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Young hunger strikers go up against regimes in Morocco and Egypt
1 September 2014. A World to Win News Service. Mustapha Meziani, a 31 year old Moroccan university student, died on 13 August after a 72-day hunger strike. He was arrested after a 24 April altercation between Islamist and secular students at the Dhar El-Mehraz campus in Fez, an important concentration point in the struggle against the Moroccan monarchy. An Islamist youth reportedly died of a bullet wound. The prime minister and other top authorities attended his funeral.
The authorities demanded “firmness” against the organization Democratic Way (Base). Meziani and three others were charged with premeditated murder. People associated with the organization say that neither side had used firearms, so the Islamist’s death was suspicious.
Meziani and two others were placed in preventative detention pending trial. Subsequently he and other students were not allowed to sit for university exams, and he went on hunger strike to demand reinstatement, saying that he was innocent of the charges and being illegally punished for his political activism. His father and a friend started a hunger strike themselves outside the hospital where he was being held, but they were soon arrested.
Meziani’s hunger strike drew national support as an example of official indifference to the lives of the country’s youth. The Moroccan Human Rights Association issued a statement blaming the government overall and specifically the ministers of justice and the prison administration for the young man’s death, since he was willing to give up his fast if what the MHRA called his “legitimate right” to attend university were recognized. He was not given medical attention until he slipped into a coma.
The April demonstrations that led to Meziani’s arrest were seen as a continuation, to some degree, of the Moroccan youth upsurge that began on 20 February 2011, in the wake of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Massive demonstrations took place across the country, including an attack on a police station in Marrakesh. The monarchy was able to calm the situation by allowing elections to the lower house of parliament and the formation of an Islamist government.
Nevertheless, King Mohammed VI continues to hold the final authority. Most human rights and other groups have accepted the strictures that frame political life in Morocco, where it is illegal to challenge the institution of the monarchy, the “integrity” of the country (this means questioning Morocco’s illegal annexation of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara), and the religion of Islam, but some organizations with ties among university students have refused to accept these boundaries.
On 1 July, Mouad Belghouti, who raps under the name “Al-Haqed”, was sentenced to four months in prison in Casablanca for a video on Youtube called “Dogs of the State,” about the Moroccan police.
In Egypt, Alaa Abd El-Fattah has also gone on hunger strike. The 33-year-old blogger, Arabic language software developer and political activist is known for his early public opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. For many people his name is closely associated with the youth movement currents in the January 25, 2011 uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster. On 18 April El-Fattah announced, “At 4 pm today, I celebrated together with my colleagues my last meal in prison,” vowing not to eat again until he is released. He is one of 25 people sentenced to 15 years in prison for holding a demonstration in front of the Egyptian parliament last November in defiance of a law banning protests.
Let out of jail on bail last March, these youth activists were physically barred from entering the courtroom for their trial in June, and then sentenced in absentia without a trial on the basis of their absence.
Alaa’s younger sister Sanaa, 20, is also in prison for demonstrating and has joined him in the hunger strike.
Other jailed activists have also joined him, including leaders of the 6 April Youth Movement. That organization is now banned, and its Facebook page reports that about 30 members were arrested on 1 September when they set up a funeral stand in front on the family residence of a recently deceased member in Bulaq El Dakrour, a Cairo slum district.
Imprisoned supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood are also reportedly on hunger strike.
Alaa’s hunger strike, he explained (madamasr.com), was precipitated by his desire to be with his dying father, a lawyer well-known for battling the Mubarak regime and the military in court and the sphere of public opinion. The father, Ahmed Seif al-Islam, died 27 August. He was famous for a message to his imprisoned son, saying that he had hoped to leave him a democratic country but could only leave him the prison cell where he himself had been held.
Also well-known for their opposition to the military regime that took the reins after Mubarak fell in February 2011 are Alaa’s wife Manal, his sister Mona, his mother Leila Souief and his aunt, the UK-based novelist Ahdaf Soeuif. This is his third detention since then.
In announcing his hunger strike, he said, his family is “part of the struggle of thousands who never give up and millions who sometimes rise up.”
Like many other people associated with the Egyptian youth movements, Alaa initially supported the military in the July 2013 ousting of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government, but since then has tried to dissociate himself from both sides. “We have to remove ourselves completely from the conflict by not raising demands except within the limits of the right to life and the dignity of the body and the freedom of the individual,” he said.
Those taking such a stand have been relatively marginalized from current Egyptian political life, since most people cannot imagine not having to choose between the military junta and Islamist rule and this stand does not put forward a viable alternative. It can’t address the demands for “Dignity” and “Bread, freedom and social justice” that moved millions of Egypt’s impoverished masses as well as middle classes in 2011.
Yet the U.S.-backed military government, like the U.S. and French-backed Moroccan monarchy, despite their electoral spectacles, are trying to crush any opposition that brings their legitimacy into question.
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