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Morocco: The Tale of the February 20 Movement in 20 Videos

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

Some videos in this post contain pictures that are graphic in nature. Viewer discretion is advised.

In January this year, following the success of the Tunisian revolution, a group of Moroccan activists launched a debate on Facebook around the question of change in Morocco. They created a group called “Freedom and Democracy Now.” A couple of days later, the group issued its first “founding” statement [ar]. It was directed at the King.

The king of Morocco Mohammed VI enjoys large constitutional prerogatives that make him an absolute monarch who traditionally reigns and rules. In a country where the head of state is considered sacred, the activists’ move was unprecedented. Their message was seen as bold and risky at the same time. They ran the risk of a confrontation with the establishment but they also conveyed a message many Moroccans wanted the king to hear: make “the necessary changes in the political system to allow Moroccans to rule themselves by themselves”; “break with the past for real and irrevocably.”

Sunday, February 20, was chosen for a nationwide, non-violent demonstration to be held in all Moroccan cities. The date will mark the start of the pro-democracy movement in Morocco and thereafter so its name.

Mainstream media, mostly owned or under the influence of the government, ignored the appeal. Only a handful of independent print and online newspapers [ar] carried the message. Activists had to turn to the internet, making full use of a powerful social media tool to get their messages across, though video.

While videos were used by their opponents to discredit the movement, activists had the nerve to reveal their identities, face the camera and tell their stories themselves. They filmed protests, performed pro-change songs, live-streamed demonstrations, parodied their detractors and rallied fellow citizens to their cause.

Following is a selection of the 20 most popular and viral videos that marked the course of the February 20 Movement over the past 10 months.

First call

The first video posted by “Freedom and Democracy Now” shows Oussama Lakhlifi, one of its founders, outlining the main demands of the group [ar] (video posted by Lakomechannel):

“I am a Moroccan and I will join the protest”

A fierce online debate ensued opposing those for and against the planned demonstration. Some officials embarked on a campaign to discredit the youth-based movement while some other public figures supported it openly.

A week before the beginning of the protests, activists released a well produced video to explain why they were taking to the streets. The film immediately went viral and is believed to have played a significant role in rallying a large number of supporters around the movement [English subtitles] (video posted by Mouvement20fevrier, directed by Montasser Drissi):

Montasser Drissi's film created a meme that was copied by other activists across the country and beyond (Paris, Montreal, etc.).

“Who we are and what we want”

In an attempt to put an end to rumors [ar] and accusations activists released an “explanatory” video about the movement two days before the start of the protests [English subtitles] (video posted by Mouvement 20 Fevrier, directed by Montasser Drissi):

February 20

On the day of the protest, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched across the country. With the exception of a few instances of vandalism in Marrakesh, the protest ran peacefully, contradicting claims that the demonstration would degenerate into chaos. The movement appeared to have achieved its first victory. Veteran blogger Larbi wrote [fr]:

Le mouvement du 20 février a donné beaucoup de gages aux autorités marocaines. Charge au pouvoir marocain de ne pas être sourd et aveugle, de se montrer responsable et de répondre aux aspirations légitimes des manifestants. A chacun de prendre ses responsabilités. Et aujourd’hui le sens de responsabilité se place du côté des manifestants pas du côté du pouvoir marocain.

The Moroccan regime must not be blind and deaf, it has to be responsible and meet the legitimate aspirations of the demonstrators. Each side needs to take its own responsibility. And today the sense of responsibility is on the side of the demonstrators not the power.

The king's speech

On March 9, the king appeared to respond for the first time to the protesters when he gave a speech announcing constitutional reform and pledging to relinquish some of his prerogatives to elected representatives.

For activists, the announced reforms fell short of what they had expected. They released a new video [ar] announcing a “week of action and community service to raise awareness about public service shortcomings.” The week would start with a blood donation campaign and end with a nationwide demonstration (video posted by Moroccans For Change):

A new clip [ar] was posted on the internet calling for a mass protest on March 20 (video posted by Mouvement 20 Fevrier, directed by Montasser Drissi)

March 20 saw a record number of protesters take to the streets and rally the movement in virtually every city and town across the country.

The March of “Loyalty”

In April, an obscure pro-regime group announced it was conducting its own rally. The group called for a March of “Loyalty to the king.”

