Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > Blogs > Noel Ignatiev

Richard Greeman, Letter from Morocco

Dear Friends,

I have just returned from an inspiring trip to Rabat and Marrakech,
where the massive, peaceful, demonstrations of the February 20th
Movement (the Moroccan incarnation of the Arab Spring) has opened up a
space of relative freedom for people to breathe free, demonstrate
their grievances and discuss their ideas in print and in public. It is
an exciting place to be, where every day new groups are getting
organized and putting forward their grievances. During my two weeks in
the country, I saw demonstrations – long banned under an oppressive
police-state – nearly every time I went out for the day. One day I
came upon a large group of men dressed all in white carrying banners
and chanting (in Arabic of course). By their garb, they appeared to me
to be members of some Moslem sect I had not yet encounter, Sufis
perhaps? But when I got up close, I saw they were medical personnel,
mostly public health doctors, dressed in surgical garb, demonstrating
for better pay and more funding for their clinics.

You don’t read much about the ongoing struggle for democracy in
Morocco,  mainly I suppose because of the lack of violence. Of course
the terrorist bomb attack on the main square of Marrakech, which I
missed by a day, did make headlines. In Morocco it was feared that the
tragedy would be used to clamp down on the movement (and rumoured that
elements of the DST secret police may have been involved), but King
Mohammed VI remained calm, and the comrades of February 20th Movement
organized a hugely successful mass demonstration in Marrakech against
terrorism at the site of the bombing, proclaiming their democratic and
non-violent goals.

                                The Monarchy

Morocco is an authoritarian monarchy, and although it has a
parliament, His Highness Mohammed VI holds a monopoly of temporal and
(as Commander of the Faithful) spiritual power. Descended both from a
long line of Sultans and from the Prophet Himself, the Monarch’s
person is sacred. Only yesterday, May 23, was taboo on the Monarch’s
sacred person broken for the first time when a demonstration of
unemployed youth greeted the Mohammed VI, on his daily public
appearance after saying noonday prayers, with their protests and
demands. The Moroccan Monarchy also has an aureole of political
legitimacy as the incarnation of the nation. At the end of WWII,
Sultan Mohammed V raised the cause of independence from the French.
The French Protectorate replaced him with a rival and exiled him to
Madagascar, but he eventually came to power on the force of a mass
movement (‘The Revolution of the King and the People’), and ruled with
the participation of  progressives, including the outstanding
revolutionies like the Jewish Trotskyist engineer Abraham Serfaty and
the popular radical Left nationalist Ahmed ben Barka.

In 1961 Mohammed V was succeeded by his son, Hassan II, an
authoritarian monster whose power base was in the traditional
reactionary landowning classes. Hassan II threw Serfaty in jail, had
him tortured, and left him there to rot. Ben Barka was kidnapped in
Paris with the complicity of the French secret police and turned over
to Hassan II who had him tortured to death. Hassan II’s reign of
terror – supported by the CIA, Israel, and the French DST
lasted 40
years, although in 1991 he did let up, released some prisoners, and
allowed some exiles to return. He died in 1999, leaving the country in
the hands of the Mahkzen – an occult nexus of Palace officials, Army
officers, the DST (political police), wealthy magnates, local
chieftains and their clients
who monopolise the levers of power at
every level.

Hassan II’s successor, the youthful Mohammed VI, seems a decent sort
and may have aspired to imitate Juan Carlos I, the Spanish Crown
Prince who liberalized his country as soon as Franco died. He even
went so far, in 2006, as to officially decree the equality of women in
Morocco. But the all-powerful social and political structure of the
Mahkzen remains in power, with a charade of alternating parties in a
sham parliament and few civil liberties, and the equality of women,
like other reforms, has not been enforced. Meanwhile, social
inequality keeps increasing, while the government spends billions on
building a totally unnecessary luxury high-speed TGV train from
Tangiers to Agadir when what is needed are roads, clinics, schools and

The Monarchy’s response to the Arab Spring has been extremely
judicious. When the demonstrations spread across the country on
February 20, the government recognized the demand for redress of
grievances and did not resort to slander or harsh repression like the
despots in other Arab countries. (On the other hand, the next day the
police quietly and selectively beat up on demonstrations and meetings
that were continuing the movement.) Rapidly, on March 9, Mohammed VI
took back the initiative with a major speech in which he raised the
minimum wage by 15 percent (over two years), increased scholarships for
students, raised the pay of civil servants including the Army, called
for a parliamentary commission to revise the Constitution and set June
24 as the date for a referendum.

