Demonstrator's death energizes Moroccan protesters

Kamel Amari, 30, killed by Safi police, becomes new symbol for anti-government rallies across the country.

Protesters gather in Morocco 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jean Blondin)
Protesters gather in Morocco 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jean Blondin)
Rallying behind the death of its first martyr at the hands of police, tens of thousands of supporters of Morocco’s protest movement took to the streets over the weekend brandishing posters of 30-year-old Kamel Amari.
Amari’s alleged death on Thursday by police in the city of Safi, 200 miles south of the capital of Rabat, has given new momentum to anti-government movements, as the effects of the Arab Spring reach across north Africa. 
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The protesters' agenda was mixed. In Casablanca, some 60,000 demonstrators marched, carrying banners reading "The people want an end to tyranny," and chanting slogans against the government and the constitution, which they claimed left too much power in the hands of King Muhammad VI.
Following Amari's death, the new agenda of police brutality was added to the list of grievances. "We are all Kamel Amari, the martyr of the February 20 Movement," read one man's sign, while others carried a white mock coffin with Amari's portrait taped on its lid. Riot police were markedly absent from Sunday's demonstrations. 
Protests in Morocco began on February 20, when marches took place in 52 cities across the country demanding constitutional and democratic reform and an end to government corruption. Aptly titled "The February 20 Movement," the grassroots initiative launched a Facebook page to coordinate protest activities. But up until Amari's death last week, the weekly protests failed to gain substantial momentum.
"The people demand the killers of the martyr," chanted crowds in a demonstration in the city of Meknes on June 6.
Jack Kalpakian, a political scientist at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, said that demonstrations could widen if the government failed to seriously investigate Amari's death.
"It all depends on the government's response," he told The Media Line. "If there's an investigation and real reconciliation with the family, this can be overcome." 
Amari was a member of Al-Adl Wal-Ihsan, an Islamist opposition group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Following his death, the organization said negotiations with the government were doomed to fail.
"The vengeance taken by the oppressive rulers against the proud and peaceful Moroccan people indicates the end of hope for the ruling regime in this country and its failure to accept peaceful transition to real democracy guaranteeing social justice for all," a statement on the organization's website read.
Kalpakian said that the government began using more violence against demonstrators some three weeks ago, when more and more ordinary citizens began complaining about the disruptions caused to their daily lives and businesses by the weekly demonstrations. He said the government's move was imprudent.
"This led to a harsher line by the protesters," Kaplakian said. "For instance, when public sector doctors were beaten up by police, this caused the private doctors to join their struggle."
King Muhammad VI, the liberal-minded monarch ruling Morocco since 1999, was relatively swift in responding to the demonstrators' demands. He established a committee charged with re-drafting the constitution, comprised of a large spectrum of Morocco's political parties, and even representatives of the February 20 protest movement. The new constitution will be voted on in a public referendum July 1. 
But Kaplakian said that although the new constitution would take away many of the king's prerogatives and hand them over to the parliament and the prime minister, Morocco was not going to become a "symbolic monarchy." Apparently, many demonstrators were not satisfied by this.
"A parliamentary monarchy = a king that reigns but doesn't rule," read a banner in a Marrakech demonstration June 5.
Hasan Haithami, a member of the media department in the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist party and Morocco's largest opposition group, said that the government was wise not to send police into Sunday's demonstrations, even though they were officially illegal.
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"We demand a parliamentary monarchy, removing the guise of holiness from the king and the creation of a real government, not a powerless one," Haithami told The Media Line. "We also demand the removal of businessmen from politics."
Haithami said the final draft of the constitution was not yet leaked to the public, but if it did not satisfy the opposition demands, they would boycott it.
Located at the western edge of the Arab world, Morocco remained largely unscathed by the popular uprisings that toppled the regimes in Egypt and nearby Tunisia. Recently, Morocco and Jordan were offered to join the GCC, a political grouping of Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman.