The Arab Spring, The Valencia Spring

Translation: Karolina Kępa

There is no denying that Morocco is a photogenic country. Colorful scarves and big children’s eyes contrast nicely with the dump in front of a makeshift tin-brick construction. The next photograph shows the stop sign with the Arab letters and Macdonald’s arches in the background. All this is crowned with a huge plate of tajine, one more sepia photograph of the souk’s fabrics and winding streets of the medina. Now you can start uploading your pictures on Facebook.

One might draw the conclusion: this is a different world. You may love Morocco, but you cannot understand its inhabitants, because their minds are twisted like the picturesque narrow streets, and their sensuality, similar to oriental spices, replaces the common sense. Born king and football lovers have street trading and obedience in their blood. Only sometimes small vendors set on fire to themselves in protest, as did Bouazizi in neighbouring Tunisia, disturbing Morocco’s idyll and reduce the turnover from tourism. After all you don’t go on holiday to see how someone ignites in the city center.

If, however, you ask the Moroccan vendors for their opinion, you could hear a slightly different answer: ‘Every day is different, and sometimes you’ll make 20 dirhams (about 2 euros), some days 50, others a hundred, or two. It depends, there is no stable income. There are days when you don’t make any money. When it comes to being a street vendor, I just don’t have anything else to do. If I had the chance to get another job, I wouldn’t be selling vegetables‘- explains Abdelfatah, a small trader, who starred in the documentary film titled ‘My Makhzen and Me’, which had its premiere on 20th February, the first anniversary of protests in Morocco. Director Nadir Boumouh decided to give the floor to the the coalition of ‘atheists and fundamentalists’ (the official media version) protesting in the centre of Rabat, unappreciative of living in the ‘land of colours’ (the official slogan of the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism), and of being a part of ‘the African tiger’. They came out onto the streets for the first time on the twentieth of February 2011, raising slogans about freedom of speech, human rights, widespread corruption, shanty towns of Moroccan cities, lack of prospects, poor access to health care, and police violence. Initially, the king responded by sending along the police forces; in amateur recordings one can see the troops brutally attacking protesters. At night, you still can hear the sirens of police cars and tinny sounds of police shields.

Officially, however, Makhzen (‘the governing elite centered around the king and consisting of royal notables, businessmen, wealthy landowners, tribal leaders, top-ranking military personnel and security service bosses’) understands and supports the citizens. The king appears on the TV screens and promises changes in the constitution, which would then be approved in a national referendum. This does not satisfy protesters who say: the new constitution should be written by an assembly elected by the society. If the king is to dictate the whole text of the new constitution, then where is democracy? And who gave 98% support for the constitution, in which the word ‘people’ is mentioned once and the word ‘king’ – 68 times?

The response from the authorities comes in the form of ‘spontaneous’ demonstrations of paid mercenaries (called baltajiya) from shanty towns who, for 10 euros per day, shout pro-royal slogans instigated by the police. ‘Speak with your own tongue and about yourself, because you are the worst of the worst; long live his majesty, long live Mohamed VI’ – shouts to one of the counterprotester to TV cameras. This version is confirmed by one of the local officials in Youssoufia, a suburb of Rabat. ‘If they come, we’ll show them’ – he adds. These are not idle threats – baltajiya is equipped with axes and long knives.

In the meantime, the police trying to intimidate the participants of the February 20th Movement (beatings, arrests and threats are employed). Some are effectively silenced – Chaïb Karim, one of the participants in a demonstration, was beaten to death. But these facts are not enough to interest the international public opinion, and too much to activate the frightened society. ‘The movement is a means to gain an aim’, says one of its activist, ‘it is not a political party, we want people to organize and defend themselves”.

Yet, it is hard to overcome the resistance of society, which, according to the protesters, is partly caused by lack of civic education. Abdelfatah, the street vendor, asked about the February 20th Movement, did not really want to answer. ‘I don’t fill my head with those things [the February 20th Movement]’. ‘This Constitution … I do not understand’. Despite this, Nadir Boumouh is optimistic. ‘The change has already occurred’, he says and talks about the young women, who for the first time in the history of Morocco, along with the men stood at the head of a social movement.

Moroccan demonstrations are not very attractive for the media, compared to the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, where the reports almost suggested it was Twitter and Facebook that performed the revolution, taking advantage of the local youth, ignoring the traditions of local protests. It is a common belief that the North African educated youth in big cities want to buy products of the same brands and live the same way as their counterparts in the West. But does this Western way of life really stand for?

Is the answer in Valencia, Spain, where high school pupils and university students were brutally beaten by the police during a demonstration called #primaveravalenciana (Valencia Spring), aimed against cuts in public education? And where, despite these facts, a police commander has not been dismissed? The same commander, when asked about the number of agents infiltrating the ranks of protesters, replied: ‘I cannot reveal to the enemy what my forces are’. Spanish students turn out to be enemies of the government, and apparently should be fought against as firmly, as the Moroccan ‘atheists and fundamentalists’.  It seems that cuts in democratic freedoms is becoming increasingly popular as a method of fighting protests against cuts in national budgets. In such situations instability (also known as precarity) and violation of human rights (and not wearing clothes of the Western brands) will be common experiences of young people in the globalized world.

The film „My Makhzen & Me” is available on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8d4TOA3Q93g) and Vimeo (http://vimeo.com/36997532)

Agata Młodawska

The article was first published in Polish, in issue number 26.03 of ‚Przekroj’, weekly magazine.

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