals from Moroccan authorities to extradite them and or to give any information whether they would be deported to another destination or voluntarily moved.

Representatives of the international missions have been in Algeria to observe whether the facilities are adequate for the country to receive the refugees. Medical and psychological staff was also provided to inspect the health of the individuals who have spent weeks in the Moroccan desert deprived of nutrition and medical care.

(Source / 05.06.2017)

Moroccan police stifle women’s protest in northern city

Protesters from Rif movement clash with security forces during a demonstration against government in Imzouren town near Al Hoceima city of Morocco on June 2, 2017 [Jalal Morchidi / Anadolu Agency]

Protesters from Rif movement clash with security forces during a demonstration against government in Imzouren town near Al Hoceima city of Morocco on June 2, 2017

Moroccan authorities stifled a women’s protest against official abuses and corruption on Saturday in a northern town where months of unrest has tested the North African kingdom.

The protest in the town of Al-Hoceima was organised by the “Hirak” movement, which is campaigning for jobs, infrastructure and other demands in the northern Rif region, and whose leader Nasser Zefzafi was arrested last week on charges of threatening national security, among other offences.

Police encircled hundreds of female protesters to leave a public park in Al-Hoceima late on Saturday, impeding others from joining, as the women chanted “freedom, dignity and social justice”, a Reuters reporter at the scene said. Female police officers and riot police pushed the leader of the protest, Nawal Ben Aissa, a prominent member of Hirak, away from the group. She was accompanied at the protest by Zefzafi’s mother.

Political rallies are rare in Morocco and usually heavily policed. But protests around Al-Hoceima have been simmering since October after a fishmonger, Mouhcine Fikri, was crushed to death inside a garbage truck while trying to salvage fish that had been confiscated by police.

Read: Morocco arrests leader of protests in Al-Hoceima

Fikri’s death has become a symbol for frustrations about official abuses and revived the spirit of the February 20 movement that led pro-democracy rallies in 2011 and prompted King Mohammed VI to cede some of his powers.

Since Zefzafi’s arrest after he interrupted a Friday prayer sermon, protests have become a daily occurrence in the town.

“We go to sleep in fear, and we wake up in fear,” said Fatima Alghloubzari, 54 who tried to join the protest on Saturday. “We never imagined our city would become like this.”

One woman fainted after police stifled the protest.

A heavy security presence has been in place around the city’s Sidi Abed square. Since Zefzafi’s arrest, police have been increasingly preventing people joining in protests and blocking access, organisers say.

Moroccan government spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi acknowledged last week that the Hirak protests and demands were “legitimate,” and said authorities were speeding up promised infrastructure and development projects for the region.

(Source / 04.06.2017)

Moroccan police disperse protesters in Imzouren

Moroccan police dispersed a large number of protesters on Friday who took to the streets against corruption and misuse of authority, Masralarabia.com has reported. The protest took place in the town of Imzouren, to the south of Al-Hoceima, after Friday prayers, during which a large number of people boycotted the usual sermons in the mosques.

One activist told AFP that the protest coincided with the second day of the general strike in Al-Hoceima and explained that:

The problem is that the authorities prevent people coming from the neighbouring cities to take part in the protests and this causes more tension

According to an unnamed Moroccan journalist cited by AFP, hundreds of youths threw stones at the riot police, who responded using water cannons to disperse the crowd and remove barricades from the streets. Local newspapers and websites published pictures and videos of the clashes, but none reported any casualties.

The protests follow the detention of political activist Naser Al-Zafrani, who has been leading a wave of demonstrations for six months and called for the strikes. Al-Zafrani was detained on Monday on charges of “destabilising the internal security of the country”. Since then, there has been a lot of tension in Al-Hoceima.

This turmoil is considered to be the most violent since 2011, when citizens called for more democracy in the kingdom.

(Source / 03.06.2017)

Morocco refuses to attend African summit due to Israel’s presence

Image of Morocco's King Mohammed VI [COP22/Twitter]

Image of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry yesterday stated that King Mohammed VI has cancelled his attendance of the 51st Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) because Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also been invited.

In a statement the ministry said King Mohammed VI had planned to visit the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on 3-4 June to attend the 51st ECOWAS Summit, which was expected to examine Morocco’s request to join the regional group as a full member.

The statement added that, “During this Royal visit, a meeting with the President of Liberia, talks with ECOWAS Heads of State and a speech at the Summit were all scheduled.”

Read: Why did Morocco decide to join the African Union?

