Standoff Over Imider Silver Mine

“The Imider mine, on the eastern slopes of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, is the world’s seventh biggest producer of silver,” according to a feature article on reuters.com. “Instead of welcoming the mine, many local people resent it as a symbol of how Morocco’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few while the rest of the population live in poverty.”

Hundreds of Imider villagers participated in cutting off the flow of water to the mine from a local well, and are now camped around the well to make sure it stays off. The decrease in the mine’s water supply has significantly impacted its productivity, which means that the people’s protest around the well cannot be ignored.

The protesters say that the presence of the mine has done more harm than good by creating pollution, depleting the local water supply and neglecting to help with development in an area of awful poverty. The mining company denies the pollution and water depletion allegations and contends that it has spent between 1 and 2 million dirhams each year to fund development in the region.

The fact that Morocco’s royal family is a major stakeholder in the mining company (and the Moroccan monarchy is the largest private shareholder in the country’s whole economy) does not help matters. The people are frustrated by the private network of court officials, businessmen and advisors who can do whatever they want because they are in cahoots with the royal court.

The conflict over the silver mine in Imider is symbolic of wide unrest due to wealth disparity between Morocco’s ruling elite and the people it governs.

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Rapper’s Imprisonment Tests Moroccan Reforms – NPR

I found this NPR sound bite which compliments Christie’s post from 2/18/2012. The video further suggests that the rapper’s arrest was set up by the government to silence the young musician ‘s outcries against the government. Many of the rapper’s fans are outraged by the arrest and speaking out. I think the Moroccan government made a mistake in arresting  El-Haqed, or “the defiant one.”

Karim Tazi, a businessman and political activist, believes in a government conspiracy against El-Haqed. He stated,  “This case is a high-profile case. It’s a symbolic case. He’s only an artist — and they want to silence him.”

El-Haqed’s trial will test the new government’s revamped justice system. Human-rights groups have urged the new ministers of justice to carefully investigate all charges against the rap star. The Moroccan justice system needs to be extremely careful with how they handle the rapper’s trial because the freedom of El-Haqed is extremely important to the young people who have been leading the protests throughout Morocco. Wrongful imprisonment will only incite more riots and protests in the country.Tazi further illustrates this point with his suggestion that,

“If they free him, he is going to come back and sing again. If they keep him in jail, they are adding fuel to the anger of the movement and bringing the movement back to life, so they are losing anyway.”

Referendum on Constitutional reforms

In July of 2011 a referendum on constitutional reforms was held in Morocco. This referendum was held in response to a series of peaceful protests that have been going on in Morocco since the previous February. Many of these protests were organized by the Moroccan Student Youth Movement because of frustrations with corrupt politicians (In December 2010 WikiLeaks accused the royal family including the King himself of corruption.), poor life conditions including high illiteracy rates, a wide gap between the rich and poor, healthcare failure, and the absence of real elections. The Moroccan Student Youth Movement has used popular social networking sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to publicize their message. They were inspired by protests going on in other North African countries with similar motives.

In response to this, King Muhammad VI put together a committee of legal scholars to draft up constitutional reforms.  A draft was released in June and then elections to vote on full reforms were held on November 25, 2011. (Some of the statistics of the elections are attached).

Voting statistics from constiutional reforms in Morocco

The reforms that were voted on and approved

Amazigh language is official state language along with Arabic

  • Will be used in all the administrations moving forward
  • A standardized version of all Berber languages
  • Amazigh Berber word that means “free man”, “noble man” or “defender”
  • Berber languages are a family of languages closely associated with dialects of North Africa
  • Spoken by large populations of Morocco and Algeria, small populations in Libya, Tunisia and other places throughout Europe and the Middle East
  • Movement among speakers of “Northern Berber” to unite them into single standard language
  • Six major varieties of Berber spoken by 9/10ths of the population
  • (Tashelhit, Kabylian, Central Atlas, Rifian, Tuareg)
  • Division of Moroccan Berber dialects is in 3 groups
    • The Ethnologue is common in linguistic populations
    • Shilha subdivided into many other dialects such as Shilha of the Dra valley and Tasusit , other mountain dialects.
    • Since 20th century often written in Berber Latin Alphabet especially within the Moroccan and Algerian communities
    • In 2003 a modernized Tifinagh alphabet was made official in Morocco.

