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Lovefest at a Protest

Lovefest at a Protest

A Moroccan man expresses his support for the king at a protest on 2/27

For the past few months, while living in Morocco, I’ve observed the sweeping winds of Arab revolution with great interest. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, and Jordan were all ablaze with popular demands for more liberty. I never imagined, though, that the fury would work its way to Morocco, but word came quickly that this westernmost Maghreb country would see some action in late February.

I began getting emails from various Moroccan networks informing me about the scheduled protests and the youth’s various complaints about the government. So, like any good blogger, I grabbed my camera and my notebook and made a point to get out in the middle of it all and talk to the people.

The march on February 20 was peaceful. Sure, there were the occasional rebels whose emotions flirted with rage, and in some areas of the country, violent outbursts did occur, but by and large, I was struck at the passivity of the whole hoopla. It came, it went, and that was that.

Just last weekend, during a small revival of the initial demonstrations, a cop standing outside of Bab el-Had, the gateway to the old medina in downtown Rabat, explained to me that Tunisia and Egypt were like bottles of Coca Cola. A funny comparison, but an accurate one. He said that the people had been shaken so much by their governments that they exploded — much like a shaken bottle of carbonated soda would do once opened. But here, he continued, the people have not been shaken.

Corruption, poverty, illiteracy — all hardships that led to the initial immolation of the young Tunisian man whose act of self-sacrifice sparked this whole outburst — exist in Morocco but they are not as pronounced as in neighboring states. And unlike Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak, and Libya’s Gaddafi, the leader of Morocco, King Mohammed VI, is nothing short of the country’s favorite son; he is loved, adored, and revered. After all, he is a descendant of the prophet Muhammad and thus his overthrow would be nothing short of an act of blaspheme.

There were pictures of the “king of cool” everywhere. Countless youth told me, “This is not about our king. This is about his ‘entourage.'” There were refrains of the national anthem, the last lines of which express solidarity with “Allah, AlWatan, AlMalik,” God, the homeland, and (of course), the King. One man even showed up wearing a djellaba made of the Moroccan flag. Pictures of the 47-year-old monarch lined the front and back of his robe and he waved others in the air.

So how exactly do you tell your beloved leader that his government buddies must go? How do you tell him that his closest political allies are corrupt and hated by the people? How do you negotiate the slippery slope between loving your leader and recognizing that change will ultimately come only when he decides it’s time, and he may not decide it’s time? How do you swallow that pill?

While the Arab world rocks and rolls around them, this is the quandary facing Morocco.