However, over the last few days, major ECOWAS member states have decided to reduce their level of representation at the summit, to the bare minimum, due to their disagreement with the invitation handed to the Israeli prime minister. The statement also noted that other member states also expressed their astonishment at this invitation.

The Foreign Ministry’s statement also mentioned that King Mohammed VI “does not want his first appearance at the ECOWAS summit to take place in a context of tension and controversy, and wants to avoid any confusion.”

During the summit, members of ECOWAS will decide on the admittance of Morocco as a full-fledged member of the regional bloc.

(Source / 02.06.2017)

Clashes after sermon disrupted in north Morocco

Moroccans protest after fishermen Mohcine Fikri was crushed to death in Al-Hoceima, Morocco on 8 December 2016 [yabiladi maroc/Twitter]

Moroccans protest after fishermen Mohcine Fikri was crushed to death in Al-Hoceima, Morocco on 8 December 2016

Clashes erupted in a northern Moroccan city after authorities sought to arrest a well-known activist who has led recent demonstrations and who interrupted a Friday prayer sermon, activists and local residents said.

Political protests are rare in Morocco, but tensions in Al-Hoceima city have been simmering since October after the death of a fishmonger who was crushed inside a garbage truck while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by the police.

His death sparked outrage against “Hogra”, a colloquial Derja Arabic term for deprivation of dignity because of official abuses or corruption, and prompted some of the largest protests since Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations in 2011.

Al-Hoceima and other towns in Rif region have a long history of dissent against the “Makhzen”, the royal establishment in the North African kingdom where the king still holds ultimate authority despite ceding some powers to ease tensions in 2011.

According to activists present yesterday, a preacher in a local mosque criticised the so-called “Hirak” protests as “inciting unrest.” In response, Nasser Zefzafi, leader of the “Hirak” movement, interrupted the sermon in the mosque.

“These are mosques of God, not of the Makhzen,” Zefzafi said to chants of support among prayer-goers in a video widely circulated on social media.

Read: Al-Hoceima protests mirror Morocco’s political fragility

Activists and local residents said people took to the streets around Zefzafi’s home in the city, and clashes broke out between police and his supporters. They said there was a heavy security presence in the area that the activists said was an attempt to arrest him.

State news agency MAP confirmed an arrest warrant was issued for Zefzafi and an investigation had been opened into him and those with him during the mosque incident.

The Interior Ministry did not respond to a request for details on the incident. But the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, charged with overseeing Friday prayer sermons, denounced Zefzafi’s actions as an “enormous disorder.”

“The law stipulates sanctions against those who hinder religious rites,” the statement read. “This incident constitutes vile behaviour.”

The penal code punishes those who hinder religious ceremonies with a prison term ranging from six months to three years, and with fines.

“These sort of actions merit arrest, but I do not know whether or not authorities have arrested him,” one government official told Reuters.

Zefzafi appeared on social media later where he released a video from an undisclosed location, assuring supporters he was free and urging them to remain peaceful.

“I asked the police why they’re doing this,” one activist told Reuters. “They told me there’s a warrant out for Zefzafi’s arrest.”

One eyewitness said people were out on the street and security forces responded forcefully, and there was a heavy presence near Zefzafi’s home.

Moroccan authorities usually police protests heavily, nervous about unrest since the 2011 demonstrations. During those protests, the king devolved some of his authority to an elected government in a constitutional reform.

Thousands of Moroccans marched under the watch of police in Al-Hoceima last week, waving banners proclaiming “Are you a government or a gang?”

(Source / 27.05.2017)

Morocco cracks down on fighters returning from IS

Mohamed Mahzouz (L), Mohamed Alami (3rd L) and Brahim Benchekroun (fourth L, in white), three Moroccan former Guantanamo detainees and members of Harakat Sham al-Islam, in an undated photo

For the last two years, Moroccan authorities have been cracking down on Islamic State (IS) fighters’ returning from the battlefields in Syria and Iraq. While they have been accused of turning a blind eye to the departure of hundreds of volunteers to jihad in the early days of the conflict in 2012, authorities are now arresting returnees, fearing they would get involved in terrorist activities at home.

This zero tolerance policy on returnees has prevented many from coming back to Morocco, with some remaining in Turkey, according to sources close to Salafists Al-Monitor spoke with.

Khalil Idrissi, a lawyer who has defended several returnees, draws attention to their motivations to return home. Many had been lured with promises of money, he told Al-Monitor, while others dreamed of living under their own interpretation of Islam and came back to their country disappointed with their experience with IS.

