The demonstrations have been unending. On December 23, 2017, two brothers Houcine Dioui (age 23) and Jedouane Dioui (age 30) died in the mines of Jerada, Morocco. The brothers were digging for coal when water flooded the shaft and trapped them. They died in the mine shaft. It was the incident that led to what appears to be an endless wave of demonstrations against the mining barons, the government and the economic policies that have wrecked the lives of the working people of this part of northern Morocco.
Just north of Jerada is the Rif town of al-Hoceima, where the death of a fish seller at the hands of the police led to the Hirak Rif (Rif Movement). This popular movement brought together hundreds of thousands of people not only to the streets of al-Hoceima but also to towns across Morocco. The sentiment again unfolded from anger at this death to anger at the government to anger at the economic model that has suffocated the people of this beautiful country.
Last week, in Jerada, men and women of this town near the ‘mines of death’ went onto the streets to demonstrate openly for justice for the dead miners and for an alternative economic policy. They marched to the police station, flying Moroccan flags. One woman took to the microphone and called for basic rights and decency. These are ordinary people with ambitions to live decent and just lives. They feel betrayed by the economic policies that have forced men to go into the mines. The miners say that they drink milk to protect their lungs from the black dust. Hospitals report that they cannot cure the ‘black lung’, but they can only give the miners medicines to numb the pain. It is this kind of treatment that brought these men and women to the streets.
The mines officially closed twenty years ago. Nonetheless, illegal mining continues and the government does nothing to prevent the sale of the coal. In fact, local magnates have been given special licenses to sell this illegal coal. The government’s economic policies - including currency reforms - have put pressure on the livelihood of the people of Jerada. It is the kind of pressure experienced across the Rif after the death of the fish seller. The Hirak Rif and the Jerada protests show both the suffering of the people and their ability to demonstrate against the unyielding monarchy.
Names of the leaders are difficult to find. The organisers quite deliberately have not projected a leader. They learned their lessons from the Hirak Rif, when the government arrested the leaders and tried to break the spirit of the protests. The police nonetheless arrested nine of the militants and used immense force to break the protests. It did not help the miners and the people who joined them that their soundtrack for the march was the national anthem. The police nonetheless could not tolerate their dissent.
The leftist political party Democratic Way held its national committee meeting the day after these protests and the harsh crackdown. The party condemned the violent crackdown by the police against the people of Jerada. The peaceful protests over the past three months, the party officials note, did nothing to provoke this kind of violent crackdown. It shows that the government, having no answer to the people’s demands, can only resort to force.
Democratic Way reports that the government is not being truthful when it accuses the people of burning cars and attacking the police. This view of things is confirmed on the ground by the people of Jerada, who say that they have been peaceful and that there was no violence from their side. Militants in Jerada say that the 500 policemen surrounded the protests and fired tear gas into the crowd. This police presence created the violence.
The government has said it will now close the 200-300 wells that remain active. But it has not offered any real alternative for the people. It is this lack of an alternative that continues to bring people to the streets. They come in peace. They are angry. They will not stop their presence on the streets. They want something better. Something better than the illegal mines and police violence.