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Protests across the region bring mixed results

Though voter turnout is falling to new lows in certain places in the region, including Lebanon and Iraq, the right to protest was exercised all over the region, and – despite a highly restrictive environment – new civil society groups emerged.[1]

Protests in Morocco’s Rif region continued from 2017, while the Moroccan authorities’ intolerance of dissent seemed to grow. March protests in Jerada were met with excessive force and mass arrest and prosecution; four leaders received between four and nine months in prison.[2] In June, 53 activists of the Hirak (NB – in 2019 another protest movement arose in Algeria, also called the ‘Hirak movement’) protest movement in the Rif region were handed heavy sentences at a mass trial.[3]

Evidence was presented of detainees’ injuries being consistent with torture and abuse, but the issue was not addressed in the judgment.[4]

Previous to this, King Mohammed VI pardoned 116 already-sentenced Hirak activists, but this did not include any of the movement’s leaders. One of its leading figures, Nasser Zefzafi, was sentenced to 20 years in June for ‘undermining public order’ and ‘threatening national unity’.[5]

Alongside these activists, two prominent journalists were convicted on trumped-up charges, including ‘failure to report a crime threatening national security’ and ‘claiming to be a journalist without credentials’.[6]

The impact of austerity measures and lacking services, the spread of poverty and environmental problems, and entrenched inequality are sources of continuing unrest; protests over economic hardship are increasingly common, and occasionally effective.

Widespread discontent in Algeria (4th quartile) led to citizens taking to the streets to protest economic hardships, rising prices, lack of public services, and unemployment. The protests forced the government to reverse its position on certain austerity measures.

For years – and particularly since his stroke in 2013 – President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s suitability for the presidency was questioned. Frequently hospitalised, he rarely spoke in public and made very few written statements. Towards the end of 2018, unrest began to break out, which protested the plans of President Bouteflika’s plans to run for a fifth term.[7]

These protests grew during 2019, ultimately forcing the President’s resignation in April 2019, and continued afterwards to demand further resignations and the establishment of elections. These protests have been met with arrest, violence, and repression; there are fears that the military is gaining ground, while sustainable progress will be difficult to achieve through elections.[8]

In Jordan (3rd quartile), on 30 May, trade unions called a strike to protest against amendments to the 2014 tax law. The following day, the government raised fuel and electricity prices, triggering further protests. On 1 June, King Abdullah ordered a freeze on price hikes, but protests continued. On 4 June, Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki resigned, and the next day King Abdullah appointed Omar al-Razzaz as Prime Minister. The protests ended after al-Razzaz announced that the new government would withdraw the amendments to the tax law.[9]

Egypt saw protests over similar issues, as tough economic reforms from 2016 begin to take their toll on citizens and subsidies to basic services were cut, but with a very different outcome: the security forces suppressed protests in a characteristically brutal manner.[10]

 

 

[1] The Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2018, available at https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index

[2] Human Rights Watch, Morocco/Western Sahara – Events of 2018, 2019, available at https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/morocco/western-sahara

[3] Human Rights Watch, Morocco: Torture Suspicions Mar Mass Trial Verdicts, 30 November 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/30/morocco-torture-suspicions-mar-mass-trial-verdicts

[4] Human Rights Watch, Morocco: Torture Suspicions Mar Mass Trial Verdicts, 30 November 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/11/30/morocco-torture-suspicions-mar-mass-trial-verdicts

[5] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[6] Committee to Protect Journalists, Moroccan Court Sentences Two Journalists to Several Years in Prison, 3 July 2019, available at https://cpj.org/2018/07/moroccan-court-sentences-two-journalists-to-severa.php

[7] The Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2018, available at https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index

[8] Amir Mohammed Aziz, ‘Protesting politics in Algeria’, Middle East Research and Information Project, 26 March 2019, available at https://merip.org/2019/03/protesting-politics-in-algeria/

[9] Amnesty International, Jordan 2018, available at https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/jordan/report-jordan/

[10] The Economist Intelligence Unit, Democracy Index 2018, available at https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index

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