Politics & Policy

Morocco, Too

The protests have spread so completely throughout the Arab world that it’s hard to keep track. Here’s the latest Times roundup on the situation in Morocco:

 

CASABLANCA, Morocco — For Morocco, a kingdom on the western edge of North Africa, the calls for change sweeping the region are muted by a fear of chaos, a prevalent security apparatus and genuine respect for the king, Mohammed VI. Since he took the throne in 1999, the king, who is only 47, has done much to soften the harsh and often brutal rule of his father, Hassan II.

As in Jordan, demands for the resignation of the government have not touched the king, who is considered by many to be a reformer on the side of the poor. But the demands in Morocco include a desire for a more legitimate democracy, with limits on the power of Mohammed VI, who together with his close advisers controls most of the real power in the country.

On Sunday, in response to a “February 20 Movement for Change” that began on Facebook, more than 10,000 people turned out in cities across the country to call for democratic change, lower food prices, freedom for Islamist prisoners, rights for Berbers and a variety of causes, including pan-Arab nationalism.

In Rabat, the capital, and in Casablanca, the largest city, there were between 3,000 and 5,000 protesters, and there were smaller demonstrations in Marrakesh, Tangier and other cities. All were peaceful, though state radio announced that the rallies had been canceled, perhaps as a tactic to keep the turnout down.

There were reports of scattered violence on Sunday evening in Marrakesh, where protesters, some of them throwing stones, clashed with the police and attacked a McDonald’s, and in the northern town of Larache, where a gas station was set ablaze.

On Monday, Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui said that five burned bodies were found in a bank that had been set on fire by demonstrators in another northern town, Al Hoceima.

People in the town said police used tear gas against protesters Sunday night after they set fire to five cars and threw stones at a police station following the demonstration.

Mr. Cherkaoui said that 120 people had been arrested on Sunday, but minors had been sent home, and that 128 people, including 115 members of the security forces, were wounded in several towns, though he did not specify the seriousness of any injuries.

In Casablanca and Rabat, numerous undercover police officers were obvious in the crowd, sometimes photographing protesters. In Rabat, people chanted slogans like, “Down with autocracy,” and, “The king must reign, not govern.” In Casablanca, protesters called for the government to resign. One sign said: “Democratic Constitution = Parliamentary Monarchy.”

“This is a start,” said Imane Safi, 18, who was at the demonstration in Casablanca. “The Arab world is changing and the Moroccan people need a change in the Constitution for more democracy. We want a country like Britain, with a constitutional monarchy and a strong Parliament that is not corrupt.”

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