The February 20 Movement in Morocco
Roots of failure and lessons for the future
27 October 2021
On 20 February 2011, for the first time in its history, Morocco saw the birth of a mass movement whose political demands included reform of the country’s political system. The fact that its main slogan referred to ‘overthrowing corruption and tyranny’ meant liberal writers could reduce the movement’s political scope to a protest against structures outside the logic of the market, hence concealing the socio-economic roots of the uprising. Social struggles had emerged in parallel to the movement’s protests – most prominently the struggle of small-scale sugar beet farmers in the Doukkala region (Sidi Bennour) and the struggle of the unemployed of the Phosphate Plateau (Khouribga), to which were added movements against unemployment in Rabat and strike action that proliferated across the country. However, due to a lack of convergence between these social struggles and the political movement, the regime was able to weather the revolutionary storm raging across the region. Yet the great achievement of the February 20 Movement (and of the regional revolutionary wave) was a change in the mood of the masses themselves. They realized that tyrants do not remain in place forever – a realization that gave momentum to the labour, popular and youth protests that followed 2011, if to varying degrees.
The balance of social power prior to 20 February 2011
What happened in 2011 was the by-product of particular social and political relationships between the different classes and the state. In particular, these dynamics marked the division between the propertied and the popular classes. The neoliberal policies applied in Morocco from the 1980s – through the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and waves of privatization – benefited the bourgeoisie and landowners, allowing them to expropriate a large part of the national wealth. In parallel, the agricultural bourgeoisie and large landowners increased their possession of land as state ownership receded, and subsistence agriculture deteriorated.1
|Area of state-owned land||657,188||491,927||238,015|
|Area of private land||362,812||498,872||747,120|
Adam Hanieh has noted that ‘[by 2004] 70 percent of rural farmers came to own only 24 percent of the land, at an average of less than 5 hectares per farm, while less than 1 percent of farmers controlled 15 percent, with more than 50 hectares each.’2
Politically, the monarchy was able to repurpose opposition and to guarantee a smooth transition of power from Hassan II to Mohammed VI in 1999. Cooperation between an important part of the liberal opposition and union bureaucrats guaranteed social peace for the monarchy, with a ‘social agreement’ signed on 1 August 1996.
The neoliberal transition saw the emergence of bosses as political players in their own right, whether via professional associations or direct participation in representative institutions. The bosses recreated themselves in this period, with the Confédération Générale des Entreprises Du Maroc (CGEM) established on 16 April 1995.
The neoliberal transition transformed the system of government itself, which shifted from the monarchy of Hassan II – built on a social base of large landowners and rural notables, with widespread corruption as one of the means of private capital accumulation – to the monarchy of Mohammed VI, based on large-scale capitalists, themselves colluding with imperial and Gulf capital.
By the end of the twentieth century, four decades of oppression had resulted in politically and economically devastated rural areas across Morocco. Following the defeat of the Moroccan Army of Liberation in 1958, small-scale farmers were left politically voiceless and under the hegemony of rural notables, the Ministry of Interior, and the Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie.
Likewise, the Moroccan working class was (and remains) a political nonentity; it emerged from the decades of rule by Hassan II with no political structure of its own: the nationalist bourgeoisie had held exclusive leadership over the independence struggle and the Moroccan Communist Party (PCM), which had refused to demand independence, subsequently transformed itself into a liberal, pro-monarchy party (currently called the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS)).
In the 1960s, whilst in conflict with the left of the national movement, the monarchy sought to ensure social harmony by mobilizing the top of the Moroccan Workers’ Union (UMT), thus helping to enrich the union leadership. In the late 1970s, the liberal Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) regained a section of the trade union movement and founded its own union, the Democratic Confederation of Labour (CDT). The Socialist Union of Popular Forces utilized the CDT to enter into skirmishes with the monarchy, enabling the former to achieve constitutional reforms and to seize a share of power.
The neoliberal attacks from the 1980s onwards weakened the working class, dismantled their traditional strongholds, and reduced the number of workers in public facilities as a result of privatization. Further, neoliberalism rendered work relations fragile and highly flexible, through fixed-term contracts, outsourcing companies, subcontracting, and unpaid and half-paid internship contracts – officially approved in the Labour Code of 2003.
