Interview with Moroccan Marxist - Massive ferment expressed through Gaza solidarity demonstrations

We publish here an interview with Hosam Benhamza, a Moroccan Marxist. He is talking about how young people and workers in Morocco reacted to the attack against Gaza by organising massive demonstrations in a lot of cities and villages all over Morocco.

How did the youth and the workers in Morocco react to the Israeli aggression against Gaza?  What impact did it have on the young people and the working class?

Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza
Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza

Hosam Benhamza: Young people and workers in Morocco reacted to the attack against Gaza by organising massive demonstrations in all cities and villages. Demos were even held in the smallest villages. This was a way for people to express their anger and firm condemnation of the imperialist aggression of Israel against the Gaza strip and the complicity of the Arab regimes stretching from the Atlantic to the Gulf.  It was also a clear statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It should be mentioned that these marches even invaded villages who had never seen such forms of struggle in their history!

Thousands of youth hit the streets every day during the aggression in Agadir, Marrakech, Casablanca, Fès, Tanger, Tetouan, Oujda and dozens of other cities and villages. The biggest demo took place in Rabat on Sunday, 4 January with one million participants. With the exception of the demo in Rabat, all the demonstrations were initiated and organised by the youth, especially school students and students.  The slogans chanted all along the marches reflected the fighting spirit of the young people. Not only did the slogans condemn the Zionist aggression but they also denounced the collusion of the Arab regimes and demanded that they be overthrown.

Zubayda Khalifa, who was killed in 1988 by thugs of the state.
Zubayda Khalifa, who was killed in 1988 by thugs of the state.

The experience of mass rallies and sit-ins in a country suffering under a dictatorship used to repressing all forms of expression, has had an impact on the consciousness of the workers and young people in Morocco. Under those conditions any mass activity is a school of revolution and of revolutionary action. You need a lot of courage and a readiness to sacrifice as you can face brutal repression leading to death. This is what happened in the city of Marrakech. Here, the police killed a student named Abdul Razzaq Alkadri, on Sunday, 28 December during the repression of a protest march. His name will be added to the long list of other Moroccan martyrs who died for the Palestinian cause, not by the hands of the Israeli repression but by the fist of Moroccan state repression.  In 2002 a young 14-year old girl, Sana Mabrouk, was killed in Salé by the thugs of the state. Before her, students Adel el Alajraoi and Zubayda Khalifa were killed in Fès in1988. Numerous people get injured or end up in the jails of the regime for daring to demonstrate. The fact that a great number of young Moroccans, in their overwhelming majority, and without the slightest political experience, challenged the ruthless state apparatus is in itself a good exercise. Their political muscles have been trained, preparing for the future battles between the social classes on social questions such as education, jobs and health.

A great number of young natural leaders have arisen from those marvelous mobilisations. For the first time in their lives they have learned to occupy the streets, confront the forces of oppression and have gained an invaluable experience in mass struggle. The result of these lessons will be revealed in the near future.

How does the economic crisis hit ordinary people and what effect does it have on the consciousness of Moroccan workers and youth?

Hosam Benhamza: Capitalism means horror without end for the workers and the poor in the world. But for the masses of the so-called Third World it is not only horror but hell itself. In Morocco, the living conditions of the masses are miserable - in the true meaning of the word. Take health conditions for instance. Morocco finds itself amongst the worst countries in the world, even compared with similar countries. Public health expenses represent only 4.5 % of GDP. In Tunisia it stands at 5.6%, in Jordan at 9.4% and in Lebanon at 9.8%.  This proves that a deliberate policy is at work in Morocco.  The World Health Organization estimates life expectancy for men and women at respectively 70 and 74 years. In Cuba, despite decades of criminal imperialist blockade, life expectancy stands at 76 and 80 years respectively and in Venezuela at 71 and 78 years of age. Death in childbirth stands at 37 for every thousand births in Morocco and only at 21 in Venezuela and 7 in Cuba!

