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How the Moroccan regime weathered the storms of the Arab Spring

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One of the reasons why the February 20 movement didn’t survive was that it was not supported by Moroccan intellectuals, including teachers.

Jamal Elabiad
29 July 2012

Soon after the Tunisian president, Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali, decided to step down because of growing anti-regime protests around Tunisia, the country he ruled for more than twenty years, many Arab regimes were afraid of encountering the same terrible ending. They resorted to several measures in order to avoid the anger of pro-democracy protesters. Early elections, salary increase, and constitutional reforms are examples of the procedures many presidents and kings around the Arab world relied on for the purpose of facing the storms of the Arab Spring.

For some Arab regimes, these measures were like water off a duck’s back. They were ousted despite the social and political reforms they unveiled immediately, once pro-change protesters started to take to the streets. Think, for instance, of Mummar El Ghadafi of Libya and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

However, such measures did produce a result for other Arab regimes, including that of Morocco. In addition to the psychological war state-controlled media declared on activists of the February 20 movement, accusing them of serving the agenda of Morocco’s enemies, particularly the Polizario Front and Algeria, King Mohamed VI announced a number of reforms. He did this shortly after the February 20 movement began to organize almost weekly protest marches against corruption, poverty, and unemployment.

The main purpose of those reforms was to discourage Moroccans from taking part in the movement’s weekly demonstrations through meeting some of their demands. Two of these were a review of the constitution and increasing salaries, including those of professors. As a result, the Moroccan regime managed to stay alive after the coming of what I prefer to call the Moroccan Spring.

It’s beyond doubt that the ruling establishment was scared of professors joining the February 20 movement if one of their key demands was not fulfilled: a salary increase. And that’s why raising their salaries was among the initial steps it took with the aim of dissuading them from participating in the movement’s protests and sit-ins. 

There are many reasons why Moroccan professors were among the first whose problems were given this sort of  priority. One reason is that most of their labour unions expressed support for the online calls for protest made by activists of the February 20 movement. Add to this the fact that professors’ labour unions did take part in the many pro-change protests that Morocco witnessed after independence. University teachers are, after all, a basic component of the working class whose protests around the world have led to many significant social and political changes.

I was one of those who expressed strong opposition to the reforms the Moroccan regime announced nearly three weeks after thousands of Moroccans began to protest against the social maladies they have been suffering for decades. And when some of my fellow teachers asked me to justify why the regime’s social and political reforms, including raising teachers’ salaries,  must be rejected, I replied saying that those reforms came, not as a choice, but as a result of the pressure the February 20 movement put on the regime.

Take increasing teachers’ salaries as an example in point. Teachers protested about it for more than ten years, but the government did not decide to add 600 dirhams to their salaries till the outbreak of the Arab Spring. Thus, it’s reasonable to conclude that such a measure was not to serve teachers’ interests, but to serve the regime’s ones, including survival.

Many scenarios could have happened supposing teachers’ trade unions had said no to the regime’s 600 dirhams. One is that it would have been next to impossible for the ruling elite to weaken the February 20 movement, had teachers’ trade unions decided to join its protests instead of accepting a salary increase they would have never received if Mohamed Bouazizi hadn’t set himself on fire. Needless to say, one of the reasons why the February 20 movement didn’t survive was that it was not supported by Moroccan intellectuals, including teachers.

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