By Siham Ali
A government panel will examine the causes of tension in the Moroccan city of Taza, where calm was only recently restored. Shortcomings in the official response to clashes between demonstrators and police have raised concerns among Taza residents, human rights advocates and legislators alike.
Members of Parliament questioned the ministers of the interior and justice on Monday (February 13th), before the commission commenced its investigation.
Anas Doukkali, MP with the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), said there were “serious failings” in the government’s responses to what he called “legitimate public protest” stemming from “a build-up of social problems due to local officials’ inability to come up with a development strategy”.
On January 4th, unemployed graduates joined with a student movement to mount a widespread protest. When police were sent out to restore order, violence reportedly occurred between both sides and a police car was set on fire. After an ensuing rash of arrests, residents took to the streets again on February 8th, prompting a second round of clashes.
Istiqlal MP Adil Benhemza cited rising energy bills – as high as 2,000 dirhams – and the undue pressure they place on Taza residents with limited incomes as one significant cause of the overall unrest.
In addition to addressing such social problems, he added, the government has a duty to address misconduct among security forces.
Interior Minister Mohand Laenser pledged the government’s readiness to solve problems through dialogue, not only in Taza, but in other regions across Morocco.
“We shall decide which problems can be solved quickly, and which ones will require a more detailed approach,” he said before Parliament; “particularly, projects in the city that have begun but are running behind schedule.”
Nevertheless, Laenser said that demonstrators share some of the fault in the deterioration of events. Some people chose to use violence instead of peaceful protest to demand public sector jobs, which led to numerous injuries among the police deployed to halt attacks on public property and to keep traffic flowing.
Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid said that the government would take a “determined stance” against disturbances that threaten the safety of persons or property, and assured MPs that those taken into custody in Taza were only arrested once the public prosecutor had amassed sufficient evidence.
He then expressed a broader concern: “We guarantee our citizens the right to responsible protest, but lately we’ve seen that demonstrations are increasingly characterised by violence towards others or towards public property. Some have even resorted to violence against themselves through suicide. We must address this situation.”
MPs responded by appealing to the government to live up to its responsibilities, and not to pin all the blame on demonstrators.
Jamal Massoudi, a PJD MP who represents Taza, said the people in the El Koucha district were simply expressing legitimate social grievances, calling on ministers to tackle the social causes whilst adopting a security approach which safeguards the dignity of the individual.