M20 February: Between protest space and established Makhzenian political scene

M20 February: Between protest space and established Makhzenian political scene

By Anis El Okbani and Irina Tsukerman 

February 20, 2021 

M20 February: Between protest space and established Makhzenian political scene

Image credit: “A Day of February 2011” by Yassine Abbadi is licensed under CC BY 2.0. An image capturing the Arab Springs as they were seen in Morocco in 2011.

In the wake of the various Arab Springs across the Middle East and North Africa, activists, mostly young, called for change, for more social justice and dignity.

What remains of this movement? Decryption.

The king, Mohammed VI: a bulwark against revolutionary upheavals and extremism

The king, Mohammed VI, had the wisdom to take the people’s demands seriously. After a public speech expressing support for reforms on March 9, 2011, he launched a constitutional referendum and legislative elections. On the political level, The February M20 had led Morocco to endow itself with a new government and a new Parliament. The results of these new institutions remain mixed.

 Several experts compete to explain the royal dynamic against the M20 February. Some have called it a “royal revolution”.

In Morocco, the term Makhzen designates the Administration close to the Royal Palace. 

“A Moroccan exception”. The nature of the Moroccan regime presents structural characteristics that are not very conducive to revolutionary upheavals, such as M20 February.

M20 February: A convergence of actors and activists, heterogeneous

The M20 February: A convergence of actors and activists, heterogeneous, which was formed around a platform of demands and an agenda of peaceful actions, following calls launched on Facebook. This included various actors who had given up, during the demonstrations, the expression of their political divisions, in favor of de-ideologized and anarchically hierarchical common demands.

 On February 20, 2011, the first demonstrations, across the whole country, constituted an unprecedented act in the protest history of independent Morocco. They had brought together two major and previously conflicted, distinct political networks: Islamist and leftist. The gathering was made up of trade unions, Islamists, movements of unemployed graduates, “independents”, marginalized people, associative actors, members of government parties, the parliamentary opposition, and activists of organizations not legalized, but “organized” and also dealers.

Driven by the marginal groups, the protest movement spread rapidly, bringing about the emergence of a configuration of the alliance that could upset the political and social barriers erected by the Makhzen. It seemed like a real threat!

The plurality of the demands of the M20Fevrier platforms, their unidentified nature, had reinforced the unifying dimension of the movement and favored the junction with a multiplicity of “entrepreneurs of chaos projects”. The support of some intellectuals, artists, journalists, businessmen, had helped to create an impression of social diversity and a climate conducive to a popular uprising. All of that was fueled by a general disaffection of activists against the established politics and the elites.

The Makhzen had sent ambivalent signals

   Throughout the momentum leading up to February 20, the Makhzen had sent ambivalent signals which had accentuated, among the leaders and potential followers of the M20, the feeling that a door to change is open. The use of repression remained selective and ad hoc. This was the preferred Makhzenian strategy that had consistently worked until that point.

    Islamist organizations had taken over to hijack and abort the movement. Each group contributed to the undoing of the original agenda in its own way.

 In other words, they had helped to channel the movement and to moderate the ceiling of its demands against “Tahakkum” (authoritarianism). Their involvement, in fact, worked to oppose “despotism” and “corruption” in a context with many obstacles.

    According to analysts, the multi-party system and the electoral mechanisms would have been thought of as an “instrument of control of the political class and of confinement of potential competitors”. The instituted Moroccan political scene is characterized by an “excess of actors”. Too many cooks spoiled the soup and nullified the effect of each contributing faction.

For the record, first, La jeunesse d’Al Adl announced its support on February 16, then the withdrawal of its troops in December 2011. That of the PJD on February 17, before withdrawing following pressure from his hierarchy, Abdelilah Benkirane in person, who was in negotiations with the Makhzenian authorities. the secretary-general of the PJD had announced the boycott of the M20Fevrier by his party. The rest of the deal and the story is known …

Just as the coordination of M20 February had started to weaken, its self-proclaimed leaders realized that they had opened a Pandora’s Box, which must be closed.

Fortunately, in the Moroccan case, on the one hand, the monarchy tried and succeeded in channeling the opponents towards the instituted policy, and on the other hand, the Islamists had played the game. They were less interested in revolutions than in having their demands met at least part of the way, and increasing their public role and visibility.

The myth of the M20 February

If citizens no longer have the same relationship to authority, politicians allude to it from time to time in their statements. They belong more to the register of partisan discourse and political escalation.

The 20 February movement, although dead, is still present in the minds of Moroccans and their collective imagination. The myth is here to stay.