Yesterday, a bomb killed 16 people at the historic centre of Marrakesh. Most of the people killed were sitting in a café overlooking Marrakesh's Jamaa el-Fnaa square, a place that is often packed with foreign tourists.
It would be difficult to find a more emblematic target than this square which is promoted worldwide by the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism. Most of the victims are foreigners.
The terrorist attack seems to have been carried by one or two suicide bombers. This is the first terrorist attack since the blast in May 2003 which killed 43 people in Casablanca. So far now nobody has officially claimed the attack. In 2003 the attack was carried out by 12 members of an Islamic terrorist network, local activists of Al Quaeda.
The government used the brutal killing eight years ago to reverse the timid democratic reforms initiated when the new king came to power.
The attack signalled the start of a general onslaught on all kinds of Muslim activists and set in motion the dismantling of real or imagined networks of terrorists. More importantly it was the excuse to curtail democratic rights and freedoms, threaten the freedom the press, etc. The regime used the general popular revulsion against the terrorist attack to gather the whole of the population around it in the name of national unity. It thus strengthened its legitimacy, temporarily at least, and justified an increase of repression against social protests quickly branded as ‘terrorism’.
The regional and national political context that this attack has taken place in is completely different from that of eight years ago. Now Morocco is gripped by an unprecedented wave of national political protests demanding an end to the despotic regime. The youth is highly politicised and there is a revival of the class struggle in some sectors (such as education).
The region is witnessing a wave of revolutionary events which has already led to the downfall of the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt. The national days of protests culminated last week on Sunday, April 24 in demonstrations in 100 different cities and villages across the country.
The movement is still spreading and has rejected the manoeuvres of the King, who has promised ‘constitutional reform’. Despite official denials, the regime is clearly considering the possibility that it too may be overthrown, as has happened in other countries in the Middle East, and it is fighting back.
On yesterday’s bomb blast “security experts” said the attack was in line with Islamist militants' previous attempts - most of them disrupted by security services - to undermine Morocco's rulers by targeting the tourism industry.
"The majority of plots are detected in their early stages because Moroccan authorities retain a very effective network of informants right down to street level," said Anna Murison of Exclusive Analysis.
"However, the regular recurrence of plots... mean it is likely that a few will slip through the net," she said.
Last week, men claiming to be Moroccan members of al Qaeda's north African wing appeared in a video posted on YouTube threatening to attack Moroccan interests.
A masked speaker, who identified himself as Abu Abdulrahman, said the planned attacks were to avenge the detention of Islamists by Moroccan authorities. (Source: Reuters).
Strategy of tension
The Minister of Communication Khalid Naciri told the media that, “Morocco is now confronted with the same threats as in May 2003 and will react with diligence.” The message is clear!
Why is it that during eight years no attack has taken place and only now a bomb kills tourists and local Moroccans alike in probably one of the most protected and policed areas of Morocco? Why does this happen now in the middle of the biggest political challenge to the regime by the the revolutionary youth movement? Many activists in the 20F youth movement point an accusing finger in the direction of the regime.
Suspicion is growing that the security services could have deliberately let slip a terrorist cell through its network. Or it could have manipulated some of the Islamic youth to bomb the tourist square. This resembles the famous “strategy of tension” used by the Italian bourgeois between 1964 and 1980.
By a series of secret services sponsored terrorist attacks it wants to create a climate of political violence that would then justify more repression and an authoritarian regime. If you ask the question “Who benefits from the crime?”, you very often find the perpetrator. This attack is clearly benefiting the besieged regime in Morocco.
Last night after weeks of almost no repression of the protests, there were reports on the many facebook pages of brutal police charges in Tetuan and Meknez. In the evening the police entered the Faculty of Literature in Meknez and attacked the students. Some were arrested ,others were wounded. In Tetuan, at 1am the peaceful sit-in in solidarity with the prisoners of the 20F demonstrations in front of the court was baton charged by the police.
It is not clear yet if this a general pattern throughout the rest of the country. But it is surely a warning from the regime: “Don’t think you are demonstrating in Switzerland. You are in Morocco and we are still the rulers.” A week ago the regime and its media tried to stir up a chauvinistic campaign against the Polisario, but it failed to take off amongst the masses.
This terror attack benefits the regime to the extent that if will be used to justify the repression against the protest movement. It will surely be used to try to rally the population around the King, at a moment when his regime is buckling.
The King will present himself as the only person and institution able to guarantee calm and stability in the country. The immediate effect, however, is that it will increase the tensions and harden the relations between the revolutionary youth and the regime. The youth again will not be fooled. A new stage of the revolution has opened up in Morocco.