In 2007 more than forty children and two mothers aged between 16 and 17 died because of the cold and the total lack of health infrastructure.

Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza
Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza

Most of them passed away without medicine and without having ever consulted a doctor in their entire lives. Most of them have never been vaccinated. Most of them do not even know what a vaccine looks like, or a doctor for that matter, a hospital, a real life ...
In Anfgou, with a population of 1500 inhabitants, there is no hospital, no health center, no doctor, no nurse. There is no ambulance, there are no firemen. There is no phone line, nor a mobile network. The only representative of the authorities of Rabat in the village is a forest ranger  (Source: Anfgou : Un douar enterré vivant !).

The bosses' magazine The Economist recently wrote: "More than 70 km, equal to a round-trip Casablanca-Mohammédia. This the average distance an inhabitant of the rural village of Aït Haddou Youssef (province of Chichaoua) has to walk to reach the nearest asphalted road (...) This is not the only example. Other rural entities are as isolated as this one with distances in average of 60 km." (28/01/09)

Illiteracy is as high as 50 percent. Four in every five village girls have no right to education.  The Ministry of Education admits that 9000 class rooms are unusable, 60% of schools in rural areas are not connected to the electricity network, 75% of them have no water, while 80% have no toilets. The average number of pupils in a class is 41. The Ministry adds that some 260 colleges should be built every year but it only opens 90 new schools in a year. Of every 1000 kids at school only 620 reach the 6th grade.

ILO statistics conclude that more than 10% of the workforce is unemployed. This percentage increases for young people, especially for educated youth.  The High Commissioner for Planning, Ahmed Halimi, confirmed recently at the "Forum des Jeunes Marocains" (Young Moroccan Forum) that unemployment increases according to your level of education. Amongst young unskilled youth the unemployment rate is 7.7% but amongst those with a secondary school degree it jumps to 28.1%. 61.2% of those with higher-level education degrees are unemployed. Existing jobs are often fragile and precarious.  

Unemployment statistics indicate that 70% of the unemployed have been looking for a job for one year. 80% of the unemployed have never worked in their lives. This means that unemployment is a structural crisis which deprives society of its living forces.

All this was happening during the period of "economic prosperity". Official figures stress growth rates and announce shining horizons under the reign of the young king. Today the situation has become worse. National economic activity grew by 2.1% in the last quarter of 2007. A year before in 2006, the growth rate reached 8.1%. The figures for 2008 are a disaster and the year 2009 does not promise any change for the better, even for the more developed capitalist countries. Just imagine what it will be like for Morocco. The national economy is strongly dependent on exports. The world recession will hit the country very hard, causing companies to engage in massive layoffs and closures.

Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza
Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza

Obviously, these conditions have had a massive impact on the consciousness of the masses of oppressed, particularly the youth, since the idea that it is difficult, if not impossible, to live under these conditions is spreading rapidly, and the masses have started to move accordingly. In the past, the miserable conditions of the youth and the absence of a revolutionary alternative forced the majority of them to choose to escape from this hell, through illegal immigration, despite all the dangers (15,000 youth have died in the strait in the last ten years, which means 4 a day for a whole decade!). But since the beginning of the crisis in the countries of destination, and particularly the European countries, Spain and Italy, immigration is no longer a useful alternative in order to get rid of poverty. This means that the search for an alternative, one of struggle, rather than escape, becomes imperative for the youth.

This is exactly what we have witnessed, first of all in the strong mobilisations of the student movement in the last few years, despite the repression which often ends up causing deaths of demonstrators, many wounded and people jailed, many of whom are still in prison.

These mobilisations are important in and of themselves, because they reflect the widespread unrest amongst the youth, who reject the tragic living conditions, but also because they reflect the general malaise in society. The students' movement is the best barometer for gauging the degree of pressure in society.

