Screen shot of a video posted on Youtube by casa20fevrier May 29 2011.
There were bloody scenes in the streets of Casablanca on May 29 as Moroccan police quashed a demonstration in which protesters were calling for political reform. New amateur footage appears to indicate an increasingly hard-line crackdown on the part of the authorities, with police shown on video beating dozens of people, including women and children.
Protests are usually allowed in Morocco, with proper authorization. However, in the past few days, the protesters have become increasingly assertive and the latest protest went ahead without permission, raising fears that the current unrest will lead to further violence.
Tensions have been brewing in the country since violent clashes between police and protesters in February left five dead. The so-called 20th of February Movement has been demanding political and constitutional reforms, in particular to curb the powers of constitutional monarch King Mohammed VI. The protesters’ demands fall short of regime change, and Morocco has so far avoided widespread “Arab Spring”-style uprisings. Many people in Morocco remain loyal to the king, believing that the longstanding monarchy offers the country its best chance for stability.
Three weeks after the fatal February clashes, the king appeared to make some concessions to protesters in an announcement saying that the process to balance power and strengthen the Prime Minister’s role would begin. He then appointed a committee to draft constitutional changes, which will be put to a referendum.
However, the opposition does not believe that enough has been done to follow through on the pledges made, claiming that the changes will be merely cosmetic. Some of the protesters are becoming increasingly outspoken, and have continued to organise demonstrations across the country calling for deeper democratic reforms. On Sunday, when they descended into the streets of Casablanca, the police were under orders to halt any protests. AFP reported that 29 people were injured. The day after violent video scenes of the crackdown appeared online, the Ministry for Communications declared that the 20th of February Movement was being ‘manipulated’ by Islamists and left-wing activists.
“The government’s reaction has become more and more brutal in the last two weeks”
Larbi participated in the May 29 Casablanca protest.
A week ago, the 20th February Movement announced plans for the protest via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. I decided to participate as there has been no change since the government announced constitutional reform, and corruption is still rife.
Some friends and I got to Avenue Achaggar in the Fbatta neighbourhood at about 6pm on Sunday. We expected a large police presence because we didn’t have a permit to protest. Since the 20th of February, the protest organisers have stopped bothering to ask for permission because it is always rejected anyway. We also expected this protest to be suppressed by the authorities because the tone of the government’s rhetoric has become increasingly repressive over the past two weeks. In the town of Rabat, the Moroccan police attacked a group of young people from the 20th of February Movement with batons to stop them from protesting. But I was still totally astounded by the quantity of police that were stationed there. They were everywhere - it was like the neighbourhood was under siege!
The protesters included women and children; they came from all walks of life. On several occasions we attempted to form a procession but we were systematically pushed back by the police. As soon as a group formed, the police baton-charged to disperse them. Several people were pursued into the side streets where many were severely beaten because there was nobody there to film it.
A woman is violently hit by police officers at 1min 41. Video posted on Youtube by casa20fevrier on May 29 2011.
Police even chased protesters into their houses. Video posted on Youtube par casa20fevrier on May 29 2011.
On Avenue Achaggar, a pro-government rally passed through, with the endorsement of the police. Everyone has the right to protest, even those who support the current regime. But it is unfair that this pro-government demonstration, which was also unauthorised, should be protected by the police when it was a very different story for us.
We resigned ourselves to the futility of our attempts after being chased for a long time by the police. It was really disheartening to see how a peaceful protest could be so savagely put down by the police. But we are not going to stop now; come the next protest, we’ll all be there again in force!"
Video posted on casa20fevrier on 29 May 2011.
Post written in collaboration with Cécile Loïal, journalist at France 24.