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A New Generation of Protests in Morocco? How Hirak al-Rif Endures

Policy Alternatives
A New Generation of Protests in Morocco? How Hirak al-Rif Endures Download Publication
A year after the outbreak of protests in northern Morocco, the accumulated frustration resulting from the authorities’ security approach and the absence of prospects for a political solution have widened the scope of political unrest, writes Mohammed Masbah in a new paper comparing two protests movements in the kingdom.
While similar structural factors underline the grievances of political protests in Morocco, the 20 February Movement and Hirak al-Rif in the north have taken different paths in the nature and style of their protests, their structure and organization, and their use of social media. This difference has contributed significantly to the enduring character of the Hirak and the resilience of its activists.  
In contrast to the 20 February Movement, which has a national character, but was marred by scattered discourse and a lack of collective political demands, as well as by its failure to establish independent field leadership, Hirak al-Rif is distinguished by its regional geographical dimension. It has presented its political and social demands within a development discourse independent from parties and organizations. It has also managed to create a popular and credible field leadership that is more efficient in mobilizing protests, which has given it protection against police repression – something the 20 February Movement could not achieve.
Hirak al-Rif activists have also learned from the mistakes of the 20 February Movement. They have used social media tools in a more effective and professional way. On Facebook, several websites supporting Hirak al-Rif and the page of its leader, Nasser Zafzafi, attracted tens of thousands of followers.
Although the protests are geographically confined to the Rif region, the author believes that their move to other areas will lead to more tension, especially if they reach Amazigh areas that have been marginalized for decades. 
The current state security approach has so far failed to weaken the Hirak. The Moroccan authorities, the author writes, still have a limited margin of manoeuvre to ease tensions and find a way out of the impasse. A key step is to release activists, and for the royal palace to enter in direct negotiations with protesters with the aim of finding a mutually acceptable formula that will absorb anger in the region and avoid further protests.
Photo: Protesters carrying the picture of Nasser Zafzafi, leader of Hirak al-Rif, and the Amazigh flag during a solidarity demonstration in the Rabat, Morocco, June 2017, © EPA.