The union movement lost its steady membership: its leadership became increasingly dependent on the state and embedded within its institutions, in the House of Councillors, royal commissions, constitutional councils, etc. The union leadership internalized the logic of inevitability that underpins neoliberalism, doing all it could to extinguish workers’ resistance and avert the threat of an uprising.
The early twenty-first century saw the depoliticization of the popular and workers’ struggle, with the National Initiative for Human Development in 2005. Constituting a part of the World Bank’s strategy for fighting poverty, which it had set out in the mid-1990s, this initiative aimed to cloak neoliberalism with a social character whilst curbing all forms of resistance to neoliberal policies. The initiative, which involved establishing tens of thousands of development associations in villages and cities, earned the monarchy increased popularity. These associations became the basis of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which was established in the summer of 2008 by Fouad Ali El Himma, a friend of the king and former Minister of State in the Ministry of Interior.
Such was the context of the balance of power when Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in Tunisia in December 2010, setting off a regional conflagration. However, in Morocco the flames reached a social and political bomb that had previously been disarmed.
The myth of the exceptional Moroccan model
The slogan ‘Down with the regime’ was missing from the February 20 Movement protests. One explanation that has been advanced for this absence points to the difference between the Moroccan monarchy and other regimes in the region. According to this argument, the exceptionality of Morocco’s model is based on a ‘policy of moderation and balanced political openness’ that the political order has adopted in relation to the opposition (in varying degrees) since independence.3 However, is this actually true?
With the introduction of a consensus rotation government and the creation of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission,4 the massive misinformation campaign that took place between 1998 and 2004 absolved the monarchy of responsibility for four decades of oppressive rule by Hassan II. Through this process, the state, and its most repressive apparatuses, evaded responsibility for these years of oppression; the victims gave up their right to accountability and justice in exchange for financial and moral compensation. The monarchy was thus able to pride itself on applying a model of ‘transitional justice’ that was unique in the region.
Mohammed VI first coined the concept of ‘executive monarchy’ during a conversation with the right-wing French newspaper Le Figaro, in autumn 2001. He rejected the demand for constitutional reform raised by liberal parties in 2008, instead insisting, in a speech made on 30 July 2010,5 on prioritizing economic reform and building what he called a ‘democratic development model’ based on ‘accelerated economic growth’ and ‘good governance’. In other words, the king focused on implementing the dictates of the World Bank.
One explanation for the democratic facade of the monarchy is the nature of the Moroccan economy itself. Unlike Algeria and the Gulf states, which have been able to avoid reliance on taxes to fund their budgets, the Moroccan monarchy has no oil and gas rents to rely on. In Gilbert Achcar’s words, ‘[the former] feel little need to defer to a regime of representative democracy … where a rentier state … acquires maximum economic independence from the population.’6 By contrast, the Moroccan treasury relies heavily on taxes and external debts, also funded by taxes. Fiscal income represented 85 percent of overall state revenues and 20 percent of GDP in 2011.7 Such is the economic basis of the institutional front, which facilitates alliances between the monarchy and other sections of the ruling class. To borrow from political science jargon, this enables a ‘democratic margin’, which in turn creates a false impression of a genuine political and partisan life: elections are held and the parliamentary majority produces a government, while the minority in opposition awaits the next round of elections to take its turn in government.
However, this ‘democratic margin’ involves certain red lines: it cannot question the monarchy, religion, or the issue of Western Sahara. For instance, Nadia Yassine, daughter of the leader of the religious group Justice and Spirituality [Al Adl wal Ihssan], was put on trial, accused of having proclaimed her preference for a republican system over a monarchy. Her trial lasted from 2005 to 2010. Similarly, the general secretary of the Democratic Way (a party of the radical left), stated: ‘… The Parties Law in Morocco prohibits parties from opposing the monarchy … We therefore prefer to resort to silence; we are neither Republican nor Monarchists; we are fighting for a democratic system.’
