Fighting for Basic Rights in Morocco

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Fighting for Basic Rights in Morocco

Credit Jose Colon/MeMo

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While the world focuses elsewhere, Morocco is being roiled by protests, the biggest since the Arab Spring of 2011.

For weeks, tens of thousands of people from around that country have been marching through Al Hoceima, a city on the Mediterranean coast in the northern Rif region, against injustice and corruption. Elsewhere, solidarity marches are springing up like brush fires. The police, enforcing a ban on protests, are using roadblocks, tear gas and truncheons to fight crowds. More than 200 people have been arrested, among them leaders of a grass-roots reform movement. Journalists, too.

Among the few foreign journalists on the ground, Jose Colon, a 42-year-old freelance photographer from Andalusia, Spain, is darting through clashes between riot police and angry young men — and trying to avoid arrest — to document a moment and a movement that may prove historic.

Or not. The latest protests have uncovered a fundamental problem in the Rif region, said Mr. Colon, who has documented social and political issues in northern Morocco for more than 15 years. The Rif region, mostly ethnically Berber, has revolted time and again against discrimination and oppression, going back a century to Spanish colonization. Yet little ever changes.


A group of residents of Barrio Obrero observe Moroccan police coming toward demonstrators. Al Hoceima, Rif, Morocco. June 17, 2017.Credit Jose Colon/MeMo

The Rif region remains the least developed in the kingdom, full of lack. Crumbling streets and structures make parts of Al Hoceima (population 56,000) look like a war-torn ghetto. During the Arab Spring, King Mohammed VI promised a more open government, giving people a say. Years later, little power has trickled down.

Mr. Colon arrived in Al Hoceima last month, when the latest wave of protests began, picking up where they left off during Ramadan (May 26th-June 24th). The people he keeps meeting, he said, “are a peaceful people who receive their guests as if they were part of the family.”

But they are also tired, he said, of not having the basics of a healthy society — a university, a modern hospital and jobs. “This is a conflict in which society is fighting for basic rights,” he said.

The disrespect and neglect people in the Rif region have long felt exploded…

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