Morocco’s Democratic Way faces intensified crackdown

The left-wing Democratic Way of Morocco has been prevented from holding a crucial Congress. This is only the latest chapter in a long campaign of repression and intimidation waged against the movement by the state

January 20, 2022 by Zoe Alexandra
The Democratic Way organized a mobilization on September 4, 2021 in Casablanca to raise awareness of their election boycott campaign. Their protest was met with violent repression by authorities. Photo: Democratic Way Facebook

The Moroccan regime’s Interior Ministry has intervened directly to prevent the mass left organization, the Democratic Way (DW), from holding its Fifth National Congress at the public Hassan II University in Casablanca. During the congress scheduled for January 28, the DW was set to announce the creation of an independent working class party and bring together its thousands of members from various sectors of society.

The deputy general secretary of the DW, Abdallah El Harif, told Peoples Dispatch that the intervention against holding their conference “in a public space and in good conditions” is part of a pattern of “harassment and repression by the regime.” He explained that this is because of “our radical political positions against the Moroccan regime and our involvement in popular struggles against its policies and in defense of economic, social and cultural popular demands and our struggle against human rights violations.”

In response to the increased repression, the DW organized an international seminar on January 15 called  “Internationalist Solidarity: Perspectives, Objectives and Tools of United Anti-Imperialist Struggle.” The event brought together testimonies from political and social leaders from across the world, such as João Pedro Stedile of Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), Irvin Jim of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), Maryam Abu Daqqa from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Karla Reyes of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Vijay Prashad of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, among others. The event showcased different perspectives on the need for international solidarity and rallied support for the DW.

The organization has been a thorn in the side of the Moroccan establishment (known as the Mahkzen) since its establishment. El Harif, who is a founding member of the Democratic Way and whose prior political organizing landed him in prison for 14 years, said that “since its establishment, the DW has been subjected to restrictions and deprivation of its most basic rights as a legal body.”

Targeted by the Ministry of the Interior

In a meeting held among high-ranking members of the government over two years ago, the details of which were shared with members of the DW, the Minister of the Interior reportedly described the organization as “nihilist and virulent” and particularly criticized it for defending the right to self-determination for the Saharawi people and for maintaining “good relations” with an Islamist organization. The Ministry of the Interior also allegedly threatened to ban the organization altogether.

Following this meeting, restrictions have intensified, El Harif said. The organization has also been increasingly denied access to public premises and public media. Its youth wing was barred from using the Mehdi Ben Barka public hall for the opening ceremony of their National Congress in March 2019 despite having followed all legal and administrative procedures. Some of their online spaces have also been targeted through the suspension of live broadcasts and profiles on Facebook.

Furthermore, local chapters of the organization in cities and villages across Morocco have been confronted with obstacles when attempting to file “articles of association” and renewing their boards with local authorities, crucial steps in the legal constitution of the organization.

The attacks have not been limited to the structure of the organization, El Harif said, adding that there were a number of instances of workers associated with the Democratic Way being blacklisted by factory and farm owners in collaboration with the local authorities. “The factories and production units deny employment to DW activists who are on their lists,” he stated, terming this an “unlawful assault” on members of the organization.

In addition to repressive actions by employers on members’ right to work, several leaders and members of the organization have been targeted in campaigns of intimidation and persecution by the state. This persecution reached its height during the organization’s campaign to boycott the elections held on September 8, 2021.

Election boycott campaign met with repression

According to the deputy general secretary, the organization called for a boycott because “all the powers, executive, legislative and judicial, are in the hands of the King. The parliament and the government have no real power.” He emphasized that “to participate in the elections…means to play the role of puppets.”

Leading up to the elections, members of the Democratic Way organized protests in major cities across the country such as Casablanca, Mohammedia, Tangier, and Kenitra to spread awareness of their campaign and to condemn the undemocratic process.

These protests were met with brutal repression by the state authorities and several members of the organization were beaten, arrested, and had their personal information recorded. The DW reported that the secretary general of the organization Mustafa Brahma, as well as members Zahra Aslaf, Yassine Zouhir, Chafik Bahmad, Moulazim Lakbir, and several others were detained. Several members of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights were also detained during the protests.

The organization had already been banned from using their party banners and flags publicly and these restrictions were imposed with further violence during the protests.

At the time, the Democratic Way had pointed out that neither their protests nor their campaign was in violation of the law, making the arrests illegal. They argued that the repression was an attempt to intimidate them and stop their boycott campaign.

The DW has also been prevented from receiving delegations of movements and organizations that they work with across the world. Activists from Palestine, members of the Socialist Party of Zambia, as well as members of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party of South Africa were all denied visas to visit the organization in Morocco.

Despite the obstacles, the Democratic Way is clear that the actions taken against them are motivated by fear and a need by the regime to repress what is a formidable opposition movement. This is the tactic they have been using for decades to maintain the monarchy intact, retain control over Western Sahara, and suppress all calls for a more democratic society, El Harif said. With the support of people’s movements globally, the DW has said it will double down on its work to build a working class party and defend the human, social, economic, cultural, and political rights of the people of Morocco.