Western Sahara is yet another red line for the Moroccan state: not only was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (the Polisario) suppressed, the state also prohibits any stance that contradicts the official one. In his speech on 6 November 2009, the king made the following threat: ‘One is either patriotic or a traitor; there is no middle ground between patriotism and treason, and no space to enjoy the rights of citizenship while renouncing them by conspiring with enemies of the homeland.’8
It is this which is behind Morocco’s model of an ‘exceptional monarchy’, rather than an inherent devotion of Moroccans to the king. How then to explain the absence from the February 20 Movement protests of the slogan that was so common across the region during the 2010-11 uprisings, ‘Down with the regime’? Perhaps the most realistic explanation is the one proposed by Gilbert Achcar. He asserts the impossibility, in hereditary regimes like Morocco’s, of overthrowing the regime without also overthrowing the state: ‘People have awakened to its dangers and realized that attaining it would require a balance of powers or exceptional circumstances that were not present in any of the monarchies in 2011… And this is not the result of those systems enjoying a larger sense of legitimacy, as some superficial analyses of Western orientalists have claimed.’9 A further explanation is the destruction of the republican opposition during the 1960s and 1970s, and the crushing of the emancipatory project of the Rif revolution led by Abdel Karim al-Khattabi from 1921 to 1926.
Raising the slogan ‘Down with the regime’ in monarchies requires much more energy from a popular class that is willing to fight without fear. In such regimes, avoiding the high cost of change warrants the preparation of a class force capable of warding off the violence of the counter-revolution, and the disintegration of society into warring units. As such, the people are presented with two worst-case scenarios – authoritarianism or chaos – that is, they must choose the lesser of two evils. This is a distinctive characteristic of bourgeois opposition and union bureaucracy: they strive for political stability, fully aware that the popular classes will not stop at mere political enhancement of the same economic system.
Thus, in a discussion with Azzaman Magazine in 2012, Abdallah Laroui, the most prominent Moroccan bourgeois intellectual and philosopher, did not hesitate in stating that the monarchy helps guarantee the stability of Moroccan society.
The February 20 Movement and the monarchy’s reaction to it
The mass movement of February 20 lasted barely a year. Its first demonstrations broke out on 20 February 2011. The monarchy then held a constitutional referendum on 1 July 2011, and elections were held in November 2011. With the formation of a ceremonial government on 3 January 2011, headed by the Islamist Justice and Development Party, the movement evaporated, disintegrating into groups of isolated individuals and becoming a mere anniversary, commemorated each year.
In this sense, the political momentum in Morocco had long been halted by the point at which the counter-revolution prevailed in other parts of the Arab region in March 2013, notably with the civil war in Syria and the al-Sisi coup in Egypt.
As has been stated, the victory of the monarchy over the February 20 Movement is often ascribed to Mohammed VI’s quick response to its demands, in his speech on 9 March 2011.10 However, this claim obfuscates reality; in fact, the regime responded to the protest movement with oppression, from its very inception. On 20 February, five charred bodies of protesters were found inside a branch of Banque Populaire in the city centre of al-Hoceima. Karim Chaib was killed under police torture in Sefrou. On 20 June, activist Kamal Ammari died under police torture, in Safi. Likewise, Mohammed Boudroua (an unemployment activist) and Kalam al-Hassani (an activist in a Rif association for the unemployed) were killed in Safi on 14 October and 27 October, respectively.
Just one day after the protests broke out, King Mohammed VI rejected the movement’s demand for constitutional amendments, referring to them as ‘demagoguery’. Then, one week later, he resorted to a step that has rarely been acknowledged: he got his adviser Mohamed Motassim to meet with union leaders in his home on 27 February. This meeting isolated the union movement from the February 20 Movement. This was expressed in the words of Touria Lahrach, leader of the Democratic Confederation of Labour (CDT), in a conversation broadcast by Medi1 on 23 October 2014: ‘If we had no sense of citizenship, we would have taken to the streets with the protesters on 20 February. Rather, as trade unionists, we sat at the negotiating table and signed an agreement on 26 April.’11 The monarchy and union leadership had learned their lesson from the experience in Tunisia, where the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) had supported the revolution; they thus joined efforts to avoid such a scenario in Morocco.
The state then made a series of concessions that would have been unimaginable had it not been for the flames of the revolution then scorching the region. Public expenditure increased in 2011 by 15.9%, while the state moved to employ more than 4,000 university graduates and chose to turn a blind eye to unlicensed construction and the ‘invasion’ of street vendors.
