Protest Suicides and the Theatralization of Power in Morocco, part 2

We ended the first article on protest suicides with a question why Fkiri, Mmi Fatiha and El-Kanouni committed protest suicides though in Fikri’s case, it is not clear yet whether he was crushed deliberately following the order of a police agent under the compactor of a garbage truck, which sounds like “a state crime”, or it was a mere accident. Let us make it clear that the operation of starting the compactor of the truck needs the cooperation of two workers, the driver to turn on the electricity button in the cab and his assistant to pull the lever at the back of the truck. Apart from these details which the ongoing police investigation may unveil, Fikri’s step convinces us that he took a decision to sacrifice himself for the sake of his own merchandize. He could not patiently bear the sight of the extravagant dissipation of his capital in the form of swordfish stock pulverized in a garbage truck in front of his eyes.

In all these cases of protest suicides mentioned before, there is a theatralization of abusive power by the local authorities either through verbally humiliating the self-sacrificed citizens or by confiscating their goods in public through the use of excessive force as journalistic reports read. Such encounters at present often result in bilateral clashes between citizens and agents of authority as a consequence of the changing political environment after the advent of the Arab Spring when common people started public complaint and overt challenge against the allegedly aggravated signs of abuse of authority by calling together collective cries against what they term humiliation (hogra).

Mmi Fatiha, the cake seller in Kenitra, who long manifested against shantytowns, and obtained a share in economic dwelling offered by the King, would later transfer her protest potential into self-immolation outside the qaid’s office protesting against being degraded and oppressed in public by the qaid and his assistants. She sent a strong message to the rest of society to correct a wrong epitomized in the qaid’s moody violent behaviour towards street vendors. Sometimes, we hear about qaids who ask for tribute (itawa) from street vendors who are allowed a small space to use for their trade, and sometimes there are official campaigns to chase the vendors away, which often entail violent confrontations.

In a heart-aching scene video recorded from an inside position within the qaid’s administration premises in Kenitra – very strange that the video shows the agents of the authorities as watchers of disaster – there comes a very young innocent boy to rescue the body of an adult woman in flames by spontaneously fighting the blazes of fire while another passer-by uses a blanket to extinguish the fire, and then covered the body wriggling in pain. Mmi Fatiha died from the deep burns scarring her body; she departed in pain and humiliation but she carved her body into a word of protest stirring the sense of guilt in her opponents, and inspiring solidarity in social movements against hogra.

Fikri also was harshly treated by the local authorities. Was it the famous speech act, the verbal assault/ command “crush his mother (fucker)!” that sandwiched his body in a garbage truck and terminated his life instantly? Who vociferated the command, or was it ever articulated? Apart from doing things with words, we have to acknowledge the fact that Mouhsine witnessed the confiscation of his wares in front of his eyes. How can he stand as a detached onlooker renouncing his capital to a garbage truck which will crush his fresh expensively commodified swordfish-load into powder waste, even cats cannot use for their protein intake. How come and the Moroccan masses cannot trespass the threshold of sardines purchase? Unbelievable! The whole scene looks surrealistic!

It was obvious that Fikri would not grasp this medieval mechanism of law enforcement, destroying an expensive fish-load in public in front of its owner to humiliate him and set him as an example of fraud while Moroccans at the bottom of social space cannot afford to purchase Bonita fish. The local authorities improvised a drama that resembled the eighteenth century liturgies of punishment to terrorize over the population of fish traders, warning them against a similar conduct.

This is not an orphan isolated example on the Moroccan social political scene, which drives us to ask the question why Moroccan local authorities resort to public display of power to manifest the truth of the law. The exhibition of “justice” in the case of Fikri was not an innocent judicial act but a ceremonial political ritual by which the power of the Makhzen is overtly manifested, and thus designed to validate the rights and legitimacy of its enforcement. The liturgy of fish torture, targeting to crush the owner by proxy, sends Mouhsine and the standing-by crowd of onlookers a message that the truth of the unrestricted power of the Makhzen restored through this punishment ritual is as complicated as any other liturgy, and imbued with the symbols and intentions of excessive force to make a specific point:  that if you cross the law, you are personally crossing the Makhzen, the monarch, and you will be punished. (to be continued).

*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf, Chouaib Doukkali University, Morocco