Saturday 27 May 2017

Five things to know about Morocco's Rif

Five things to know about Morocco's Rif
(AFP 05/05/17)

Morocco's northern Rif region has been rocked by protests since the death of a fishmonger crushed in a rubbish truck there last October.

Here are five things to know about the region:

- Berber identity -

The Rif is a mountainous region largely inhabited by Berbers who speak the Tarifit dialect of Amazigh.

Morocco only gave Berber languages official status in 2011.

The Rif has a history of defying outsiders' attempts to control it.

In the 1920s, tribes there rose up against Spanish colonial rule. Local leader Abdelkrim El Khattabi inflicted a humiliating defeat on the occupiers and proclaimed the independent Republic of the Rif.

His mini-state lasted less than five years -- Spanish and French troops used mustard gas to crush the revolt and by 1926 the republic had collapsed.

But with three million Berber-speaking residents, the region has retained its independent streak.

Today's protesters continue to carry the Berber colours and the flag of Khattabi's short-lived republic.

- Tense ties with Rabat -

The region has long had a tense relationship with Morocco's central authorities.

Just two years after Morocco won independence from France and Spain in 1956, the Rif revolted again -- this time against the Arab-dominated government of King Hassan II.

The revolt was crushed in another bloody crackdown that cost between 5,000 and 8,000 lives.

In 1984, protests again rocked the region, prompting mass arrests. Security forces fired live ammunition at demonstrators, described by the king as "the scum of society".

The region was also at the heart of Morocco's 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising against corruption.

But prominent local activist Nasser Zefzafi is adamant that today's protests are about economic and social issues and demonstrators are not seeking an independent state.

- Cannabis -

In a region long left out of state development programmes and with little agricultural produce, many Rif residents turned to growing cannabis.

From the 1980s onwards narcotics exports and other clandestine trade with Europe became mainstays of the region's economy.

Participants in recent demonstrations have demanded that the state take on a mafia that controls local fishing ports, another key local source of income.

- Marginalisation -

Residents of the Rif say they have long been marginalised by the state.

"King Hassan II (wanted) to punish the Rifians for their revolts in 1958 and 1984," said historian Pierre Vermeren.

The father of current King Mohammed VI left the region undeveloped, pushing many of its residents to seek better lives in Europe.

The region came to depend on trade with Europe, particularly Spain. The closure of the border with Algeria in 2004 increased the Rif's isolation.

- Large diaspora -

Decades of marginalisation, poverty and political unrest -- as well as a devastating 2004 earthquake -- have pushed many Rifians to emigrate.

Thousands headed to Europe in the 1950s for work in coal mines, and today northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands have significant Rifian communities.

Vermeren said around two million people with Rifian roots now live in Europe.

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