Protests sweep Morocco after a man’s grisly death in a rubbish truck


In Morocco, the gruesome death of a fishmonger who was crushed in a rubbish truck sparked large protests across the country. The young man was attempting to stop the destruction of his wares, which police had tossed into the truck. Demonstrators are crying out against the abuse of power by law officials, as well as the chronic underdevelopment in certain parts of the country.

Mouhcine Fikri, 31, died Friday when he was caught in the crushing device in the back of a garbage truck. Fikri had reportedly climbed into the truck to retrieve the swordfish he was selling, which local police had seized and tossed in moments earlier. Swordfish fishing is banned at this time of year. Gruesome images of Fikri’s death went viral across Morocco.

For the time being, it’s impossible to know exactly what happened during the altercation between the police and this man. However, a certain explosive version of the story spread fast and furiously across Morocco. People said that the police, after seizing Fikri’s wares, had asked for a bribe. Fikri apparently refused. Angered, the police ordered a city worker to start the crushing mechanism in the truck and cried “crush him”. Quickly, the hashtag “crush him” or # طحن_مو in Arabic was created on Twitter.

On October 30, several thousand protesters joined Fikri’s funeral procession. That evening, protests were held in cities across Morocco including Casablanca, Tangiers and Rabat.

Translation: "Morocco, as I like it! Stand up against the injustice [by] defending the memory of a poor man who was killed and thrown into the rubbish", said this Twitter user. 

Translation: "All of Morocco is protesting tonight and taking to the streets to protest corruption: Rabat, Nador, Tetouan. It’s beautiful", said this second Twitter user. 

A protest was held in Al-Hoceima on October 31, 2014.

Protest in Al-Hoceima on October 31. Photo credit: Rachid Amghari

Many protesters use the same word to describe how they feel: “hogra”. In the Moroccan dialect, “hogra” represents a mix of pain and frustration born out of injustice.

“We feel forgotten, the state isn’t doing anything for the city and region of Rif”

Rachid, a shopkeeper who lives and works in Al-Hoceima, is participating in the protest movement. He describes the frustrations of locals such as Fikri.

Al-Hoceima is a very poor place. We feel abandoned by the government. There are very few businesses. There aren’t any factories or universities, just cafés. Many young people are unemployed, even those who’ve studied.

When I was young, we were able to come and go at the port as we liked. We could fish 10 kilos of sardines without paying anything. Now, that’s no longer possible. Fishing is controlled by big companies that export to Europe and the US, and the port is controlled by rich people with links to the government.

That means that fish is two to four times more expensive here than in the rest of the country. Moreover, the area around the port is also being taken over by luxury complexes built for rich people from the Gulf states. We also have frequent problems with the police, who act with incredible arrogance towards the citizens. The people who live in Al-Hoceima are losing on all fronts.

A group of us locals made a list of demands that we’ve sent to the government to address all of these issues. We want compensation to be paid to Mouhcine Fikri’s family. We also want them to stop turning the port into an area for pleasure-boats and to return it to its previous state. We want them to open up the canned fish factories.

We want clean drinking water and a decrease in the price of electricity. Finally, we are demanding a restructuring of the local and regional security forces, so that they actually respect the dignity of citizens.

“We no longer accept it when certain people use their power in an arbitrary way”

Across Morocco, people are demanding better behaviour on the part of law enforcement and authorities. Ammine Sennouni is a politically active Moroccan with a PhD in Information science and Communication. He lives in Rabat and attended a protest there.

Moroccans aren’t just reacting to Fikri’s death. Recently, there have been several similarly violent deaths. In April, police in the city of Kénitra confiscated the wares of a female street vendor. One of the officers hit her in the violent encounter. Soon after, the vendor set herself alight and died of her injuries.

A large part of the Moroccan population makes their living in the informal sector. Even if their activities are illegal, they don’t have a choice. They are just trying to live with dignity. That’s why we will no longer accept it when authorities use their power in an arbitrary way. From police officers to ministers, authorities should act according to the law.

Many people drew parallels between Fikri’s death and that of Mohammad Bouazizi, a Tunisian vegetable seller, in 2010. Bouazi set himself alight after police officers confiscated his produce and his death sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

However, our Observer made clear that protestors were not calling for a radical change of power and even less so for the departure of the king.

In 2011, the new constitution, which was adopted by referendum, opened up the possibility of new individual freedoms for Moroccans. The country is undergoing a democratic transformation and no longer resembles what it was in the '90s when there was a huge amount of oppression if someone dared to criticize authorities. We just want to put an end to the abuse of power.

The fact that Fikri’s horrific death took place in the Rif region gives it an even more significance. Long neglected by the central government, people in the Rif region were very active during the February 20 movement, which emerged in Morocco in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Considering this volatile recent history, authorities responded rapidly to the outcry. King Mohammed VI sent the Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad to visit the victim’s family in Al-Hoceima. Hassad said that it was the state’s responsibility to determine and then punish those responsible for Fikri’s death.