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The Rif rebellion

The Rif rebellion of January 1984

[20–1–1984] A light armored vehicle patrols a street in Nador, northeastern Morocco, Friday, where mass protests and labor strikes against rising food prices were brutally suppressed, resulting in injuries and deaths among demonstrators [Photo courtesy of the UK  Socialist Worker Archive].

In the middle of the Cold War between the major superpowers at that time, the US and the USSR (1), and during the war in western Morocco between Polisario and Morocco, a revolt flared up in 1984 in all of Morocco.  The outbursts of protests were related to the poor economic situation. The cost of the war in Western Sahara had risen to around $ 3 million a day.  The external debt had risen to around $ 12 billion at the end of 1983, corresponding to 85% of the country’s GNP (2), while according to international statistics the GDP per capita was below $ 900 a year.  Around 20% of the population were unemployed.  Morocco had more than 20 million inhabitants in 1984.

On 19 September 1983, Morocco concluded the fourth stabilization agreement with the IMF (3) since 1978, under which it undertook to reduce subsidies on food items.  On the basis of this agreement, the IMF approved a stand-by credit of approximately $ 315 million for Morocco, but this was subsequently suspended because the Moroccan government had not applied the austerity measures sufficiently.

The “Club of Paris” (4) with 12 western industrialized countries granted Morocco a deferred payment on October 26 for an amount of $ 600 million in interest and loan repayment.  The amount was converted into a loan with a term of 8 years, the first four years of which would be free of repayment.  On November 3, the World Bank (5) and the 12 countries declared their willingness to grant new loans worth $ 535 million to Morocco, the share of the World Bank being $ 150.4 million.

At the beginning of January 1984, demonstrations against the price increases took place in Marrakech, Meknes, Safi and Oujda. According to press releases, serious riots had occurred in Marrakech from 8 to 10 January.  Army units from Western Sahara are said to have been deployed to restore order.

News service Reuters reported from Madrid on January 20 that violence had occurred a few days earlier in Al Hoceima and that police and military constellations were involved around and in high schools in the capital Rabat after riots on January 19 in which mostly students were victims.

In the northeastern city of Nador, in particular, there were alleged clashes between protesting students and the police on 19 January, in which 2 students were killed and more than 50 injured.  The riots spread to Al Hoceima, Tetouan and Ksar Al Kebir and lasted until January 21.  The Moroccan authorities and media initially did not provide any information.  Various foreign journalists in Tetouan were deported and journalists who wanted to visit Melilla and Ceuta Morocco from the Spanish enclaves were not admitted.

The regime sent to Nador tanks and soldiers from the cities of Taza and Oujda as reinforcements.  The streets of Nador were besieged and the inhabitants could not leave their house for days without running the risk of being arrested or executed at their doorstep.  During these days, students and unsuspecting citizens of Nador were arrested on the street, abused and imprisoned or executed for years and taken to a mass grave.  An eyewitness said that one of the people arrested by two soldiers was being lifted and dropped him on his back on a piece of rock.  A short time later he died.

Eyewitnesses reported that in the port city of Al Hoceima the head of a cafe visitor was pierced by a bullet.  His brain is shattered on the wall.  Those present got the shock of their lives and suffered a trauma.

According to a FAZ report (6) from Madrid on 22 January, more than 150 people were killed in the riots suppressed by the police and the army, mainly because of soldiers who would have shot at the demonstrators with machine guns.  That same evening, King Hassan II delivered a radio and television speech to the nation – the first official mention of the riots – in which he announced the cancellation of the price increases.  He came to his decision after the capitalization he ordered had shown that 40% of the Moroccan population lived below the poverty line, according to the World Bank this was even 42%.

On 24 January 1984, when peace seemed to have returned to Morocco, 2 Moroccan organizations in France (the AMF and ATMF (7)) reported that more than 400 people had died in the riots.  Diplomatic circles then reported about 60 deaths.  MAP published the first official figures on January 25: 29 dead and 114 wounded (including 26 members of the security forces).

On January 28, there were about 100 detainees among USFP members (8), mainly from the party’s youth movement.  On 1 February, Spanish newspapers reported that more than 500 arrests had been made in Nador and the surrounding area, especially among students.  They are said to have been taken to the Kenitra military prison to be tried by military tribunals.  The Observer (12/2/1984) estimated the total number of detainees at 5,000.

The heaviest punishments were pronounced by the tribunal in Nador in trials behind closed doors.  On February 29, the same Observer reported that after pronouncing 175 new judgments (up to a maximum of 5 years in prison), the number of people convicted of the riots had risen to 700.  At the beginning of March, the PPS (9) announced that 66 students, including 2 members of the PPS and three of the USFP, from Agadir had been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 6 months to 2 years.

Le Monde reported on March 16 that, according to the authorities, around 1,800 people were imprisoned for riots, while the opposition spoke of 1,550 prisoners.  On 18 April MAP (10) reported that the majority of 1,800 detainees in 13 different cities had since been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 2 months to 10 years and to fines of 200 to 20,000 Dirhams.  At the same time, MAP announced that the Oujda Tribunal had sentenced one of the defendants to 15 years in prison, the most difficult sentence up to that point.

Le Monde of 30 May wrote that approximately 1,000 of the approximately 1,500 arrested had since been sentenced.

On April 28, 2008 a mass grave was discovered “by accident” near the Tawima military barracks just outside Nador.  There were 16 bodies in the mass grave, which at the time were victims of the Moroccan regime.  The bodies were transferred to the Al Hassani hospital in Nador for DNA testing.  It is unclear whether these are victims of the student demonstration in 1984 or of the Riffin rebellion during the years 1956-1959.  There would be several mass graves from both years.

After the appointment of the current King Mohamed VI in 1999, the so-called Reconciliation Commission was established the Instance Équité et Réconciliation (IER), with the aim of reconciling the regime and the Moroccan people for the crimes committed by the state during the period  1956–1999.

This commission was set up with a Royal Decree of Mohamed VI to send a signal to the people that he “distances himself” from state crimes under the reign of his grandfather, Mohamed V and his father Hassan II.  The new monarch wants to start with a clean slate.

The committee has issued a final report containing the recommendation to respect human rights.

The treatment of the more than 500 detainees of the Riffine People’s Movement in 2017 proves that nothing has changed in Morocco.  Torture, threatening with rape are the usual practices at the Moroccan police stations.  King Mohamed VI praised his policemen in his 2017 speech after the people had hoped for the prisoners’ grace and investigation after the gross violation of human rights.

Most of the article has been copied from this website: http://www.ethesis.net/marokko/marokko_deel_I_hfst_5_6.htm

Information on the website has also been used: www.amazigh.nl

(1) USSR Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Federation of Republics during the Communist period of Russia between 1922 and 1991, which was in ideological and power struggle with the USA at world level.
(2) GNP gross national product, The total value added of all goods and services in a given period, usually one year.
(3) IMF The International Monetary Fund, A UN organization for international monetary cooperation, financial crisis relief and credit for states with payment problems.
(4) The Paris Club, an international informal group of countries that mediates between lenders and countries that have little or no ability to repay loans.
(5) World Bank, An international financing institution providing loans, credits, guarantees and technical assistance to developing countries and countries in transition.
(6) FAZ De Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a national German newspaper.
(7) ATMF Association des Travailleurs Maghrébins de France, Association of Moroccan Workers in France.
(8) MAP Maghreb Arab Press, Moroccan State Press Agency.
(9) USFP Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires, Moroccan socialist party.
(10) PPS Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme, Moroccan socialist party.

Translated by: Najat M.


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