The king also called for financial support and debt relief for 200,000 farmers. On 26 April 2011, he stated: ‘No matter how high the financial cost that these measures require, our utmost goal is to bring small-scale farmers to the core of human and rural development.’12 This revealed not a monarchy somehow entrenched in Moroccan consciousness, but rather a conflict in which the monarchy had to offer concessions in order to stop the protest movement.
After the king separated the movement from its presumed social base, he turned his attention to the ‘constitutional battle’. In his speech on 9 March 2011, the king did not claim to respond to the demands of the February 20 Movement, but rather presented these measures as a continued consolidation of earlier ‘institutional gains’ and as an enhancement of the ‘democratic development model’.
The monarchy passed the new constitution through the usual methods of mobilization and intervention by the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs, and through suppressing the demonstrations by the February 20 Movement against that constitution. As stated above, legislative elections were held in November 2011, with the Islamist Justice and Development Party establishing a (ceremonial) government. Thus the monarchy was able to claim that it had responded to popular demands, while also pandering to the US strategy on the region’s revolutions, which was based on a ‘smooth democratic transition’ that integrated Islamists in the sharing of power.
Many hold the Moroccan people responsible for this turn of events, for it was the people that voted for the Justice and Development Party. However, regardless of voting percentages and the way in which they are calculated, elections are a mechanism that is at the heart of the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary contexts. When the masses awaken, and open their eyes to political life under conditions of prolonged political backwardness and the absence of a revolutionary force, they look for a simple political formula that directly expresses their aspirations by means of numerical preponderance. Some sections of the masses believed the promises that the Justice and Development Party made about ‘reform under stability’ and ‘fighting corruption’. In casting their votes for the Party, they sought to penalize the parties that had previously held power.
Ultimately, the February 20 Movement ended a protracted political era that had been marked by polarization between the monarchy and parties that emerged from the national bourgeois movement in the 1960s. The latter’s electoral power diminished – especially that of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) – while the radical left was weakened. In this setting, a new form of polarization was established, between the monarchy and political Islam. As in the first case, however, such a polarization did not (and does not) reflect a class conflict, but rather a political rivalry rooted in similar class dynamics. These dynamics consist of finding the best route to ensure the smooth functioning of capitalism, and the subordination of the popular classes. In this context, it was predictable that any revolutionary uprising would be met with movements representing political Islam, movements that would be ready to politically co-opt the uprising, as happened in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011.
The February 20 Movement: a balance sheet
In 2011, Mohammed VI appointed a commission to propose and outline the limits of any constitutional amendments. Ruqayyah Moussaddaq, professor of political science and constitutional law at Mohammed V University in Rabat, has offered one of the sharpest analyses of the 2011 Constitution, describing it as a ‘discretionary constitution’ and stating ‘The new constitution is a step back in our political and constitutional path,’13. Under the 2011 Constitution, the king’s authority is not subject to the constitution but rather to his own discretionary power; he can thus grant himself the authority to amend the constitution without holding a referendum (article 174 of the constitution).
However, while Moussaddaq focuses on the formal constitutional aspects, she misses, in her concluding analysis, the economic – i.e., class – implications of the 2011 Constitution. The 2011 Constitution preserves the monarchy’s economic power, and gives the king exclusive power to designate ‘strategic’ companies and institutions, and to appoint their directors. The ministerial cabinet, headed by the king, has the power to determine the ‘strategic approach of state policy’. The king’s speeches hold binding legislative force, while the government programme does not.
Article 35 of the new constitution stipulates that private ownership, entrepreneurship, and free competition are ensured. After years of implementing neoliberal policies, the monarchy thus utilized the constitutional amendments to anchor austerity in the constitution (article 77).
Moreover, the state also implemented the bosses’ demands concerning tax policies: the tax burden was decreased, particularly through the main tax imposed on corporate profits, which was reduced from an average of 30% to 10%, and which applies to 79% of taxable corporations. Once more, the government largely fulfilled the wishes of businessmen and CEOs.14
To finance the budget deficit – partly the result of this favourable tax treatment for bosses – the state was plunged into further indebtedness. The table below summarizes Morocco’s ratio of debt to GDP between 2012 and 2016:15
As a result of these dynamics, the neoliberal assault on public services and the working class continued to intensify. In late 2011, the state demolished thousands of clandestine slums and removed street vendors from Morocco’s public spaces. In 2012, the head of the government, Abdelilah Benkiran, refused to implement a decree on hiring unemployed university graduates, signed on 20 July 2011 by former prime minister Abbas El Fassi. In 2016, Social Fund expenses were cut by about 15 billion Moroccan dirhams (around 1.3 billion euros).
