Morocco: Police brutality at Sidi Ben Abdellah University, Fez

We have received this report about the brutal repression at Sidi Ben Abdellah University last May which left 4 students dead. The news about these clashes have not been reported anywhere outside Morocco and the Moroccan press has given an extremely biased version of them. We urge our readers to express solidarity and spread the news of what actually happened.

Violent conflict erupted on the streets of Lido in Fez, from May 12th ‘till May 14th. It is suspected that antagonisms were inflamed between local gangs of youth and student activists within the university, however the intervention of the police brought with it further intensity as they used tear gas in support of the thugs that had provoked the violence. The state machine forced entry into Sidi Ben Abdellah (SMBA) university using a bulldozer and actively engaged the students in armed conflict. Scores of young people were wounded and the official death toll is 4 people, though only the names of three of them are known: Bouabid Hafid, Hafid Hmimid, Hicham Elbouzidi.

Damage done by the police

One of the wounded students

One of the dead students

The student movement in Fez is itself divided and its current alienation from the local population contributed to the confused factors that resulted in this violence. The student awareness of the machinations of the police inevitably caused tensions between the students and the Lido gangs. The conflict was sparked off by a minor incident involving one student and one thug, but the momentum of support behind each party culminated in a terrible blood bath.

The reasons for this are quite clear, the police’s intention is to weaken the student union in order to undermine opposition to plans for future educational reforms, coined by the regime as the “National Compromise.” Reductions in state expenditure are necessary in accordance with the current liberalisation of the economy. The interests of the capitalist class compel them to quell any powerful student movements and use extreme measures to silence and smear the name of any organised opposition. The Lido gangs are simply puppets to indirectly achieve this end. The state, then, need take no blame and their intervention can later be used as a means to relocate the slum inhabitants under the pretext of “fighting the ghettoes.”

The police in Fez have systematically attempted to divide and rule over different layers of youth. At a previous student union meeting a new group known as the “Revolutionary Students” claimed that they attempted to reconcile the Lido youth who had refused them on the grounds that the “CUBA” group had attacked their gangs. The police force’s main objective was to prevent the students from making a political appeal to the local working class. It is for this reason that they have provided conditional protection to these lumpenised layers, the condition… information. These unfortunate circumstances are a recent development in the strategies of the state because historically, each side had sought protection from the other when the regime had acted in an oppressive manner. The regime’s interest is contingent upon attacking the interests of two potential allies.

The pretext for state intervention was initiated by a fabrication contrived by the campus administration and supported by the mass media. Their allegation was that the students had taken several university employees hostage, it was therefore a “legal responsibility” to order police intervention. However (an administrator) stated that he and his colleagues had hidden from the violence, locking themselves into a room and that they had not been forcefully detained.

The students used defensive violence and refused to retreat until the police had vacated their territory. As the mood developed further demands were made, regarding the front door of the girl’s halls of residence.

The trial that ensued was dubious in nature due to the corruption of the Moroccan authorities. Najib Mabarak, a member of the defence committee claimed that there was an overall lack of respect for the legal process.

  1. There was no evidence for the charges laid upon the defendants. All of the defendants were arrested randomly and far away from the theatre of conflict.
  2. The violence used by the police was unjustified; many of the defendants had broken limbs and serious wounds.
  3. The interrogators in the police station were not officials and no supervision was permitted.

Overall 116 students have been arrested, the charges range from destruction of public property to holding officials hostage and insubordination.

It is essential to note that the most decisive cause for this conflict are the structural adjustment programmes in the economy, introduced to North Africa these have been in place since the mid 1980s. This bares the thorny crown of the so called “National Compromise.” A meticulously contrived political programme designed to divert the attention of the working class and mobilise their solidarity for developing the “national interest.” While simultaneously atomising the workers movement and propelling the country towards mass privatisation, foreign monopoly and super exploitation under the heavy hand of the World Bank and the IMF.

Throughout North Africa the students have played a historical role in pioneering political action. Governments across the Arab world have been brought to their knees by the confrontations that the students have initiated. The volatile character of the Moroccan student movement today is sending alarm bells to the state. Each time they move to take action, it is a confirmation of the national crisis that has besieged the country and an indication of the necessity for change.

We extend our support to the students of SMBA University and echo their demand for the immediate release of those incarcerated and support their material and moral compensation. An open inquiry and the pursuit of those officials responsible for the Machiavellian cover up of the Lido crisis. This would be no more than a return to the status quo…but how to move forward? Who would lead such an inquiry without the most elementary political and organisational freedoms, which can only be realised by a mass movement?