Rabat - Morocco's 20 February movement, born during the Arab
Spring uprisings and increasingly marginalised in the two years since then, is
hoping to rebound amid rising discontent against the Islamist government.
Tens of thousands of Moroccans took to the streets in the
kingdom on February 20 2011 after protests had already overthrown dictatorships
in Tunisia and Egypt.
But since then, a new constitution and government have been
put in place, and the number of people affiliated with the movement has
dwindled. In recent months, its demonstrations have struggled to gather even a
few hundred people.
The movement celebrates its second anniversary on Wednesday
with a rally in front of parliament at around 17:00 GMT.
"Politically the February 20 movement does not
exist," said Baudouin Dupret, director of the Jacques-Berque Centre in
Rabat, as he talked of the "chilling impact" of the outcome of the
revolutions that erupted in neighbouring countries.
The movement's influence was undermined to a large extent by
the adoption of the constitution by an overwhelming majority in the second half
of 2011 - giving enhanced powers to the government -- and the historic victory
for the Islamist Justice and Development Party.
Sanae Metaich, a 20 February coordinator in Rabat, said that
"after the adoption of the constitution we talked less about ourselves in
the media and then we had a party that took power using our slogans" of
anti-corruption and pro-democracy.
"The movement was also deprived of a large part of its
troops," as those from the powerful Justice and Charity party, which is
tolerated but officially banned for its opposition to the monarchy, withdrew
from the demonstrations.
Samad Ayach, another 20 February co-ordinator, said:
"The regime has played the card of the constitution and elections on one
hand and repression on the other."
About 70 activists were behind bars at the end of December,
according to a coalition of Moroccan human rights groups.
Metaich said there has also been a change in the methods of
"Before, they were arrested for participating in
unauthorised demonstrations. Now it is for violence against law and order
forces and drug trafficking."
Heavy penalties have also sometimes been imposed on
activists, with one in Al-Hoceima in the north sentenced to 12 years in prison
"Activists are not sacred people," said Prime
Minister Abdelilah Benkirane when asked about such sentencings.
"The majority of reforms have been carried out. You
don't see 20 February anymore. Okay, there are some who want to resurrect it.
We will see," he said.
But the movement questions the extent of progress made over
the past two years and calls for "genuine democracy".
"We don't have a real organisation, a real political
strategy and communication with the people at the grassroots level. We need to
be more effective," acknowledged Ayach.
The movement is now hoping to ride on what it sees is rising
discontent against the government amid a slowing economy.
"Citizens will realise that they need a new
change," said Metaich.
But Dupret says that, until then, "February 20 will
never be able to convert a contested political disorder into social
"There have been parallel social protests" by
unemployed graduates, "but the connection was never made."