As part of its ‘civil service reform’ project, and under World Bank pressure, since 2013 the state has proceeded to apply a neoliberal logic of austerity – a logic based on the proliferation of fixed-term work contracts, the dismantling of public sector jobs, wage reduction, and the reform of pension schemes. The ultimate goal is to replicate private sector work relations in the public sector.
These policies have resulted in social and labour struggles, but the state, in cooperation with union bureaucracies and the bourgeoisie, has managed to stem such struggles with partial concessions which do nothing to stop the neoliberal assault. Not only have these concessions been momentary, they have also been easily reversed through state countermeasures. In such a context, some of the freedoms gained have been undermined. For instance, the Press and Publishing Code that was approved on 10 August 2016 led to numerous trials based on social media posts. Journalists were arrested under falsified charges (including Taoufiq Bouachrine, Souleiman Raissouni, Omar Radi) and movements in the Rif and Jerada (2017–2018) were suppressed with crackdowns, with hefty prison sentences for those who had taken part. Furthermore, the police force killed a protester, Imad El Attabi, in Hoceima in July 2017, and they killed a participant in a demonstration of short-term contract workers, Abdellah Hajili, in May 2019. Meanwhile, a law to restrict the working class’s right to strike is currently being ratified.
The Rif Movement: A popular protest with a political character and local specificity
Popular struggle did not stop with the February 20 Movement. In the Rif region confrontations continued, in which the National Association of Unemployed Graduates played a leading role.
The Rif is unique in Morocco. Following the Protectorate treaty of 1912, the Rif was annexed to the Spanish colonial power, though a liberation movement led by Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi defeated Spain and built the foundations of a republic. Spanish imperialism was very backwards; it left the Rif as it entered it. On independence in 1956 the Rif was annexed again, to the area of Morocco that had been under French rule, which was far more developed. Pesos were replaced with francs; the Rabat government replaced the local administration.
This prompted the 1958 uprising, which the regime repressed with the use of the military and aerial bombardment. An uprising in 1984 was similarly repressed. The region remained marginalized within Morocco and the population were forced to rely on ‘micro smuggling’ into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, emigration to Europe, and cannabis farming. With the tightening of migration and the stifling of the smuggling trade from 2011 onwards, the situation reached a crisis point.
The crisis peaked in October 2016, when Mouhcine Fikri, a fishmonger, was crushed to death while attempting to retrieve his fish from a rubbish truck, placed there by police. Demonstrations immediately began across the entire Rif region and continued into 2017, when they were effectively ended by the crackdown against the 20 July demonstration that year, including the trials and arbitrary sentencing of protesters, including the 20-year prison sentence given to the protest movement’s leader Nasser Zefzafi and others.
The Rif protesters had demanded the development of their region (roads, healthcare, education), but due to the region’s historical specificity, the movement also carried particular political implications. Unlike other struggles in Morocco, which are typically directed at the monarchy’s institutional fronts (the government, parliament, and political parties), the Movement of the Rif involved a direct confrontation with the monarchy, which it held responsible for the situation. It was not the national flag that was lifted by protesters: instead, they raised the banner of the revolutionary anti-colonial Rif republic.
Quid pro quo diplomacy: Western Sahara, the Moroccan regime and the Politics of Normalization with Israel
The Moroccan monarchy presents itself as a model of political stability in a region now devastated by civil wars. In doing so, it hopes to increase the benefits of its long-standing cooperation with imperialism – primarily French and American – and Zionism.
In an October 2020 report, the World Bank criticized the delay in establishing a free trade area in the Arab region. Referring to the occupation of Palestine and the question of Western Sahara, it stated: ‘The West Bank and Gaza-Israeli conflict, and the strained relations between Morocco and Algeria, among others, impede the development of a more united front among MENA countries.’16
Regarding global imperialism, Palestine and Western Sahara are questions that were inherited from the Cold War period of anti-colonial struggles and ‘progressive’ regimes. Since that time, economic and political shifts in the Arab region and the African continent have brought regimes and elites to power that have broken with their countries’ histories of national liberation, and that have complied with global institutions and global capitalism. Those regimes, along with global imperialism, came to see the two questions of Palestine and Western Sahara as blocking the economic integration of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and the region’s own integration with global capitalism.