His Majesty also, in the name of Human Rights (and I suppose in his
role as Commander  of the Faithful), pardoned a large number of
Islamic Fundamentalists (or ‘Salifists’ as they are called
in Morocco) who had been arrested en masse after a horrible terrorist
bombing in Casablanca in 2005 and left to rot in jail by the
thousands. Curiously, many of these revenants sheiks have, on their
release, acknowledged the role of the February 20 movement in their
release, and some have agreed to abide by its principles of secular
democracy, human rights and female equality. Indeed, the Islamist Al
Adl Wal movement, descended from Suffi Fundamentalist Shiek Yassine,
provides the February 20 movement with much of its strength and
respects its discipline. (There is also a loyalist official moderate
Islamist party represented in Parliament which does not support the
February 20 Movement, and reactionary Salafists who try to take over

                                The February 20 Movement

Meanwhile, the spontaneous February 20 Movement had been moving ahead,
getting organized on line and on the ground, pushing forward the
boundaries of protest, bringing together a coalition, and somehow,
using Facebook, developing its ten-point program.This young Movement,
which started among young students on Facebook and road the wave of
massive demonstrations sweeping the Arab world, owes its unity to this
excellent ten-point program which all its adherents
Marxists, Islamists, Human Rights fighters, etc
must observe. So
the movement is very broad and heterodox, but united in action.

It’s a kind of SDS-style do-it-yourself movement, and mostly things
get organized via text-messages, cell-phones and the like. February 20
has so far been able to keep up the strength of its demonstrations,
and is now moving towards deepening its roots in the community and
countryside. There are General Assemblies in every locality and the
young activists stay up late arguing principles and trying to find
consensus. (Everybody gets to talk. It takes time). There are also
great on-line newspapers in Arabic and French, like Ali Lmrabet’s
DEMAIN, now back in business. and discussion
sites like (where I occasionally post). And
credit should go to Al Jazeera (which you can get in English on line
and via satellite) for propagating the revolutionary seeds of the Arab
Spring by its, to my mind, totally professional and un-biased coverage
(check out the Al Jazeera Washington bureau for balanced and objective
US news!)

                                May Day in Rabat

I did get to participate in the May Day demonstration in Morocco, as I
had hoped in my previous article (copied below), but it was somewhat
of a let down. Partly because it was cold and rainy in Rabat and I had
arrived with tropical-type clothes and got totally chilled. But mainly
because I discovered that the Moroccan trade-union movement is so
deeply divided, that there were four separate May Day parades –
despite efforts to unite. Two of the federations are openly allied
with the government, and the February 20 people divided their marchers
between the two other, more progressive groups. Moreover, turnout was
poor as the majority of unionised workers, disappointed with their
leadership, stayed at home. Clearly, the spreading Egyptian movement
of self-organised unions has not yet reached Morocco. On the other
hand, it was a thrill to march with February 20th contingent, with
young and old, workers and students, women in headscarves and
bare-armed, bare-headed co-eds in Hippie-style garb shouting out the
slogans from the back of a slow-moving truck. Curiously, the
‘nastiest’ slogans (mentioning by name actual corrupt officials) came
from the Islamist ranks.

A few days later, I had the opportunity to give a talk at the
Benslimane section of the Moroccan Human Rights Association (my French
translated into Arabic!). Of course whenever I talk with Arab comrades
(we have a Committee to defend the Arab revolutions here in
Montpellier, where there are 40,000 Moroccans living) I like to tell
them about the Wisconsin Effect and how delightfully ironic it is that
'The Arabs are teaching us Americans about democracy!' It's a great
ice-breaker and sets up the next point: we're all together fighting
back against the international neo-liberal reactionary capitalist
offensive. (They videoed the meeting, and I hope it will be on U-Tube

