Fish ven­dor death trou­bles Morocco

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

HOCEIMA, Morocco: The anger is palat­able in Hoceima, a Moroc­can port on the Mediter­ranean Sea. It has ig­nited protests across the coun­try and threat­ens to cloud Morocco’s im­age as it pre­pares to host two weeks of high-pro­file UN cli­mate talks. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple marched in a silent can­dle­light vigil Fri­day night by the lo­cal po­lice sta­tion where fish ven­dor Mouhcine Fikri died in a garbage com­pactor.

Fikri had been sell­ing 500 kg of unau­tho­rized sword­fish that po­lice con­fis­cated and dis­carded. He then climbed into a garbage truck to re­trieve the fish, and was crushed when its com­pactor was ac­ti­vated. Lo­cal me­dia have re­ported that po­lice al­legedly told the driver to “grind him” al­though the pros­e­cu­tor is­sued a state­ment say­ing “no spe­cific or­der was given to kill” Fikri.

The ral­ly­ing cry for the protests has been “hogra”, or the de­pri­va­tion of dig­nity, re­flect­ing deep frus­tra­tion among Moroc­cans at im­punity and cor­rup­tion among po­lice and of­fi­cial­dom. Some have com­pared Fikri’s death to the death of Tu­nisian ven­dor Mo­hamed Bouaz­izi, which sparked the Arab Spring up­ris­ings across North Africa. Ex­perts say Fikri’s death is un­likely to lead to a rev­o­lu­tion in Morocco, but it is putting pres­sure on Moroc­can lead­er­ship. The king him­self has in­ter­vened to en­sure a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and the gov­ern­ment has been un­usu­ally com­mu­nica­tive about the case, try­ing to quell an out­pour­ing of anger on so­cial me­dia.

More protests are planned for to­day - just as world diplo­mats gather in Mar­rakech for the UN cli­mate talks start­ing to­mor­row to fol­low up on the land­mark Paris Agree­ment to slow global warm­ing.

Since Fikri’s death on Oct 28, protests have taken place around Morocco and at the Moroc­can em­bassies in Brus­sels and Paris. Tu­nisians held a sol­i­dar­ity protest as well. On Tues­day, the Min­istry of In­te­rior an­nounced that 11 peo­ple would face charges for man­slaugh­ter and forgery, in­clud­ing two lo­cal se­cu­rity agents and the head of the lo­cal fish­eries depart­ment. But ques­tions re­main about what ex­actly hap­pened.

“So far, the in­quiry did not show who ex­actly ac­ti­vated the ma­chine,” says one of Mouhcine’s older broth­ers, Imad Fikri, in the fam­ily’s home­town of Im­zouren, near Hoceima. “I will ask for those re­spon­si­ble to be pun­ished. I will not let him down.” An­other brother, Wael, prayed at Mouhcine’s grave, while friends came to of­fer con­do­lences to the distraught fam­ily. Or­ga­niz­ers of Fri­day’s demon­stra­tion in Hoceima said they don’t have faith in the In­te­rior Min­istry to con­duct a fair in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But they took pains to avoid vi­o­lence, re­main­ing calm and form­ing a ring around the po­lice sta­tion to pre­vent at­tacks on po­lice.

Protesters gath­ered in Mo­hammed VI Square, chant­ing “Mouhcine’s death was a mur­der!” and wav­ing the tri­color Amazigh flag and the flag of the for­mer Rif Re­pub­lic, in a re­minder of this re­gion’s his­tory of re­sis­tance to out­side con­trol. “We came to protest the hor­rific death of Mouhcine and to ex­press our anger against all those in­volved,” said Nezha Is­maili, 24.

The death has hit res­i­dents hard in Hoceima, a small, moun­tain­ous port where fish­ing is a key in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who knew Fikri, this was not his first con­fronta­tion with po­lice over his mer­chan­dise. “He was hard­work­ing and it was not the first time they con­fis­cated a quan­tity of fish be­long­ing to him,” says fish trader Hicham Khaldi. The protests come at an awk­ward time po­lit­i­cally for Morocco, as the prime min­is­ter is strug­gling to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment af­ter a tense elec­tion cam­paign.

In­tis­sar Fakir at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace does not think these protests will lead to a “revo­lu­tion­ary mo­ment” but could still af­fect change in the North African na­tion. “Per­haps this will be the be­gin­ning of a re­al­iza­tion that this en­trenched cul­ture of lack of ac­count­abil­ity, and the dis­dain and dis­re­gard for cit­i­zens needs to change,” she said. — AP

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