Morocco Aftermath: Consequences Of Terror On Arab Spring

Initial signs point to Islamist terror groups as culprits in the attack that killed 17 in Marrakech. What does it mean for the reform promises from King Mohammed VI?

Djemaa el-Fna square is perhaps Morocco's most recognizable tourist destination (MCaporilli)
Djemaa el-Fna square is perhaps Morocco's most recognizable tourist destination (MCaporilli)
Thierry Oberlé

RABAT – The deadly explosion in Marrakech's central square and marketplace known as Djemaa el-Fna has left Morocco stunned. The kingdom had not been on terrorist alert, and the threat of jihadist groups seemed to be waning over the past few years.

By midday local time Friday, authorities put the death toll for the previous day's attack on the popular Argana café at 17, including as many as eight French citizens. No group has yet taken responsibility, and investigators have not yet given a detailed account of how the attack was carried out.

More recently, the country's political dynamic was generally moving in a positive direction in the face of the "Arab Spring" movement across the region. The March 9 speech by King Mohammed VI announced the launch of a significant constitutional reform, and a gust of liberty was blowing through the country. The protests launched by the February 20 movement, which had several goals in common with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, had set in motion a democratic transition, and the king appeared ready to revive a push toward modernization.

Mohammed said he intends to change the justice system, fight corruption, and become more transparent. The constitution is slated to be modified in order to establish a parliamentary monarchy, though exactly how this will be done is still unclear. In any case, the office of the Prime Minister will actually govern the country, no longer being reduced to a subordinate role that simply ratifies the decisions of the King.

The youth uprising in the region had indeed created a wave of excitement, and a notable uptick in the freedom of expression across the country, including unprecedented political debates broadcast on television. The protest movement does not have a designated leader, orders are given on Facebook, and opinions often clash. Some, in the name of human rights, even claimed to be able to eat in public spaces during Ramadan. Others dared to question, in the name of religious sectarianism, the role of the commander of the faithful, Mohammed VI.

It is in this context that the attack in Marrakech is being absorbed. "It's the worst event that could have happened to us. A blow with a club," says Karim Boukhari, the editor at TelQuel magazine. "This will be exploited by the conservative circles and by the hawks, partisans of excessive repression. And there are many."

The target was a café frequented by tourists, and there are some reports that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. Both facts would likely point to a jihadist group, however such groups have been rather quiet in recent months. In Morocco, Islamic terrorism reached its peak in May 2003 with the Casablanca attacks that killed 45. Fourteen suicide bombers who had come from Sidi Moumem, a slum of the economic capital, blew themselves up downtown.

Were the young 2003 kamikazes manipulated? The question, legitimate in the eyes of well-informed observers, remains unanswered. It had come at a time of tightening security. The police force had dismantled a series of networks used to send Moroccan fighters to Iraq. Many cells had been linked to AQMI, Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, whose hunting grounds are Algeria and the Sahara. Hundreds of sympathizers of the Islamist cause had been arrested, and tortured in some cases, to set an example, and then condemned to lengthy prison sentences after a series of mass trials.

The attacks had marked the first fracture during the reign of Mohammed VI. The liberal views of this king, who rose to the throne in 1999, were slowly giving way to a more cautionary wait-and-see attitude.

Some jihadists pardoned

Worried and wanting to stay one step ahead of the protests, the king released prisoners on April 14. Among them were Saharan tribesmen close to the Polisario Front a national liberation movement working for the independence of the Western Sahara from Morocco as well as members of the Islamist movement Salafia Jihadia, considered as the crucible for radical extremism. Ninety-six detainees were released at once, 41 of them had their sentences reduced, and 53 were given a provisional release.

Specifically, the royal pardon granted freedom to five militants of an Islamist group, as well as a journalist, who had been sentenced in July to 10 years of prison for having "formed a terrorist cell targeted at overthrowing" the government. Organizations defending human rights had insisted that there was both a lack of evidence and a lack of connections between the accused and a Belgo-Moroccan network that had prepared a wave of attacks. These prisoner releases were welcomed by the partisans of reform who viewed the goodwill of the king as a sign of conciliation.

A radical Islamist figure, Mohammed Fizazi, has also been released from his prison in Tangier after years of incarceration. This Salafist ideologue had been described as one of the masterminds of the movement who committed the suicide bombing attacks in April 2003. His comrades remain imprisoned, yet nevertheless managed to circulate videos of their demands on the Internet, a feat that had put security officials on edge. And that was before Thursday's attack.

Read the original article in French.

Photo - MCaporilli

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!