The following video [ar], directed by Ghassan El Hakim, was awarded the Best Drama Award at the Paris-based Yallah Film Festival, which celebrates short films dedicated to the Arab revolutions. The actors play the roles of a supporter and an opponent of the “March of Loyalty.” The two eventually agree they will not participate after all (video posted by Che Ghassan, directed by Ghassan El Hakim):

The Makhzen

Many of the slogans raised during the protests targeted the corrupt elite in Morocco, or what Moroccans like to call the Makhzen. In the following video posted by Mamfakinch , a little Einstein explains the notion of the Makhzen in more details:

Hoba Hoba Spirit

The Moroccan pop music band Hoba Hoba Spirit then released a song in support of the February 20 movement. The song revisited the Tunisian national anthem: “When the people will to live, Destiny must surely respond. Oppression shall then vanish. Fetters are certain to break” (video clip posted by Mamfakinch):

Bloody May

On May 15, pro-democracy activists decided to march to an alleged secret detention center [fr], dubbed Guantémara and located in the outskirts of the capital Rabat. Protesters were met with a heavy-handed police response [fr].

A week later, police violently disrupted protests beating and chasing demonstrators across the streets of Rabat and other major cities. Hilana Rizky is a member of the February 20 movement. She posted the following testimony on YouTube where she describes what happened on May 22 (video posted by Moroccans For Change):

May was marked by a change in the attitude of the authorities vis-à-vis the protesters. Citizen media platforms like Mamfakinch.com played a significant role in curating and disseminating material that documented police brutality. Parody as well played a role in documenting that violence as shown in the following clip [ar], posted by Zorro of Morocco:

Songs of the revolution

Art has been a frequent resort for activists who used it to denounce police repression. In the following video [ar] rappers Mouad “L7a9ed” and Jihane sing “Mellit!” (I'm fed up!) (Video posted by l7a9d):

Moad “L7a9ed” was arrested on September 9, 2011, on charges of assault. Many believe his detention is politically motivated, and has more to do with the lyrics of his songs which openly criticize the regime. A campaign was launched calling for Mouad's immediate release. More information can be found at L7a9ed.com).

“The Ax Man”

Towards the end of May, the following video [ar] quickly became an internet sensation. It shows an anonymous ultra-nationalist threatening February 20 activists with an ax, calling them traitors (video posted by insansarih):

Change? What change?

On June 17, the king gave a second speech outlining the constitutional reform. State TV and mainstream media outlets were mobilized to convey pro-reform views. Little airtime was dedicated to opponents of the proposed amendments who had to rely on the internet to get their point across.

The following video parodies the kind of blind and uniformed enthusiasm for the reform that was often portrayed by state TV (video posted by nordahhan):

For the February 20 movement the proposed reforms fell short of their expectations. They released a new video calling for the boycott of the referendum (video posted by Mouvement 20 Fevrier, directed by Montasser Drissi):

Other videos were released to call for the boycott of the referendum including this short film [ar] directed by young filmmaker Nadir Bouhmouch:

On the day of the vote, activists armed with their cameras and cell phones spotted irregularities and posted pictures and videos on the internet. The blog 24-Mamfakinch published the following video that quickly spread across online outlets. It shows unidentified individuals, tampering with a ballot box well after the closure of the polling station and before any votes were even counted (Video posted by Referendum Maroc):

Faux reform

The new Constitution was overwhelmingly adopted but activists seemed undeterred. They released a new video in early September, calling for a nationwide protest to denounce what they consider as a faux-reform and a Constitution that would leave the monarch with a veto power over elected representatives (video posted by Movement20Fev, directed by Montasser Drissi):

Mamfakinch!

In October, prominent Arab bloggers and activists gathered in Tunis. They had this message for their Moroccan counterparts: Mamfakinch! (We won't give up!) (video produced and directed by Mamfakinch.com):

“My Makhzen and Me”

Nadir Bouhmouch is a young Moroccan filmmaker based in California. He has been following Februrary 20 young activists throughout the summer and is about to release a new film called “My Makhzen and Me!”, a film that “investigates what gave birth to the revolt and the obstacles it encounters on its struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights and an end to corruption and poverty.” Here is the trailer:

Next year, inchallah

The February 20 movement has been a driving force for change in Morocco throughout 2011. As in other Arab countries, it has used social media and the internet extensively to coordinate the efforts of its members and carry out its message. But despite the reforms conducted by the regime (a new Constitution in July, a newly elected parliament in November and a coalition government led by the Islamist PJD party that should be announced this week), the king remains the absolute ruler, with his entourage holding tremendous political and economic powers.

What role will the February 20 movement be able to play next year as revolutionary fatigue begins to gain ground? Will it be able to be creative enough to keep pace?

Zineb Belmkeddem, one of the most recognizable faces of the February 20 movement, vows to continue the struggle. She sings “long live the people!” (video posted by MoroccanYouth):

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

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