Most of all those who were unprepared for the popular onslaught were Moroccan politicians. The soft and, nonetheless, infectious power of the internet through which protesters have been organizing themselves, synchronizing their actions, and communicating with each other has left the politicians dumbfounded. This new tactic for voicing social grievances has proven impervious to the state’s intervention and street intimidations.
There are no clashes, no bullets, no blood, simply a new insurgent tactic that left the politicians utterly baffled; they did not know what has hit them; they have been unable to quash the revolt by simply dispatching, like they had in the past, anti-riot police.
The internet has come to the rescue and immunized Moroccan protesters from the wrath of their own government. As in the Arab spring, social network venues, in this case Facebook, provided the protesters with a Hadrian’s wall-like shield behind which a barrage of cynicism, caricature, and grotesque social discontent comes flowing without fear of repression and reprisals.
However, unlike the Arab spring, the protesters did not take to the streets. There are no protesters to be beaten nor charges to be levelled against anyone for disorderly conduct. If the protesters usurped one of the state’s most favored weapons of choice, repression, the government still has one more weapon in its hand, the floor of the parliament building, a privileged pantheon in democratic societies for debating the affairs of the nation and attending to its urgent matters.
At least, it would have been convenient to the gravity of the social crisis to lend one’s attention to the protesters’ demands instead of ignoring them first before dismissing them outright from within the parliament itself, a move that the government deplored when it was too late to turn back the clock and undo the damage its own rhetoric had caused.
The ineptitude of some elected officials and business tycoons was exposed in broad daylight when they labeled the protesters “foolish” and “unpatriotic”. The accusations drew even more anger and widened the sphere of the unrest. Every day, more people are joining in; even those who lost their job to the boycott sided with the protesters.
The divide that ensued speaks volumes; it points to the social gap, separating the silent majority that has been indifferent to the political process and the elected officials who found themselves in positions of power by default. It is a world divided across fault lines of social class, economic opportunity, and family privilege.
That world has put the haves on one side and the have nots, on the other; i.e. the less than 5 percent of Moroccans who sit comfortably in their ivory tower and the large majority wailing its misery in the streets of Morocco.
To call the protesters “foolish,” to threaten them with jail for supposedly sharing fake news, and to label them unpatriotic are proofs of a counter-insurgency that no longer has a place in the 21st century. It turned out the “foolish” were not foolish after all. The fallout of this episode should remind the elite in Morocco that their time is up; the country is in need of new faces and a new class of political representatives instead of the same faces swapping positions of power and giving the general populace the semblance of political change.
Morocco has changed and, by contrast, the state practices that secured power and prestige, and monopolized the wealth in the hands of the few to the detriment of the poor majority have not. The great awakening has finally come, not through political parties and the work of trade-unionists but thanks to social networking sites, a sign of the depth of Moroccans’ distrust in the very same institutions that are supposed to help them.
Like every revolt or revolution in the Arab world, there has always been a concomitant current that jumps on the bandwagon in order to steer the revolt toward dogma, religious ideology, and eventually violence. The call to boycott cultural events, like music festivals, are the latest victim of the perversion that strikes any meaningful attempt to change the status quo in the Arab world.
Moving forward and espousing what the boycott stands for should lead to more space for freedoms and cultural diversity, not to regression in the name of religious ideology. Morocco is capable of hosting Mawazine or the World Cup as well as providing jobs, housing, and social services for its poor. The human capital and economic potential are all there to meet the needs of a country in transition. What is not yet there is the willingness to make room for everyone in decision-making, wealth management and creation, and social and political inclusion.
When that happens and the barriers to equal opportunity crumble, the added value of culture to the process of social and economic development will also be clearly visible to the disgruntled masses. Amidst all of this, the internet has emerged as one of the most powerful tools for bringing about social change and making the haughty politicians cave in to the demands of the popular masses.
It is the new party that functions without a leader or a secretary-general. It has no physical space, no budget, no slogan, no charter, no meetings. It levels the field of political engagement. Perhaps the silent majority in Morocco has found in the internet the “party” to enable it to speak and be heard for a change.
— With assistance by Zakaria Fatih