Young Activists in Morocco: Trajectories of Engagement after 2011

By Christoph Schwarz
Submitted to Session P4751 (Spaces of Youth Political Engagement Six Years after the 2011 Uprisings, 2017 Annual Meeting
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Unlike in other countries of the region, the Moroccan public had been familiar with frequent street protests before the 2011 uprisings. Mass demonstrations by unemployed university graduates in front of the parliament in Rabat, for example, were a common sight. However, protests peaked in 2011 when, on the 20th of February, the largest demonstrations since the country’s independence in 1956 filled the streets in over 50 cities: The 20th of February movement (M20F), inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, was instigated mainly by young activists and its demands for democratization, rule of law, accountability and social justice found wide repercussions in Moroccan society. Through open, horizontal assemblies and online discussions, M20F managed to mobilize not only seasoned activists but also people who had never before been to a political protest. Furthermore, they managed to forge temporary alliances between ideological factions that in the past had occasionally violently fought each other. Nevertheless, certain social movements, like the above mentioned unemployed university graduates abstained from the demonstrations. In the end, the monarchy was able to contain the movement, reacting with a strategy of ostensible reform, repression, co-optation and public disinformation, until its assemblies finally faded out.
This paper traces the trajectories of engagement of four activists to ascertain the impact of the unprecedented events of 2011 on their further decisions. Taking into account urban-rural divisions, gender differences and political variation, the paper draws on the experiences of a feminist, a leftist, an Amazigh and an unemployed university graduate activist.
In discussing these examples, this paper makes a case for a life story approach in the study of political engagement of young people in the MENA region. In order to gain insight into how social movements evolve, and notably in the interplay of emotions and strategic considerations, research should focus more methodologically on individual trajectories of engagement and analyze phenomena like ‘becoming an activist’, as well as disengagement or re-orientation, as biographical processes.