My talk was held in the Benslimane "House of Books," and the occasion
was a book-launch for the Arabic publication of Raya Dunayevskaya's
Marxism and Freedom, which was sponsored by the Victor Serge
Foundation (which paid for the translation) and introduced by Maâti
Monjib and myself.  I am pleased to say we sold 38 copies at the
meeting and that of the whole edition of 3000 copies, only 400 were
which is pretty amazing in Moroccan publishing. Maâti says
that in Morocco they count five readers for every book, which means
more than 12, 000 Moroccans may soon have read this Marxist-humanist
classic. It couldn't have come at a better time. I've asked a couple
of comrades to review it in Arabic, and we are hoping to have the
Arabic text available on line soon, as well as to promote editions in
Egypt and/or Lebanon if possible. (Any leads?) The Arab Spring has
proven once again that revolution from below is possible: the crucial
question is ‘What happens after?’ and books like Dunayevskaya’s (and
Serge’s, which are next to be translated into Arabic) are needed to
fill the theoretical void, which will otherwise be filled by harmful

Indeed, the assigned subject, "Human Rights and Left Ideologies," gave
me the opportunity to dismiss ALL ideologies
free market, Islamist,
totalitarian communist, nationalist etc
as forms of false
consciousness rationalising the power of one or another ruling class.
All these ideologies are oppressive; what is needed is a PHILOSOPHY of

                                Woman as Subject

As for the "human rights" part of the topic, I took as my text Hegel's
Master/Slave dialectic, where the Master knows only his privilege and
arbitrary will, while the slave, revolting against her oppression,
discovers a mind of her own. This went over very well with my
audience, half of whom were women wearing head scarves. Especially
when I used "husband" and "brother" along with "Pharaoh" as examples
of the Master. (I could hear Raya's cackling laugh when that one went
over). So human rights became a question of Subject, of women's revolt
and self-activity, rather than an object, something handed down by the

I also tried to make the point that the best way to overcome the
influence of Salafism (reactionary Islamism) is NOT to polemicize
(which would be accepting the opponent’s GROUND for debate) but to
undermine Salafism by insisting on women's equality, women's rights.
As the women in headscarves lined up for me to sign their copies (I
guess as Prefacer) of Raya's book in Arabic, I wished I could speak
Arabic and had had more time to talk with them individually. One thing
I learned, however, is that in Morocco what a woman puts on her head
doesn't necessarily tell you what's going on IN her head.

It is increasingly clear that  women’s rights are central to the
developing social revolution in the Arab world, and the
revolutionaries of the February 20th Movement I met in Rabat and
Marrakech all seemed very much aware of this priority. For them, it is
no longer a question of solving the "woman question" AFTER the
revolution, but of putting it first, at the cutting edge of the
struggle. "Women as vanguard" if you will. (This is also the line of
the senior leaders of La Voie démocratique, the historic Marxist (more
or less Trotskyist) party in Morocco, with whom I spoke.) This is
certainly a big step forward. So is the recognition of mass creativity
FROM BELOW on the part of these old Marxist fighters (many of whom
endured prison and torture during the "years of lead" under Hassan II)
as they move forward to incorporate a new generation, deepen their
roots by eliciting the grievances of the people and helping them
organize during this period of tentative freedom.

                        Non-Violence and Internationalism

Another wonderful aspect of this amazing Arab Spring is the
generalized reliance on non-violence, which is proving more and more
effective even in countries like Syria and Yemen, where women have
continued to play a major role despite the violence of the
governments’ crackdown and the traditions of a gun-toting tribal
society. It is wonderful to see the U.S. media stereotype of the
Violent Arab Maniac exploded by this historic outpouring of
self-disciplined mass non-violent struggle across a whole region. Much
has been made (for example by the N.Y. Times) of the contribution of
foreign non-violent strategists like Vermont Professor Gene Clark, but
it turns out that the Islamic world had it’s own historic non-violent
role-model in Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the "frontier Ghandi," who
according to Michael Shank (the Nation March 16) "built a 100,000
strong non-violent resistance movement out of local tribal people" among the Pashtouns on the Pakistani-Afghanistan border – an arbitrary
frontier imposed by the British the better to divide and rule the
Pashtouns. According to Khan, "Mohammed taught that a Moslem is one
who never hurts anyone by word or deed." The record of British
atrocities against Khan’s peaceful followers in the ‘20s was worthy of
a Kadaffi. So much for the Clash of Civilizations.

