A year on, Morocco’s democracy movement founders

February 18, 2012

Morocco’s pro-democracy February 20 movement spearheaded the country’s version of the Arab Spring and sent the centuries-old monarchy scrambling to reform. Now, a year after its birth, the youth-led group appears to have lost its way.

And while the movement struggles for relevance, Morocco’s problems are far from solved: Social discontent and clashes between police and unemployed graduates are on the rise as the economy suffers from the effects of Europe’s financial crisis.

Like the Occupy movements in the United States, Morocco’s pro-democracy groups now need to find out if they can keep the fight going.

On Sunday, the movement will try, with country-wide anniversary demonstrations, to rekindle some of the fire that at its peak in March drew 800,000 people from all walks of life onto the streets calling for greater democracy and social justice and an end to corruption.

The protesters achieved some of the things they wanted, bringing their country a new constitution and free elections.

Since then, however, the numbers at the weekly demonstrations have plummeted to a few thousand in the larger cities as ordinary people abandoned the movement, apparently satisfied with King Mohammed VI’s reforms, including granting more powers to elected officials — or scared away by a tougher response to the protests.

Elections on Nov. 25 were won by a moderate Islamist opposition party promising many of the things once shouted at demonstrations.

Moroccan authorities have trumpeted their “third way” of dealing with the Arab Spring, steering between revolution and repression in favor of reforms with stability.

Social unrest has continued, but the youth-led movement has had a hard time harnessing that simmering anger.

“The problem with February 20 is that it is elitist and doesn’t have a rapport with the people,” said Mouad Belghouat, a 25-year-old rapper with February 20 whose songs excoriating the palace and social inequalities in the country became the soundtrack for the movement.

Still, activists like Belghouat question whether the limited powers given to the new government will be enough to enact the deep reforms that the people crave — especially as daily frustrations mount.

“Now the people are waiting to see what they can do,” he said. “They will be disappointed.”

— Associated Press

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