In social media, calls to start major popular protests in Morocco on 20 February are gaining momentum. But, most likely inspired by Egypt, the pro-regime camp is mobilising against the marches.
Several Facebook groups call for anti-government protest marches in Morocco on Sunday, 20 February, quickly gaining tens of thousands of supporters. Most groups, uniting under the name of the "Freedom and Democracy Now" movement, call for a radical constitutional reform in the kingdom and the introduction of real democracy.
Having in mind that King Mohammed VI is popular and even adored by large groups in Moroccan society, the demands expressed among dissidents only seldom call for the King to step down. Demands rather are for a constitutional monarchy, in accordance with "the Spanish or British model."
Calls are also united for the current Moroccan government to vacate its offices, leaving businesses to a caretaker government that can prepare a new constitution and free and fair elections.
In Morocco, democracy exists but is very limited. True opposition parties are not allowed to participate in elections, including the kingdom's Islamist and republican movements. Parliament and government is dominated by the old socio-economic elite, close to the monarchy.
The King himself appoints government, with parliament relatively powerless. Mohammed VI also personally directs key policies, including defence, security and foreign policies, and he has the last word regarding major reform projects in any sector, often himself taking the initiative.
This makes little room for popular influence on the kingdom's policies. Discontent is ample, but different population groups direct their anger at different addresses, most blaming the "corrupt" government and elite for their misery, only a minority blaming the King directly. But there is a widely felt desire for more popular participation in decision-making - or; more democracy.
The emerging "Freedom and Democracy Now" movement in most cases therefore is careful not blaming anybody in particular for the current situation. Only a few voices call for a Moroccan republic. Most call for a new constitution that will allow for true democracy.
While the groups on social media still are rather unorganised in their call for protest marches, also serious civil society groups in Morocco are gathering behind the call for democracy protests. Minor Moroccan trade unions, human rights organisations and an association of the unemplo
Protests in Tangier on 30 January
Anti-government protests in Tangier, Morocco, on 30 January
© Anónimo/afrol News
yed have issued a statement calling for rallies and demonstrations.
But the "Freedom and Democracy Now" movement is still in its small beginnings, with sometimes confusing calls and messages to supporters. The date for a major protest march has several times changed, but there now seems to emerge an agreement of 20 February being the first day of major Moroccan protests. On Twitter, the tag #Feb20 is already used as reference to protests in Morocco.
So far, there have been some smaller protests in Morocco, including an anti-government rally in Tangier, northern Morocco, on 30 January, which was met with police violence. Also, in the capital Rabat, there have been minor solidarity manifestations in front of the Egyptian Embassy. An earlier smaller protest by human rights activists in Casablanca on 6 January went along peacefully, but with leaders later being detained.
Meanwhile, the Moroccan government claims not to be alarmed at all by the repeated calls for protests in the country. Government spokesman Khalid Naciri on Thursday said there were no concerns at all regarding the planned 20 February marches, as Morocco "for a longer time has been engaged in an irreversible process towards democracy and widening public liberties."
Reports from behind the scene however indicate nervousness in Rabat. Government was quick to subsidise basic food items after the Tunisian uprising. The King has met with military chiefs and French advisers to discuss how to meet the widening unrest in North Africa. There are even many unconfirmed reports of troops being moved from occupied Western Sahara to Morocco-proper.
Also on the internet, government seeks to find ways to strike back. Suddenly, Facebook groups in support of the Rabat regime and against the 20 February marches are popping up rapidly. Some of these talk of pro-government marches to answer the anti-government movement. The calls give associations to the worst days of violence in Egypt.
But the main voices emerging from the Moroccan government are more reconciling. It could seem Rabat authorities would be willing to engage in dialogue with a pro-democracy movement before it comes to widespread unrest and violence. If this pro-democracy movement emerges, of course. Because for now, it remains a virtual movement.