The state preserves and protects the Hassaniya language and all linguistic components of the Moroccan culture as a heritage of the nation.

  • Variety of Arabic, originating from Beni Hassan Bedouin tribes
  • Spoken by citizens of Morocco as well as Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Western Sahara
  • All phonemes of classical Arabic are present but many other ones as well.
  • 1995 there were approx. 40,000

The King has the obligation to appoint a prime minister from the party that wins the most seats in the parliamentary elections

  • vs. before where he could nominate a technocrat in this position if no party has a decisive advantage over the other parties in terms of seats of parliaments

King no longer sacred but the “integrity of his person” is “inviolable

  • remains “commander of the faithful” or the Islamic spiritual leader .

High administrative posts and diplomatic posts are now appointed by the prime minister along with the ministerial council which is presided by the king

  • Previously the king had all the power

The prime minister will preside over the council of Government, and has the power to dissolve parliament

  • Prepares general policy of the state (previously the king had this position)

The judiciary system is independent from the legislative and executive branch, the king guarantees independence

Woman are guaranteed “civic” and “social” equality with men

  • Previously only “political” equality was guaranteed
  • 1996 constitution guarantees all citizens equal before the law in terms of rights
  • equal chance of being elected office
  • seats in parliament

The king retains complete control of the armed forces, foreign policy, and the judiciary; authority for choosing prime ministers and matters pertaining to religion

Citizens have freedom of

  • Thought
  • Ideas
  • Artistic expression
  • Creation
  • Previously only free speech, freedom of circulation and association were guaranteed

In summary some power was moved away from the King to the executive parties that are elected but the King still has a disproportionate amount of power.

Self-Immolation in the Arab World

Five young men set themselves on fire in Rabat, Morocco last month. (For more on the Rabat protests, see Marissa’s post from February 11th)

This relates to part of the discussion we had in class today, during the Tunisia group presentation, about self-immolation as a form of protest. It appears that this is becoming more common in Arab countries, perhaps signifying increasing frustration and desperation among citizens.

Click on the New York Times headline below to see the full article that appeared in the news in January (it should open in a new window or tab).

Self-Immolation Is on the Rise in the Arab World

BEIRUT, Lebanon — More than a year after a young Tunisian set himself on fire and touched off revolutions throughout the Arab world, self-immolation, symbolic of systemic frustration and helplessness, has become increasingly common across the region.

The five men in Rabat were unemployed university graduates. According to the Times, the official unemployment rate in Morocco is 9.1 percent nationally, but it is 16 percent for university graduates. The Times also said that the Arab media has been paying little attention to these recent self-immolations across the entire region.

– Svati Narula

Recent Protests in Rabat

Unemployed graduate, Idriss el Ouali Alami, made a particularly poignant comment stating,  “There is no desire or will to change the situation. If there was a will, we would not be here. Why should we be blamed because we managed to study and have high diplomas? Why should our faith be thrown in the streets?”

Alami illustrates an increasing trend in Morocco and the United States– the unemployed of recent college graduates. With college graduation in the not to distant future, I can empathize with Alami’s complaints and frustration. However, I do not support the use of self-immolation that has become common practice in the Middle East after the Tunisian fruitseller set himself on fire when humiliated by the police. Self-immolation is too destructive and violent a means of expression one’s opinion.

The protests that began on February 20, 2011, made the Moroccan government aware of citizens’ increasing disenchantment with their nations’ economic and political practices. Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane recently gave an outline of the government’s plans to target national economic growth which in turn would boost employment. This illustrates that the government is looking to address the staggering rates of unemployment in Morocco which fall around 21.9% for recent college graduates. Reforms are also expected to come in housing and in education. After the Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won the majority of seats in  the late November election, I think that there is a good chance that national reforms will be implemented. King Mohammad supports such reforms and the PJD has promised to increase democracy and curb corruption. Stabilization of the Moroccan economy depends on a stable government. Hopefully, the government will listen to the voices of the people and look to institute policies that increase social welfare.