The Moroccan regime is fully aware of this radically changed context. The monarchy benefited from the 2008 global economic crisis, presenting itself to capital as able to operate across the continent as an exemplary ‘mediator’. It has also benefited from the 2011 regional uprisings, appearing now as a model of a politically stable regime that safeguards imperial interests, including concerns over clandestine migration and terrorism. Indeed, in the aftermath of Covid-19, the monarchy is set to benefit from the decline in global value chains and their redistribution at the regional level.
Further, the regime’s mobilization of the discourse of ‘territorial integrity’ and ahistorical ‘sovereignty’, internally and externally, is an attempt to preserve these economic profits and political interests. This strategy is demonstrated in state manoeuvres with regard to Western Sahara, a central issue for the monarchy which is also at the core of regional transformations. With the downfall of the staunchest supporter of the Saharawi Republic, Muammar Gaddafi, and the Algerian regime’s own crises, the Moroccan regime has assumed a commanding position on the issue.
For nearly a decade the monarchy has pursued an economic strategy of transforming Morocco into a launchpad for imperial investments in Africa. The regime utilizes Moroccan capital to shift the opinion of imperial countries on Western Sahara in its favour. Those countries prefer a stable regime that is able to guarantee their interests and their economic raiding of Africa.
Perhaps the biggest political victory achieved by the monarchy in this context was its return to the African Union (AU) in 2017, 32 years after Morocco’s withdrawal from the Organisation of African Unity.17 Morocco’s return received widespread and indeed unconditional support from the AU member states, reflecting the shift in the continental balance of power. At the same time, the Moroccan regime enacted a policy of developing economic relations with countries with which it previously had no links, in the hope of changing their position on the question of Western Sahara.
Additionally, the United Nations has tipped in favour of adopting the Moroccan state’s viewpoint in its reports, especially as the task of holding a referendum on self-determination has faded into the background: the United Nations praises the Moroccan autonomy plan, and repeatedly emphasizes the importance of a buffer zone and the negotiation of a solution, while simultaneously rejecting changes and calling for a neutral census of refugee camp populations, and so on – all of which are frequently raised as complaints by the Polisario.
Following the Polisario’s blocking of the Guerguerat crossing at the Mauritanian border in late 2020, the Moroccan regime established new ‘facts on the ground’, initiating a security cordon in order to guarantee smooth crossings of the border – and thereby breaching the ceasefire negotiated through the United Nations in September 1991. In response, the Polisario declared war. However, there were only very limited skirmishes, which in no way affected the Moroccan regime. Throughout this period, the monarchy took advantage of the Polisario’s internal contradictions, which arise from the Front’s transition from a national liberation movement into a state apparatus, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Polisario now has a large bureaucracy (a police force, an army, and a diplomatic corps) though this survives only through external aid, and is indeed entirely dependent on the Algerian military – changes that parallel those that took place within the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In his 2004 book, Eastern Cauldron, Gilbert Achcar speaks of the decay of the Polisario, which he describes as a ‘long march backwards’.18 Both the Polisario and the PLO have become a state apparatus without a territory; both seek lands in order to exercise state power while having quasi-total dependence on the so-called international community and its legitimacy.
Monarchical diplomacy regarding Western Sahara has thus become more aggressive, benefiting from imperial competition on the African continent. After decades of being blackmailed, the monarchy became the blackmailer: Rabat has taken every opportunity to call back its ambassadors to Morocco in protests over the issue, as it did with Germany in May 2021, after that country’s Foreign Minister’s statement on former President Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan, and with Spain a month later, when the president of SADR received hospital treatment there. Subsequently the Moroccan monarchy used its role as an EU border guard (with regard to containing clandestine migration from the African continent) to pressure Spain by allowing hundreds of minors to migrate to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Because of Spain’s weak position within the hierarchy of global imperialism, the regime’s diplomatic gains and economic standing may translate into internal and external consolidation of the monarchy, thus surpassing the effect of the 1975 Green March. This will surely be the case if the monarchy succeeds in squeezing concessions from Spain, even if solely in the form of a diplomatic deal (of the kind signed by Britain and China in 1889, relating to Hong Kong).