According to Abdelhak Khiame, the head of the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigations (BCIJ), affiliated with the Interior Ministry, at least 1,600 Moroccans have left to join diverse groups and more recently, mainly IS. During the last two years, about 70 were arrested while coming back to Morocco.

But critics point to the lack of rehabilitation programs and denounce a security approach that does not really address the roots of radicalization. “They simply jail them for two or three years; they are then released without any guidance. But their ideas do not change. Authorities have to create programs for detainees and do a follow-up after they are released. They have to open a dialogue with them and create social as well as economic programs to integrate them,” Abdelwahab al-Rafiqi, a former cleric and researcher known as Abu Hafs, told Al-Monitor.

According to Mohamed Masbah, an associate fellow at Chatham House, authorities became increasingly concerned with returnees as well as combatants trying to leave Morocco in 2014 with the rise of IS. He told Al-Monitor, “Royal Armed Forces joined the US-led anti-IS coalition forces in Iraq and Syria in September 2014. The intelligence services are a source of valuable information about transnational jihadi networks and work closely with several European countries. In addition, authorities targeted networks and cells of recruitment. This approach has prevented more than 500 prospective travelers from reaching Syria. Authorities arrested tens of presumed jihadis who pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and/or had planned to perpetrate terrorist attacks in Morocco.”

When the first wave of Moroccan combatants left to Syria and Iraq, they could easily get out of the country and travel there through Turkey. Several former detainees who had been charged with terrorism obtained travel documentation from the state and left Morocco without any difficulties, sometimes just days after being released, according to sources close to Salafi activists Al-Monitor spoke with.

But when they started to return to Morocco and as the terrorist threat increased, Moroccan authorities began to systematically arrest them. Since 2014, most of those who came back have been brought to court. In January 2015, the anti-terrorism law of 2003 was amended in order to criminalize joining groups outside Morocco. The BCIJ was created in March 2015, and has since officially dismantled more than 40 cells and arrested at least 548 people.

The first wave of departures began in 2012, at a time when the international community opposed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Many young people, among them some who were not following radical Islam or were not even close to jihadi groups, answered the call of renowned religious scholars. In February 2012, clerics such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi declared it was a duty to help those fighting against Assad. In December 2012, Morocco hosted the Friends of Syria conference in Marrakech, a go-ahead for volunteers to jihad, who interpreted this event as an encouragement to support the Syrian opposition and by extension, jihad.

In 2013, a new organization, which provided a network for Moroccans eager to go fight Assad’s regime, was created in Latakia, Syria. The group, Harakat Sham al-Islam, was almost exclusively composed of Moroccan combatants, among whom were Mohamed Mahzouz, Mohamed Alami and Brahim Benchekroun, three former Guantanamo detainees. The group was active between 2013 and 2016, and Moroccan fighters have split between Jabhat al-Nusra and IS for the most part, according to experts.

The personal links between the former detainees was essential in organizing the group and convincing other Moroccans to join. Benchekroun had been jailed in 2005 for having recruited fighters for Iraq in the same period and location as other high-profile detainees, including some sentenced in the wake of the 2003 Casablanca attacks.

Benchekroun and Anas el-Haloui, also a member of Harakat Sham al-Islam, both former convicts killed in Syria in 2014, were also prominent members of the Joint Committee for the Defense of Islamist Detainees (CCDDI), a group created in 2011 to defend Salafi detainees.

Umm Adam, the most renowned woman in the Moroccan Salafi sphere, took part in several protests alongside members of the CCDDI. Educated at the Sorbonne in Paris and the wife of Karim el-Mejatti, an al-Qaeda member killed with their son in Saudi Arabia in 2005, she had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. After being extradited from Saudi Arabia in 2003, she was detained for several months in Morocco. In July 2014, she decided to settle with IS in Syria and followed her other son there.

Umm Adam is one of many former al-Qaeda supporters who shifted to IS. But IS has also attracted random Moroccans mainly eager to live under the caliphate. Its creation is the achievement of a dream for many, said Abu Hafs, sentenced to 30 years in jail for having inspired the 2003 Casablanca bombings. As a cleric, he would make speeches defending jihad, and authorities arrested him for the content of his speeches several weeks before the attacks.

After he was released by royal pardon in 2012, Abu Hafs’ discourse dramatically changed and he reviewed his positions, clearly voicing his opposition to jihad in Syria. In March, he launched Al-Mizan, a research center financed by the traditionalist Istiqlal party, to gather information as well as analysis on terrorism-related issues in order to use his own experience to fight extremism, Abu Hafs told Al-Monitor.

Abu Hafs recalls dreaming of an Islamic state in his youth. “It was not the jihadis but those we call moderates who gave me that dream,” he said.

