Activism: the takeover?
Kenza Sefrioui - 13/04/2012
On the one hand, there are those who are less than thirty years old and on the other hand, there are the others who have been activists for several decades. Some of the latter have dearly paid their political or human rightist commitment. From protests to general assemblies to discussions, they have all chanted the same slogans and demanded democracy, social justice, the end of corruption and dignity. Taking to the streets nearly every week over the past year claiming political reform, the 20th February Movement has brought the two generations closer together. Sons shout their heads off through megaphones under the watchful moved eyes of their fathers who recall past decades. A year ago, such a sight would have seemed unlikely as Moroccan youth showed little interest in public affairs, claimed their lack of confidence in political parties and were very little involved in the NGO sector.
Those who were twenty years old in the 1960’s and the 1970’s and were active among leftist political parties such as the USFP (Social Union of Popular Forces) or the far-left organisations such as Ilal Amam or 23rd March, are still very active today. They are civil society’s backbone and lobby the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, the Unified Socialist Party, the Annahj addimocrati (the Democratic Path emerged from Ilal Amam), the Democratic Socialist Vanguard Party (emerged from 23rd March) and of course, the feminist movement. When the young apolitical Moroccans launched the call for the 20th February protest in 2011, it was the occasion for the senior activists to reassess the opinion they had of young people.
The economist and Moroccan Association for Human Rights activist, Fouad Abdelmoumni welcomes the fact that: “the 20th February Movement showed that young people are neither ignorant, nor disconnected from reality, nor completely blasé about public affairs.”
In a book entitled “The Arab 89, reflections on the ongoing revolutions” (Stock Publishers, 2011) Edwy Plenel and Benjamin Stora note that the Arab Spring was “taking over interrupted history”, the one carried by the decolonisation generation and Third World struggles whose progressive leaders have been wiped out by authoritarianism.
Fouad Abdelmoumni believes that the contestation brought by the 20th February Movement reveals that “we are modernising society and society demonstrates its ability to overcome authoritarianism and predation. We are going beyond our culture, institutions and inherited discourses of a medieval society: our society has fundamentally rejuvenated and is educated, feminised, open minded and uninhibited.” Najat Ikhich who lobbied for the USFP and the National Union of Moroccan Students (UNEM) is a founding member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and the Democratic League for Women’s Rights. In 2004, she also founded the Ytto Foundation; she sees the emergence of the 20th February Movement as “a strong call for change and action, whereas for years, apart from the feminist movement, Moroccan society was not very mobilised.” Fouad Abdelmoumni agrees on “the will to overcome archaisms and build new solidarities.”
Najib Chaouki, one of the 20th February Movement’s leader recognises himself in his elder’s “taste for freedom and social justice” and shows them respect: “They were confronted with State violence because of their commitment: they went through Derb Moulay Cherif, and even after fifteen years in prison, they continue to struggle for change. Abdelhamid Amine, Abdallah Zaâzaâ, Khadija Ryadi are symbols of the resistance and of consistency in their principles. They give us hope.” Najib Chaouki is more than pleased with the fact that the elders have followed the Movement from the very beginning: “They helped with logistics by lending their premises, they protest with us and still support us.” It is not surprising that their “children are part of the Movement”.
Despite this reciprocal respect and shared values, the 20th February’s Movement does not always follow its elders’ path. “The 1970’s realities are different from those of today”, stated Najib Chaouki. The first big difference is the place of ideology: “Their experience was linked to communism, socialism and Marxism-Leninism while we are rather a liberal movement”, he explains. “We had more political and ideological certainties”, admits Fouad Abdelmoumni. “My generation belonged to an organisation and had a much stronger propensity to strategic notions. Today, young people are less likely to become prisoners of ideological prisms”. He believes that this was related to the education level of the young people of that the time: “Given the existing void in terms of culture and education we felt after having finished our studies, as activists, we had developed a political baggage that led to a more sophisticated political practice.” Whereas the 20th February Movement aims to be more of a popular movement, “it is the revolution of the poor in Morocco”, adds Najib Chaouki.
The relationship to violence is another difference. “The generations that grew up in the 1960-1970 period believed in unprecedented change and were ready to pay the price of the revolutionary change they claimed”, explains Fouad Abdelmoumni. “The pan-Arabism and the 23rd March generation believed in weapons and wanted the revolution while the Arab Spring generation is advocating non-violent action”, emphasises Najib Chaouki, Fouad Abdelmoumni’s elder. He welcomes this evolution: “Today, society has matured and does not envisage change as the handover of power from one tribe to another but as the adoption of prerequisites that transcend ideologies: the imperative of democracy and the overcoming of corruption”. Furthermore, Najib Chaouki notes that “the Maoist movements were based on the popular army and operated through units that managed everything. Today, our weapons are the Internet and social networks, they are neither violent, nor secret. We are a popular movement of protest without leaders nor decision-makers, without hierarchy”.
It is precisely in their type of relationship to the organisation that the two generations differ. While their elders constantly discussed their political line, the 20th February Movement welcomes all those who share its demands, whether they are liberal or conservative.
For many months, the Islamist movement Al-Adl wa-l-Ihsane (Justice and Charity) has held a very important place. To Najat Ikhich’s great displeasure, a woman who has struggled for women’s rights for over twenty years: “Al-Adl wa-l-Ihsane defends a vision of society that is completely opposite to what I defend. We have fought, we have obtained some achievements and I want to protect them and fight for more. I don’t want to see a conservative party govern and limit my struggle to preserve these achievements or even start from scratch.”
Despite the withdrawal of Al-Adl wa-l-Ihsane from the 20th February Movement, and the refocusing of the movement on a progressive project, Najat Ikhich would like to see more space for women’s concrete demands: “We speak of democracy but democracy cannot be built without women! We should also struggle for this category of citizens. The 20th February’s Movement speaks of equality between men and women but it is not specific enough. Instead of highlighting women’s issues such as child marriage, they have founded an association entitled, “Iyalat Jayyat, that organises events in tribute to activists like Saïda Mnebhi. This is not the priority!”
According to Fouad Abdelmoumni, “in order to influence public affairs, one must have an organisational, structured and capitalised practice.” While welcoming the “promise of change” represented by young activists, he believes that “for the moment this is just a promise”: “The street protests will not suffice. They should transform the mobilisation that is being built, the slogans, in a global approach, the relationships in an organisational network and pass from pressure and pure criticism to proposals.” In order to achieve this, divisions can be transformed in different streams, the art of persuasion has to be mastered and strategies and alliances have to be managed. Fouad Abdelmoumni believes that “partisan membership and election battles are inevitable for political maturity because if we do not transform this potential quickly, these young people risk being dispersed.” He is optimistic about this potential for development. It is up to young people to decide the form that their movement will take in the future…
 See Abou Ammar Tafnout and Hajar Chafai’s study entitled “M6 Generation: Disillusioned Youth”, March 2010, www.babelmed.net//m6_generationl
 Association marocaine des droits de l’homme (AMDH)
 Parti socialiste unifié (PSU)
 Le 89 arabe, réflexions sur les révolutions en cours
 Union nationale des étudiants du Maroc (UNEM)
 Ligue démocratique pour les droits des femmes
 Centre of torture
 National Union of Moroccan Students and Ilal Amam activist who died due to the consequences of a hunger strike in prison in 1977.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech