Anyone harbouring illusions about the new set-up in Morocco following cosmetic changes to the constitution were quickly brought back to reality. Even though the country held parliamentary elections on November 14 in which the main opposition parties - Istiqlal and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) - also participated, it did not take the authorities long to demonstrate where the real power lay.
Within days of the elections, students at a number of universities were brutally assaulted by the security forces in which one was killed and scores of others were injured on November 26. Mouncif Azouzi, a student at the Moulay Abdellah University in Fez was shot dead by the police. A day earlier, similar disturbances had erupted in Casablanca, from where the student protests were sparked a month ago.
The students were protesting against police presence at university campuses and the right to form independent unions free from government interference. This the regime would not tolerate, elections or no elections.
Moroccan newspapers said that security forces had intervened after students started demonstrating over transport facilities. This was clearly an attempt to deflect attention from the real issues.
In a November 30 dispatch from Rabat, Reuters said it had received a statement (dated November 26) from the student section of the banned Islamic group, Al-Adl Wal Ihsane, confirming one student had died from wounds, several students were injured. The authorities had also ‘carried out wholesale arrests.’ The students’ position was later accepted by some sections of the Moroccan press although the authorities continued to deny any deaths or injuries.
The French language daily, L’Opinion, on November 30 and the Arabic language Al Ittihad al-Ichtiraki of November 29 both reported that a student had died from wounds after the clashes. In a statement, university officials, ministers and the wali (governor) of Fez province, said they ‘deny categorically and expressly these reports and affirm that no case of death, injury or fainting has been registered among students at Fez.’
The statement added that the ‘intervention of security forces took place at the demand of the administrative authority charged with the management of the university establishment.’ It did not give any reason for why the security forces were called in.
Early this year, a Moroccan court jailed 32 students belonging to the Islamic movement for up to two years after participating in protests in Casablanca demanding improved financial assistance. Al-Ittihad al-Ichtiraki further reported on November 30 that the university campus was largely deserted by students and looked ‘like a military barracks’ after the clash, with the size of the security force deployment.
The student protests erupted against the backdrop of the constitutional changes and elections. While the official media have played up the changes as a major step toward democracy, the reality is very different. The opposition had demanded that the appointment of one-third of the deputies to parliament be abolished. The regime calls their appointment ‘indirect election.’
King Hasan conceded this but in a crafty step, moved the one-third into the upper chamber where they have far greater powers, including the dismissal of the government. Thus, at a stroke, while he acceded to the opposition’s demand, he strengthened his own hand.
More ominous is the continued vast powers enjoyed by the interior ministry. Headed by Driss Basri, a trusted ally of the monarch for 15 years, the interior ministry has been used as the regime’s storm troopers. It is much despised and feared in the country.
King Hasan, who already enjoys great press in the west as a modernising ruler, has added another feather to his cap by holding elections last month. The opposition parties endorsed the process by their participation.
The king continues to enjoy all the perks of office and power without having to be accountable to anyone. It is nice to have the best of all the worlds and the barakah to go with it.
Muslimedia: December 16-31, 1997