Recently, Morocco’s aims in Western Sahara have been combined with support from the US, with the country’s normalization with Israel. The Moroccan monarchy’s relations with Israel have continued since its formal independence. In his book Lineages of Revolt (2013), Adam Hanieh describes the development of relations between Arab states, including Morocco, in the context of the imperial strategy of transforming the MENA into a free trade and investment zone.
In October 2000, the Moroccan regime was forced to shut down an Israeli ‘liaison office’ in Rabat under pressure from popular solidarity with the second Palestinian Intifada. However, the power balance has now tipped towards the counter-revolutionary forces in the Arab region. Having made political gains through weathering the 20 February storm, with increased regional weight and status among the imperial powers, the regime was able to openly normalize relations with the Zionist state: it signed an agreement to that effect on 10 December 2020, under the auspices of the United States.
Never before has the monarchy achieved such an internal and external consensus as it has recently established – it flaunts its gains like Achilles. However, while Achilles had just one weakness, the monarchy has two: the first is the erupting social crisis, that it is attempting to contain, and the second is the coming global economic crisis and its implications for the monarchy’s hopes of playing the role of forward guard of global capital, invading the markets and looting the wealth of Africa.
Imperialism and autocratic regimes benefit from the separation of popular and labour struggles. The revolutionary process of 2011 opened a window of opportunity for collective liberation in the region. The first signs of the February 20 Movement were demonstrations in solidarity with the Tunisian and Egyptian peoples in front of their respective embassies. However, even as further demonstrations broke out, there was a shift from the streets to the constitutional realm. And with the victory of the counter-revolution, this prism of international solidarity had receded into country-specific struggles.
As those great revolutionary processes enter their tenth year, it is evident that the liberation of the peoples of the region will require a combined Maghrebi, Arab and African perspective. Without such a perspective, the working and popular classes of the region will be unable to overcome the ruling classes and their regimes, which have only further entrenched their relations with capital, and their normalization with Israel.
In Morocco, social questions – unemployment, peripheral development, lack of food sovereignty, poor public services, concentration of land ownership, and inequality – are the likely detonators of future struggles. The severity of the health and economic crisis has heated the boiler; once it reaches boiling point, it will explode in the faces of those that have created this crisis – the big capitalists (or bosses) and the state.
This coming struggle may be able to take advantage of the political experience that has been developed in Morocco over the past decades. If, however, those resources are not utilized during the upcoming battles, social discontent is likely to move towards a political impasse: it will be easily suppressed, and will receive nothing but crumbs from the bourgeois opposition, which will help save the regime in exchange for the latter meeting the bourgeoisie’s demands for political reform and democratization in small doses.
A unified workers and popular front is crucial, if disaster is to be avoided. Hence, the necessity of building bonds of cooperation between various groups – trade unions, coordination committees, and movements against unemployment – in the face of bosses’ attacks. This unity is critical and should be extended to other sections of working people: that is, to small-scale producers in cities and villages, to students, and so on. If this does not happen, these groups will form nothing but a passive crowd, waiting on the regime’s charity or acting as a mass reserve for reactionary forces that share the regime’s class aspirations: maintaining the existing socio-economic model, whilst mitigating its worst effects by resorting to intermittent philanthropy.
Not only did the 20 February Movement reveal that which preceded it; it also provides an index of a potential future. The separation of the political from both the social and economic elements in the movement was its downfall. A movement combining these three elements (political, social and economic) could make gains in terms of political freedoms, while simultaneously toppling neoliberalism and moving towards a genuine inclusive democracy. This democracy would also include proponents of republicanism, secularism, and Saharawi independence. Instead of the reformism that the liberal and religious-reactionary opposition yearn for, the ultimate aim should be to overthrow the neoliberal 2011 Constitution – and to establish a constitutional assembly through which the Moroccan people, for the first time in their history, can choose their own destiny.
Such is the task of the labour and popular vanguards, which must first attain their political independence from every manifestation of bourgeois opposition. Anyone who identifies with the historical project of liberating the working classes has an important role to play, and can themselves contribute to this grand goal.