The strength of the burgeoning democratic and social revolution in
Morocco continues to depend in part on the strength of the ongoing
international movement known as the Arab Spring. It would be wonderful
if the Moroccan movement, having carved out a space of relative
freedom in a stable land, could share it with activists from movements
in the other Arab lands by hosting some kind of pan-Arab Spring
Encounter where they could talk freely among themselves and begin to
organize this powerful international revolution which up to now has
mainly known itself "‘virtually," through the media and the Internet.
The feeling of hospitality is strong in Arab culture, and one hopes
that the Moroccan revolutionaries might think of paying their debt of
solidarity to the Arab Spring by opening its harbor of peace (dar es
Salaam) to comrades from other nations. This is a project I hope to
see developing. Inch-Allah!

Richard Greeman
May 22, 2011

Copy of April 27 article:

"May Day Arab Spring"

This year May Day  promises to be a true international festival thanks
to the historic 2011 Arab Spring, which has re-awakened revolutionary
hopes across North Africa and the Middle East, inspiring new
resistance among the embattled workers of the US and Europe across the
seas. The marches and rallies planned in Syria, Egypt, Tunisia,
Algeria, Morocco, Baharein, Ymen and elsewhere will be a massive
demonstration of the new democratic forces who have shaken
longstanding reactionary dictatorships to their foundations, spreading
panic among the leaders of Western imperialism who support them.

Ironically, May 1 first emerged as the international workers’ holiday
in the United States after the 1886 Haymarket tragedy, but President
Kennedy, a hawkish young anti-communist, attempted to surpress May Day
by official proclaiming May 1 as “Law Day” and organizing
demonstrations of support for the police. Five years ago, May Day was
revived in the U.S. when mainly Hispanic immigrants organized a
one-day general strike and massive demonstrations of millions of
immigrants demanding their human rights. Last year, some U.S. labor
unions, under pressure from right-wing attacks, revived May Day and
this year, for the first time – under the impact of the Arab Spring
the immigrants and the workers will be celebrating together in New

In Egypt, where up to now the unions were state-controlled, the new
Federation of independent unions is calling for a mass May Day
assembly at Tahir Square, where the workers will be joined by masses
of youth, women and disaffected middle class people. Since the Januray
uprising, which was itself sparked by an earlier labor revolt and
stiffened by the March 9 General Strike, the Federation has been
flooded with applications from new associations of workers, farmers,
students, professionals and now railroad workers and journalists who
have organized themselves for the first time. Your humble
correspondant will be celebrating May Day in Rabat, Morocco, with
comrades of Feburary 20th movement, and I hope to have some first-hand
reports for you next week, including interviews with local Human
Rights, labor and left wing activists.

Although independent Arab media like El Jazeera English and the
Egyptian online newspaper Aramoline not to mention more radical blogs) overflow with news of strikes, new independent trade unions, vigorous neighborhood, women's and unemployed associations and new political parties, the western media keep repeating the same pessimistic litany of fears of takeovers by the Islamists or the army, or the old corrupt parties, while turning a deaf ear to the vibrant sounds of self-organisation from below, at
best dismissing people's movements as "chaotic." Moreover, the
generally positive revolutionary developments of the past few weeks in
the Arab world have been overshadowed by the tragic news from Libya,
where a promising democratic movement as degenerated into a civil war
abetted by outside imperialist interests. Social revolution and civil
war are opposites. So it is important to look closely at the class
basis of the democratic, basically non-violent development of the mass
movements opposing the other dictatorships in the Arab world and
contrast it with the tragic impasse in Libya, where the local working
class is small and undeveloped, and where regional, tribal and
factional division within the army and the bureaucracy are important

Take, for example, this report from Mogniss H. Abdallah in Egypt: “In
Cairo on April 22, the first national assembly of the Popular
Commitees for the Protection of the Revolution brought together 5000
people on Tahir Square. Some 220 of these Committees are implanted
across the country and have already come together in some 40 local
coordinating committees. Their purpose is the self defense of their
neighborhoods, villages and factories. They came into being, quite
spontaneously, on January 28th when the police were suddenly withdrawn
and criminal gangs of 'baltagueya' were unleashed on the population by
the regime.” But instead of the planned "chaos" and violence designed
to turn honest citizens against the revolution, the self-organised
volunteers brought about a rebirth of citizen consciousness and civic
order, including the recycling of garbage.

Since that time, the Committees have extended their field of action,
monitoring the police, local authorities and social services. Also
demanding the arrest and trial of corrupt men in power, the
dismantling of fraudulently elected local councils, the restitution of
illegaly approriated public goods, democratic election of local
governers and an end to military trials of civilians. What we are
seeing here is the spontaneous creation of an autonomous democratic
counter-power, organized for self-defence, and challenging the
existing powers on every front. These 21st Century Egyptians may or
may not be aware that the Paris Commune of 1871 grew out of local
volunteer self-defense committees or that the Russian revolutions of
1905 and 1917 were made by the self-organized, federated councils
(Soviets) of workers, soldiers and citizens; but their common sense,
class instincts and the needs of the moment, drive them – and will
continue to drive them
to similar forms of self-organization. Thus
the social revolution goes about its business.

So on this eve of May Day, it is salutory to listen to what "Sandmonkey," a brilliant an important Egyptian blogger, is telling his comrades among the Egyptian intelligentsia, some of whom have also fallen into the "doom and gloom" scenario:

“There is nothing but optimism and the prospect of a brighter future.
Yes, there is economic instability and the economy will go down for a
bit, but that’s only natural and part of the healing process. When you
take an anti-biotic to cure you from a disease it is bound to keep you
bed ridden and feeling tired for a few days so that you can properly
heal, but you will heal and you will regain your full health
eventually. Think of state TV employees who are protesting right now demanding that our national TV practices real journalism without an agenda.
Think of the coalition of restaurant owners that is being formed in
order to tell the municipalities that they won’t pay bribes anymore,
and if they wish to shut them down they can go right ahead and face
the wrath of all of their employees. Think of the students of the
Lycee in Cairo, 6 and 7th graders, who did a 3 day sit-in protest
demanding the return of a teacher that got fired for carrying an
anti-Mubarak sign in Tahrir and forced the administration to
re-instate him. Think of all the 8 and 10 year olds who went out with
their parents the day of the referendum to vote and had the experience
engrained in their psyche forever, something we never had ourselves,
and know that they will never allow that right to be taken away from
them. Think of all the 12 year olds who are watching all the hot
issues (secularism vs. theocracy, left vs. right, the role of the
army, the role of the police, etc..) being debated all around them
right now, and having their political consciousness formed right now
and know that when they turn 18 it will be next to impossible for
someone to trick or co-opt them. Think of all the 15 and 16 year olds
who are watching the protests all around them and the lessons and
mistakes that we are doing and think of what those kids will do the
moment they get into college in a couple of years or when they join
the workforce. Think of all your friends, wherever they are, who are
joining and debating and talking and wanting to help and do something,
and know you are not a solitary phenomenon. The Virus is everywhere.
The Future is AWESOME. We will not save Egypt, Egypt will save us.
Now go and think of how you can help. And when you encounter people
whose stupidity or irrationality or ignorance frustrates you, smile,
because you know in 6 or 7 years they will no longer exist nor be of

We are completely unaware of what’s happening in our country because
things are happening so fast that everything seems like it’s standing
still. But the country is moving, the virus of the revolution
spreading everywhere and changes are happening by the minute because
30 years worth of changes and reform are unleashed all at once. We are
living in Hyper-time, and every person who sees a hole in the
foundation of our country is working really hard and fast to plug it,
and the future is looking brighter every day because of it.”

To find out why this Egyptian blogger is so optimistic, click on "7
Popular Myths about the Revolution," Rantings of a Sandmonkey,
where he deflates the fears of takeovers by the Army brass, the Moslem
Brothers, the old corrupt parties and gives details about the power of
grass-roots organizing in neighborhoods, among workers, and among
self-organized groups in every walk of life.

Happy May Day To ALL!

Richard Greeman

What's Related

Story Options


Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

A Soldier's Story: Revolutionary Writings by a New Afrikan Anarchist, Third Edition

The Unknown Revolution: 1917-1921