Rabat – Following our most recent and final excursion, this time to a town in Southeastern Morocco called Beni Mlal, we are preparing for finals. This entails both a written and oral examination in Arabic, and the culmination of our preparation for the research assignment.
SIT is largely defined by the final third of the program in which we spend a month living alone or with other students and conducting independent research. Our research needs to be related to migration, but in a country like Morocco, migration touches everything.
My research will focus on Morocco’s version of the Arab Spring, the February 20th Movement (M20F). M20F was sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, but the Movement functioned very differently from other North African equivalents.
Research on this subject is difficult because of the political nature of the movement. Though the Moroccan monarchy responded receptively and even instituted constitutional reform, there has been a lot of censorship. Nearly 2,000 activists have been detained for varying lengths of time since 2011, and activists are often hesitant to acknowledge their participation in the movement.
The first step in my research involved a conversation on one of the busiest streets in the city, Mohamed V at 4:00 last Wednesday. I agreed to meet a Moroccan activist named Zakarie near the edge of Rabat’s Old City. We planned to go from there to his office, where we would talk more.
Come 4:00, I could not find Zakarie. I searched a sea of faces looking for some form of recognition, finding none. The only information that I had about him was that he was an activist and a man, which didn’t give me very much to go on.
After a confusing 10 minutes that saw me approach a number of Moroccan men who looked like they could be named Zakarie, a tall man with a thick beard called me over, chuckling. He told me that he had been watching me since I arrived, and it seemed that I had passed whatever test he had assigned me.
We didn’t go to his office, instead we walked down the street in search of another man who evidently spoke more English. After another 10 minutes of awkward searching, I met M. M will remain nameless, as he was and still is involved with M20F.
I asked M to tell me about his experience protesting in 2011. Our conversation moved slowly and in bursts. M would periodically walk away from me and furtively scan the street, looking for police officers I assume. He wouldn’t tell me very much, but assured me that he had been integral to the movement in Rabat.
I explained my research to M and he asked me to write up a questionnaire and bring it back to him. He told me that he would take my questionnaire (which I would have to write in French) and distribute it to other activists. I would not be able to know their names, their faces, or their whereabouts. The questionnaires would be distributed, filled in, and returned.