Essay: The Moroccan Revolution Is On Its Way!

In a public petition to King Mohammed VI, dissident Moroccan writer Abdelhak Serhane urges the monarch to embrace the revolution -- or become its target.

Feb. 20 pro-democracy protests in the Moroccan capital of Rabat
Feb. 20 pro-democracy protests in the Moroccan capital of Rabat
Abdelhak Serhane

Majesty! I wish I didn't have to write to you. But the Arab spring shaking the world is forcing me to. I would rather be writing in praise of a modern and democratic Morocco than dwelling on the evils eating away at it. So much regret, disillusionment, anger -- such waste -- that comes when power meets vanity! The king of the poor, as you were once known, has quickly ceded his place to the businessman king, and an entourage of vile courtesans. We hoped to find in you a head of state who oversaw the application of the law, with a plan for society. We got instead a hotel promoter and construction manager.

We were hoping you would be the man who shared our dreams and our daily bread instead of limiting our freedom, killing the faith we had in you, and thus chasing away the nation's bright minds. It's clear that the monarchy continues to act as it has always done with support of the makhzen (Morocco's ruling elite which bears allegiance to the king).

The king of the Moroccans must hear something else besides "Allah Ibarak fi Amar Sidi" (God bless the life of our Lord) that his entourage shouts to him. Fate could have played a nasty trick on you if, for example, you had been born in Sidi Moumen, the slum district on the edge of Casablanca. Then the accumulated billions, the cars, boats, palaces, shopping and lavish luxury might have less worth in your eyes than the love your people had for you when you were crowned in 1999.

In a short space of time, Fouad Ali El-Himma and Mohamed Mounir El-Majidi became the country's masters thanks to their closeness to their friend the king. They took control of all the spheres: business, finance, culture, sports, politics; disgusting us all, like a couple of spoiled brats (la'b adrari) forcing the world into the arms of fast and easy money, wasting the positive opinion your people had of you and turning Morocco upside down. These people have suffocated the political scene, business competitivety, spent public money on nonsense and trampled the constitutional duty of defending the interest of the people. They act in your name, you are therefore responsible for their actions. They have to go; they are a menace to you and an obstacle to the country's development.

The El-Fassi clan (the powerful family from which Prime Minister Abbas El-Fassi hails) has appropriated what is special about Morocco. Its members have taken over the best jobs and the highest pays. The palace gave Abbas the position of Prime Minister despite the Annajat affair (a scandal in which 30,000 young unemployed people were victims of financial fraud through fictitious employment contracts), which occurred in 2003 when El-Fassi was labor minister. Under the rule of law, everyone is accountable and responsible for their actions, even the King.

Facing this universal and increasingly irreversible desire for freedom, how can you stand on the sidelines, hiding behind thick curtains of a lawless state? The flight of Tunisian and Egyptian Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak, the imminent end of Yemeni President Saleh's rule and what looks to be a tragic close to Libya's Muammar Gaddafi's reign… prove that even the most horrible tyrannies come to an end.

Queen Elizabeth and King Juan Carlos exist as symbolic and historic realities. Their people respect them but impose restrictions on them and hold them accountable. Both the Queen of England and the King of Spain have merit because they keep their own future in the hands of democracy. The time for entertainment, travels and outbursts is over. You have to put your hands in the dirt and start working with others in mind, in a transparent way, to accomplish your mission, otherwise Morocco will have to stop being the Alawite's exclusive concession!

In the beginning, you raised expectations and brought hope to simple people. Moroccans have alerted you to their hardships and their rejection of tyranny and injustice. Their maturity and great control should be saluted, you should seize this, your last chance. You must speed up reforms and offer transparent elections. A national unity government, with a roadmap, that listens to the calls for change and calms the anger.

Your responsibility before History is to respond favorably to its plea, because the fate of your constitutional monarchy, guarantor of the country's unity and stability, depends on it. Be the guide your people wish for.

Revolution is in the works. Will it come from you or will it happen to you? If you want it to come from you, you will have to set an example and guide your people on the path to freedom, social justice and democracy. If you do this, we will mobilize behind you in this noble step. If you wish to stand by, the revolution will be launched against you. And in this case it will take everything on its path.

The anger of the poor is clear. The terrorist acts of May 16 2003 – five successive suicide-attacks in Casablanca – put an end to the status quo. The signal comes from a disaffected youth who finds solace only in drugs, flight or death. Unable to identify the message and get back on the right track, your regime went back to the most barbaric practices of the past in the name of the fight against terrorism. You punished us for a word, a caricature, a nokta (joke) about the royal family; a pathological sign of the makhzen that survived Hassan II.

As hard as this is to hear, I want to believe that you respect honest men. I have only my bluntness and integrity to give to the country for which we drew beautiful dreams when we were young. I accept my role as a troublesome intellectual to be on par with myself. Now you must follow your own conscience.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Magharebia

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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