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What happened when the February 20 Movement lost momentum?

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Many reasons lie behind the loss of momentum of the February 20th movement. One is that its leaders and strong supporters were unaware of methods the Moroccan regime would take to contain the movement’s nation-wide protests.

Jamal Elabiad
13 August 2012

There is no question that many regimes across the Arab world lost much of the veneration accorded them when the Arab Spring reached countries they had ruled for decades. They found themselves unable to do what they were doing before the coming of the Arab Spring: ordering their oppression machines to attack anyone who shouted slogans or wrote articles ‘disrespectful’ of the ruling elite; sending to prison anyone who had the guts to criticize them. However, when pro-democracy protesters began to take to the streets, many Arab kings and presidents had no other choice but to turn a blind eye to their critics for several obvious reasons.

One of the reasons why they were tolerant of this criticism during the Arab Spring was that they were afraid that bringing to court their critics would surely result in a sharp rise in the number of pro-change demonstrators.  

For most Arab regimes, the growing number of anti-regime protest marches was a clear sign of the fact that their collapse would sooner or later take place. That’s why they relied on several measures to dissuade people from joining the wave of pro-democracy protests that many Arab countries witnessed after the fall of the Tunisian president, Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali. An example of those procedures was ignoring the criticism that Arab Spring activists directed against them. 

There are slogans most Arab rulers would have never tolerated if the Arab Spring hadn’t reached their palaces. For instance, they didn’t take any punitive measures against the protesters who raised the famous slogan: “The people want the fall of the regime.” Needless to say, before the Arab Spring, many Arab political activists were tortured to death for shouting slogans similar to this one.

My point is, for the Arab people whose pro-democracy demonstrations ended with the fall of the regime or at least its head, they never regretted criticizing the regime or chanting the slogans they avoided chanting before the outbreak of the Arab Spring for fear of being arrested and sent to prison. 

However, for the Arab people whose revolution was like too much noise for nothing, and which failed to achieve most of its key demands, they wouldn’t have responded to the calls for protest had they suspected that their pro-change protests would keep the status quo as it was and would also lead a large number of protesters straight to prison.

In other words, when they became quite sure of the fact that the anti-regime protests no longer posed a real threat to their existence, many of the ruling establishments around the Arab world started to conduct a campaign of arrests against the pro-democracy activists who chanted slogans or gave speeches that were considered critical of the regime.

Take Moroccans as an example in point. They have every reason to regret thinking the Arab Spring had torn down their barriers of fear, including the fear of criticizing the ruling elite. One reason is that the latter took several measures to regain the veneration and respect it lost during the days the Arab Spring spent in Morocco. It didn’t turn to those measures till it managed to weather the storms of the Arab Spring. One result was the trial of almost all the activists of the Moroccan Spring who leveled criticism at the regime.

Abdessamad El Hidour is an example of the many youths of the February 20th movement who were not arrested for being disrespectful towards King Mohamed VI until the regime managed to survive the dangers of the Arab Spring, when he was sentenced to three years in prison for sharply criticizing the monarchy on a YouTube video.

Like many others, Abdessamad El Hidour had the courage to criticize the North African kingdom simply because he thought the February 20th movement had marked the birth of a Morocco totally different from that of yesteryear, particularly when it came to Moroccans’ right to express what was in their minds without restriction.

There is no doubt that he would had avoided hitting out at the king if he had been aware of the fact that allowing Moroccans to trespass the red-lines shortly after the outbreak of pro-change protests around Morocco was just a tactic the regime employed to stay alive.

Many reasons lie behind the loss of momentum of the February 20th movement. One is that its leaders and strong supporters were unaware of methods the Moroccan regime would take to contain the movement’s nation-wide protests. That, of course, includes the fact that the regime let Moroccan Spring protesters trespass the red-lines, not as a choice, but as a tactic for survival. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have jailed many of them after it succeeded in weathering the Arab Spring’s storms.

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