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Moroccan government lashes out at protest organizers in mining town

The Moroccan government has accused Islamist and leftist movements of being behind the ongoing protests in the city of Jerada.
People march and shout slogans during a protest against the lack of jobs and poverty in Jerada, Morocco February 10, 2018. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal - RC13615CF410

RABAT, Morocco — Morocco’s Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit accused the Justice and Charity Party (Al Adl Wal Ihsane), Democratic Way Party (Annahj) and the Moroccan Association for Human Rights of standing behind the ongoing protests in the northeastern city of Jerada near the border with Algeria. The protests broke out following the death of two brothers in one of the unlicensed coal mines in the city at the end of December.

Speaking April 2 at the meeting of the parliamentary Committee of the Interior and Local Authorities, Laftit said that the legally banned Islamic radical group, the radical left-wing party and the rights association known for its anti-government positions have never acknowledged any of the government’s positive steps in the past years.

During the meeting that was held to discuss the situation in Jerada, the interior minister accused these parties of seeking to spread protests across the country and said that what is happening in Jerada is organized and planned.

Jerada’s mass protests broke out following the death of two brothers who died under the rubble in a mine. Coal mines in Jerada were the main source of income for the city’s 40,000 residents until the government decided to shut them down at the end of the 1990s, leaving no suitable economic alternatives. Residents continued mining coal with cruder and unsafe methods that have caused the deaths of dozens since then.

The Jerada demonstrations are part of the wave of protests that has been sweeping Morocco for years now, the latest being the demonstrations in Al Hoceima, where residents have been complaining of neglect and marginalization.

Meanwhile, Jerada’s protesters have been calling upon the government to hold officials accountable, provide economic alternatives for residents, reduce water and electricity bills and release activists who were arrested, according to activist Karim al-Saidi.

The government announced Feb. 10 the outline of a plan to respond to the demands of the demonstrators during the prime minister's visit with a ministerial delegation to the eastern part of the country .

Saidi told Al-Monitor that this plan is all false promises, and that nothing has been achieved so far, which is why the protests have been ongoing.

On March 13, the Interior Ministry circulated an official communique to the media, accusing some parties of inciting protests. The communique stated that the ministry has the right to “enforce law and order in the city of Jerada by preventing illegal demonstrations and dealing firmly with irresponsible behaviors.”

Following a video that went viral on social media showing security vehicles running over demonstrators, the Ministry of Interior informed the judicial authorities March 15 of the need to investigate the charges against activists accused of disseminating what it called fabricated photographs and videos, suggesting that the Moroccan security is cracking down on demonstrators.

The government denied the claims, responding that there were casualties among the police. Several activists were apprehended shortly after, including some affiliated with Al Adl Wal Ihsane, namely the group’s leader Al-Bashir Abed.

On its website, Al Adl Wal Ihsane said the arrests were merely a way for the government to evade responding to the demands of demonstrators. The party did not deny that many of its members took part in the protests that have been sweeping the country for years.

According to Driss Ganbouri, a Moroccan writer and researcher of Islamic movements, the party’s statement was confusing. Ganbouri told Al-Monitor that the party first denied its involvement in Al Hoceima's protests only to confirm it later.

“The party is taking advantage of the situation, joining hands with radical left-wing movements, with which it shares only one goal: antagonizing the state. It does not seek reform or political participation,” Ganbouri told Al-Monitor.

Al-Monitor also spoke to sources on the ground who said that members from Al Adl Wal Ihsane and Annahj are pushing demonstrators to keep the protests going and to organize more.

“These protests should be a red flag to the state to lend an ear to the communities that are remote from the center, as they are a ticking bomb that might explode any moment,” Omar Iharchan, a member of the party’s General Secretariat, told Al-Monitor. He considers the party a “safety valve” for the community and only “playing its normal role in society.”

He added, “Some people are trying to accuse Al Adl Wal Ihsane of stirring up problems instead of focusing on the government’s failure to respond to the people’s demands."

Jerada’s protests continue against the background of mutual accusations between the government and the protesters. The latter are accusing the former of stalling in meeting their demands, while the government claims that these protests are staged and pushing subversive agendas.

The jury is still out on whether the implementation of the project of the Advanced Regionalization will be resolve the stalemate, coupled with a boost in the economy as a result of Morocco’s efforts in Africa.

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