Fishmonger’s gruesome death sparks protests in Morocco

Outraged students in the northern city of Al-Hoceima stage new protests, as the government promises a swift probe.

Outraged Moroccan students in the northern city of Al-Hoceima boycotted schools on Monday and took to the streets in new protests over the gruesome death of a fishmonger, who was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck in the city.

Mouhcine Fikri, 31, was crushed to death in the truck on Friday, as he reportedly tried to protest against a municipal worker seizing and destroying his wares. 

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An image of his inert body – head and arm sticking out from under the lorry’s crushing mechanism – went viral on social media, sparking protests in more than 20 cities nationwide over the weekend, including in the capital Rabat. 

Footage online showed thousands of people following the yellow ambulance that carried Fikri’s body through Al-Hoceima in the ethnically Berber Rif region on Sunday.

‘People had enough’

Fikri’s funeral procession was led by a dozen drivers in their cars – including taxis – and marchers waving Berber flags.

The ambulance headed to the area of Imzouren some 20 kilometres southeast of the city, where Fikri was buried in the late afternoon.

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Samir Bennis, editor in chief of Morocco World News, told Al Jazeera that “the government does not do enough to tackle the abuse of power”.

“While we have had a constitution since 2011, and the country is moving slowly but surely towards democracy, a large segment of Morocco’s security apparatus is still dealing with the Moroccan people with the same mentality as in 1980s and 1990s,” he said.

“So with these protests, Moroccans are trying to communicate to the government that they have had enough of this impunity and of this abuse of power.”

Some compared Fikri’s violent death with the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vendor, in 2010 that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

But Riccardo Fabiani, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Eurasia Group, told Al Jazeera that Morocco’s protests were unlikely to have a wide impact. 

“This is not the beginning of a new Arab Spring simply because the authorities in Morocco are using a different approach,” he said. “They are not repressing, they are not confronting the protesters, they are trying to appease them.”

The Moroccan government has condemned the incident and vowed that an investigation would be held to “determine the exact circumstances of the tragedy and punish those responsible”.

“No one had the right to treat him like this … We cannot accept officials acting in haste, anger or in conditions that do not respect people’s rights,” Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said in a statement.

Eurasia’s Fabiani said Moroccan officials were, importantly, “trying to find a solution to the problems behind these protests”.

The circumstances of the fishmonger's death remained unclear on Monday [AJE]
The circumstances of the fishmonger’s death remained unclear on Monday [AJE]

The circumstances of the fishmonger’s death remained unclear on Monday.

A human rights activist said that authorities forced the fishmonger to destroy several boxes of swordfish. Catching swordfish using drift nets is illegal.

“The goods were worth a lot of money,” said Fassal Aoussar from the local branch of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH).

“The salesman threw himself in after his fish and was crushed by the machine,” he told AFP news agency.

“The whole of the Rif is in shock and boiling over.”

Long neglected under the father of the current king, the Rif was at the heart of Morocco’s protest movement for change in 2011, dubbed the February 20 movement.

Protests continued in Al-Hoceima late on Sunday, with protesters shouting: “Criminals, assassins, terrorists!”

“The people of the Rif won’t be humiliated!”

Police brutality in Morocco is still a very big problem, causing a rift between citizens and the state Riccardo Fabiani told Al Jazeera.

“The idea here is that the authorities, especially the security forces often use a degree of contempt and disregard towards citizens,” he said. “Treating them as if they were not real citizens but as if they were subjects.”

“This is a problem that puts a distance between the citizens and the state.”

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Thousands of demonstrators – including activists for Berber rights – also gathered in Rabat, chanting: “We are all Mouhcine!”.

Smaller protests were held in several other Rif towns and, unusually, in Casablanca and Marrakesh.

In a statement on Sunday, the AMDH condemned the state for “having trampled on the dignity of citizens since the ferocious repression of the February 20 movement and keeping the region in a state of tension”.

King Mohammed VI has ordered a “thorough and exhaustive investigation” into Fikri’s death and the “prosecution of whoever is found responsible”, an interior ministry statement said.

The king – who was in Zanzibar on a tour of East Africa – sent the interior minister to “present his condolences” to Fikri’s family, it said.

Morocco is due to host the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh from November 7 to 18.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies