Morocco: Tremors in the Rif

On February 24, 2004 a large earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale rocked the Rif region in northern Morocco. More than one year later, hundreds of families continue to live in utter misery. Now other tremors are hitting the region.

On February 24, 2004 a large earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale rocked the Rif region in northern Morocco near the province of Al Hoceima. More than 570 people were killed and hundreds were injured.

More than one year after the earthquake, hundreds of families continue to live in destitution, in light tents and makeshift shelters that are not adequate for the harsh weather conditions of the mountains. The people of the region must endure these conditions even when massive amounts of international aid were given to the Moroccan government to deal with the disaster. Promised government aid and compensation, which was insufficient anyway (30,000 DH, approximately £1,843, was promised to each family to re-build their homes), has not arrived.

It was under these terrible conditions that on May 11 this year the Citizens’ Association of Tamassint, created to defend the interests of the victims of the disaster, called a demonstration for May 19, which would march from Tamassint to Al Hoceima, a distance of 40 kilometres. As soon as the announcement was made, police arrested three leading figures of the association, Moatassim El Ghalbzouri, Salim Ghallit and Mohamed Aberkan (who is seventy years old). At the same time large amounts of police were deployed in the area, creating an atmosphere of intimidation.

The three arrested members of the Association were brought before the courts on May 16 and were refused their request for release. Despite the arbitrary incarcerations and the atmosphere of intimidation, the people of Tamassint decided to go ahead with their march to Al Hoceima and demand a solution to the problems caused by the disaster and to demand the release of their arrested colleagues.

On the morning of May 19, some 3500 people left Tamassint for Al Hoceima. After marching 10 kilometres the marchers ran into the police, who had arrived to stop the procession. The demonstrators were brutally attacked. Demonstrators were savagely beaten and chased into the mountains. The police even used helicopters to fire tear gas at the demonstration. Some twenty people were arrested and several dozens of people were injured, including children. After the savage repression of the demonstration the police surrounded and isolated the Tamassint. Some of the members of the police force were threatening to repeat the massacre of 1958...

The repression of protest, something the regime of Mohammed VI was supposed to have abandoned, reminds the people of the Rif region of the dark years under the reign of King Hassan II. This was a period of state crimes, repression, persecution, and a period when the people of the Rif were both socially and economically marginalised. This is why the people of Rif region recently rejected the farce that is l’Instance Equité et Réconciliation (The Authority of Reconciliation), which was charged with compensating several victims of the regime of Hassan II. The people of the Rif can see no real difference between the reign of Hassan II and Mohammed VI. This “Authority” was rejected by the people because the organization refuses to recognise that it was the entire region that suffered violence, privations, and repression for half a century, not simply a few people.

On May 26 the three arrested members of the Citizens’ Association were brought again before the courts, where their request for release was again denied. Their trial date was for June 9. One of the defence lawyers explained that court proceedings took place “under the conditions of draconian security measures, without the presence of the families of the accused, and when the press has been prohibited from covering the trial.” Some 300 people organised a sit-in outside the courthouse to demonstrate against “the terrible repression carried out against the demonstrators from Tamassint.” One of the organisers of the sit-in explained, “the members of the Association of the Victims of the Earthquake at Al Hoceima are the victims of arbitrary arrests, houses in the village have been searched and a wave of terror reigns over the inhabitants of the village.” (La Nouvelle République, May 29, 2005).

When Mohammed VI came to power shortly after the death of his father, he announced that he would transform the country, establish the rule of law and lead Morocco into the 21st century. Morocco was supposed to be heading down the road of democracy. The recent events in the Rif region have smashed this illusion, and revealed the corruption and rottenness of the regime. The supposed reforms proposed by Mohammed VI gave rise to high expectations amongst the population. The shattering of these expectations, will give rise to further protests and demonstrations against the regime, and fuel a movement for genuine change and reform, i.e a revolutionary movement. The people of the Rif region have entered the road of struggle, and will relearn the anti-imperialist and revolutionary traditions of the region.