The Syrian conflict has attracted people from diverse social backgrounds throughout the country. In a country where opportunities to climb the social ladder are scarce and youth unemployment is high, reaching IS and playing a role there can be in many cases a source of enrichment. But for many, it can also be a sign of personal achievement.

Abdelaziz el-Mehdali’s story illustrates this sense of realization and fulfillment many jihadis believed they couldn’t find at home. Known as Abu Oussama el-Maghribi, the former street vendor was one of the most well-known Moroccan jihadi fighters. In 2011, he had taken part in the February 20 Movement’s pro-democracy protests, although like most Salafists he was mainly calling for the release of Salafi prisoners, considered to be political detainees.

Faced with a lack of opportunities in his hometown, Fnideq, where many jihadis come from in the north of Morocco, he joined Jabhat al-Nusra, a group he later left to join IS. In 2014, he was killed in clashes with Jabhat al-Nusra fighters.

Ahmed (not his real name), a 21-year-old student nurse, dreamed of a new life under the caliphate. But on his way to Syria, he was stopped with his mother at the Turkish border. And as soon as he stepped foot on Moroccan soil, he was arrested. He was later tried — his mother was not — and sentenced to a two-year term for trying to join a terrorist organization as per the anti-terrorism law, his lawyer, Idrissi, said.

Ahmed had decided to follow his mother, a housemaid who wanted to leave for Syria because of a family conflict and resulting financial problems that she believed didn’t leave her any other choice. Stuck with her son in a small apartment in Morocco that she was forced to share with her brother, who allegedly led a debaucherous life and heavily drank alcohol, she decided to join IS and convinced her son to go with her.

He didn’t want to let her go to Syria by herself. He had always dreamed of going to medical school, which he was brought to believe he could do in Syria under IS. To both of them, settling in IS territory was a way out that matched their religious beliefs.

“They [IS] were giving them [mother and son] some hope,” Idrissi told Al-Monitor.

“They were looking for an easy solution,” he said. “Paradise if they die, or IS if they remain alive.”

(Source / 23.05.2017)

Moroccan PM says he has agreed coalition with 5 other parties

Image of Morocco’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, Saad Eddine El-Othmani [PJD Press Office/Anadolu]

Image of Morocco’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, Saadeddine Othmani

Moroccan Prime Minster Saad Eddine El Othmani said on Saturday he had agreed to form a coalition government with five other parties, breaking nearly six months of post-election deadlock.

Othmani, from the Justice and Development Party (PJD), was appointed as premier last week by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. He replaced PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane, whose efforts to form a government following October elections had been frustrated.

“The next steps will be deciding on government structure and ministerial appointments,” Othmani told reporters, surrounded by the leaders of the five other parties. “We need to move beyond previous obstacles.”

Othmani said the government’s priorities would include reinforcing stability, justice reform, education, rural development and energy.

The Moroccan experience: A constitutional escape or custom making a party?

Before Othmani’s appointment, negotiations had stalled largely over the insistence by the National Rally of Independents (RNI) party on including the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) in a coalition.

Both parties are among those now expected to form a new government. The other parties are the Popular Movement (MP), the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) and the Constitutional Union (UC).

The inclusion of four smaller parties alongside the RNI is seen as weakening the PJD’s position, which analysts said was why Benkirane had resisted such an outcome.

‘Arab Spring’ power divide

The PJD came to power in 2011, when King Mohammed ceded some powers to ease “Arab Spring” protests. Morocco has since presented itself as a model for economic stability and gradual reform in a region troubled by conflict and political turmoil.

Last year’s election campaign was marked by tensions between the PJD and a resurgent royal establishment, though the PJD retained its position as the largest party, increasing its number of seats to 125.

But Benkirane’s efforts to form a coalition met with opposition from other parties that critics say are too close to the palace. The RNI, which has 37 seats in parliament, is led by Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Aziz Akhannouch, a close friend of the king.

The deadlock led to concerns that public spending was being put at risk, and delays to economic reform.

After the king’s replacement of Benkirane, a charismatic figure popular with the PJD base, the party’s potential partners quickly expressed optimism that a coalition could be formed.

Under Morocco’s election law no party can win an outright majority in the 395-seat parliament, making coalition governments necessary in a system where the king holds ultimate power.

The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), the second largest in parliament, has said publicly that it intends to remain in opposition.

The conservative Istiqlal party, which was in coalition with the PJD from 2012-2013 before relations soured over economic reform, is also expected to be in opposition.

(Source / 26.03.2017)