The masses have started, for the first time after a long period, to mobilise through successive uprisings. In the past the period of time between one insurrection and the other would be on average about five years, while in the last few years we have witnessed simultaneous uprisings: Sefrou, Baumal Dades, Sidi Ifni. To this we must add hundreds of demonstrations and sit-ins, etc.

We, in the Communist Action League, consider that also the massive and widespread character of the demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, and the general militant character which has dominated these demonstrations, is also an expression of the general ferment which was just waiting for a spark to explode out in the open. That explains why so many of these solidarity demonstrations have become demonstrations to denounce the exploitation of the oppressed and against privatisation, as was the case in Tangiers, Marrakech and Rabat, for instance.

What is the impact of the revolutionary situation in Latin America in Morocco?

Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza
Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza

Hosam Benhamza: Despite the conspiracy of silence of the media about what happens in Venezuela, to which the reformist parties of the left contribute to make it a total blackout, the masses have some idea, even if not very clear, of what is happening there. They know about president Chávez and they understand that he is completely different from the presidents and kings in the Arab countries. They understand that he is a man who has had the courage to say no to American imperialism and has attempted to improve the living conditions of the people. His attitude during the Israeli invasion of Southern Lebanon in 2006, together with his attitude in the recent war in the Gaza strip has significantly increased his popularity amongst the Arab masses, particularly amongst the youth. I would like to say that, without fear of exaggeration, if he were to participate in the elections of any of the Arab countries, he would win (even taking into account the blatant vote rigging which goes on in the so-called elections in the Arab world!).

The expulsion of the Israeli ambassador from Venezuela and Chavez's statements against the aggression in the Gaza strip have been severe blows to all the Arab leaders, even more than they have been to Israel! These actions unmask their complicity and their betrayal, and the fact that they do benefit from the killing of innocent people in the Gaza Strip. This is what explains the decision of the Moroccan King to break diplomatic relations with Venezuela, with the excuse of her support for the Polisario.

What are the perspectives for the Moroccan government and the regime?

Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza
Demonstration in Morocco against attack on Gaza

Hosam Benhamza: One does not even need to look at the figures to understand that the perspectives for the Moroccan regime are very black. Above all we must take into account the world economic crisis, which even the most optimistic of bourgeois ideologists knows is going to be severe. The previous king, Hassan II, made a speech in the last years of his life in which he said that Morocco is threatened with cardiac arrest. At that time Morocco was ranked 123 in the Human Development Index of the UN. Now, after 10 years of "modernisation" under the new king, Morocco is at 126.

The Moroccan regime does not have any room for manoeuvre faced with the peoples' struggle, and can only resort to repression as an answer. In this context, in 2007 Morocco bought modern truncheons from Spain in order to strengthen their equipment in their clashes against demonstrations of the unemployed in the streets of Rabt. However, none of this has dented the will to struggle amongst the masses. What we can see today in small towns like Segrou, Sidi Ifni, will spread to the working class and the other oppressed layers in the cities of Casablanca, Rabat, Tanger, etc.

What do you know of the mobilisations of the Spanish Students Union against the aggression in Gaza and what is your opinion?

Hosam Benhamza: The statement of principles of our student movement (the Rank and File tendency) says: "What we are and what we defend: we are an internationalist tendency, we struggle in cooperation and coordination with the student organisations from all over the world, particularly with the organisation of the Spanish students, Sindicato de Estudiantes, and we support them and learn from their experiences". This is precisely what we do in practice in all our public activities at the universities, and through the websites we run or where we participate. We have defended your positions and reported the news of your struggles and activities, which constitute a rich source of experience for the Moroccan students. We are sure that information about your mobilisations reaches a large layer of active youth, not only in Morocco but also throughout the Arab world.

Your struggles and activities are always a source of inspiration for us, and it is enough to say that our links with you have allowed us to establish our first contact with the International Marxist Tendency, which led eventually to the foundation of the Communist Action League.

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