by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
While the protests that sparked the Arab Spring captivated TV screens around the world and the events that have followed thereafter, a current wave of protests in Morocco has largely gone unnoticed.
Much like in Tunisia, it took the unfortunate death of a working class man for people to rise up and scream out that they have had enough of oppressive security measures and poor socioeconomic conditions. Mouchine Fikri had been crushed to death in a garbage truck as he was protesting against a municipal worker who had seized and discarded of his merchandise. Since his horrible death, which showed the type of cruelty still exercised by members of the government, social media has swirled with gruesome images of his death. It has sparked protests in Morocco’s heavily Berber Rif region, which just like Sidi Bouzid, is a region long neglected by the central government.
Yet oddly enough these protests are not sending shudders through the spines of Arab dictators. The protests have not gained attention in the West and indeed only a handful of Arab news outlets have picked up the story. For some reason Berbers demanding justice is not attractive enough for Western media outlets. Although the protests have now been ongoing since October 2016, they have not called for the complete toppling of the Moroccan monarch. Does this mean we have finally entered what pundits have been calling the post-Arab Spring era?
First and foremost it is wrong to believe that Arab Spring was the only time there were mass calls for change in the Middle East. The Arab World is not static and it is wrong to believe that Arabs merely stayed silent as dictators came to power. Scores of intellectuals, writers, and activists have wound up in jail calling for freedom. Cairo’s famous bread riots in the late 1970s and Lebanon’s 2005 Cedar Revolution are examples of these. Just because the aims and results of protest movements in Arab countries do not mimic revolutions in Western countries does not mean they should be shunned.
Yes, the 2011 fervor has died down but it is wrong to confine protest movements in the Arab World to just one era and then merely say it is over. Revolutions are a long and unfortunately bloody process. Countries in Western Europe went through similar birth pangs throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, which saw dictators and populist leaders give way to more representative governments. Tunisia’s revolution is still going strong as different political parties have managed to form a unity government. And despite backsliding into dictatorship, Egyptians have not forgotten the power of protest with civil society groups not easily backing down as before. In Lebanon, secular grassroots groups like Beirut Madiniti managed to challenge the status quo when it came to the Lebanese municipal elections and garnered %40 of the vote in Beirut. And it was only last year that Iraqis from all sects protested against poor services and corruption in government.
All this points to a further shift in Arab civil society. Critics more often than not lump all Arab countries together when in reality socioeconomic situations differ greatly from country to country. But it can be said that the horse is out of the barn. Arab youth now have more access to freedom of information than previous generations. Although Arab youth are not out in the streets calling for the toppling of governments, they are still holding governments accountable for their actions and forming groups no longer based on religious sect but on advocating for greater accountability from the government. It also shows that Arab youth are sick of traditional parties like the Muslim Brotherhood (once popular in many Arab countries) who are no longer the champion of youth causes. Instead they want to chart their own course away from partisan politics that have attempted to co-opt their voice and channel their energy into pressing for better opportunities.
Protest movements and civil society groups may no longer make headlines on CNN but that doesn’t mean Arabs have simply given up on a better tomorrow. Many youth and civil society groups are using what they have to fight for change away from partisan politics and this is what Western pundits should be covering instead of looking for sexy headlines. May Moroccan youth prevail in their quest for a freer and egalitarian country.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon