Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister said in an interview with DPA yesterday he understands why thousands have protested at the gruesome death of a fish merchant crushed in a garbage truck as he tried to prevent officials destroying his goods.
“The protests happened on a natural scale and there was nothing surprising about them.
We understand the reasons for them,” Abdel-Ilah Benkiran said by phone from the Moroccan capital Rabat.
The protests on Sunday and Monday were Morocco’s largest since pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.
Huge crowds took to the streets of al-Hoceima, where 31-year-old Mohcin Fikri met his end on Friday, as well as larger cities including the capital Rabat, Casablanca and Tangiers.
Benkiran said he was glad the protests, which have died down since several officials were referred to prosecutors, “all passed off in a responsible way, preserving security and stability.”
Benkiran also accepted that “shortcomings” in Morocco’s administration might be responsible for the al-Hoceima incident, which prosecutors say happened after police and fisheries officials caught Fikri transporting half a ton of illegally caught swordfish in unhygienic conditions and ordered its destruction.
“Everybody is aware of the shortcomings in the Moroccan administration,” the Islamist leader said. As for the demonstrators who burnt photographs of the prime minister,
the Islamist leader was dismissive.
“It’s only natural. We are new to electoral politics. The Moroccan people voted for our Justice and Development Party but there are those who reject that result or hold a grudge over it.”
Benkiran nevertheless warned against attempts to exploit the incident, in the mainly Berber north of the country, for “regionalist” purposes.
Fikri’s death is all the more sensitive because it happened in Morocco’s northern Rif region, a stronghold of the Amazigh or Berber ethnic minority where activists complain of marginalisation and authorities fear secessionist sentiment.
But Benkiran criticised those who flew the flag of the short-lived independent Rif Republic of the 1920s at the protests, charging that they were an unrepresentative minority.
“Every time something happens, there are those who repeat secessionist slogans,” he said, arguing that this isn’t the “general feeling,” but instead “just some individuals who belong to extremist movements and want to make the Amazigh issue out to be one of discrimination.”
As far as the official response to Fikri’s death was concerned, Benkiran said, the king had issued his orders.
Shortly after the incident, King Mohamed VI called for a thorough investigation and despatched officials to visit the dead man’s family.
The 2011 constitutional reforms may have bolstered the role of elected politicians, but, for Benkiran, the final word belongs to the king, who is also officially the religious leader for Morocco’s overwhelmingly Muslim majority.
“It may be hard for some people outside Morocco to understand this, but in our country, in addition to his legal and religious position, the king has a deeply rooted place in the hearts and minds of everyone,” the premier argued.
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