Moroccans see limits of reform in rapper's case By AIDAN LEWIS | Monday, November 28 2011 at 09:35
For Morocco's protest movement, the case of rapper Mouad Belrhouate shows that the regime's authoritarian reflexes die hard.
The rapper, who goes by the name of El-Haked, or The Indignant, was arrested on September 9, accused of physically attacking and injuring someone in a scuffle.
But according to Haked's supporters, the case was concocted because his lyrics dared to criticise the regime.
The 24-year-old remains in prison even after Moroccans voted to elect a parliament under a new constitution.
Moroccan activists say the plaintive in Haked's case, known as Mohamed D, is a well-known member of the royalist militias deployed over recent months to violently break up protests. They say he feigned injury to incriminate Haked.
"He was asking people to revolt and claim their rights, and he was fighting with all his energy against corruption in Morocco," says Abdelrahim Belrhouate, Mouad's older brother.
"He was set up by the authorities… because of his songs," he says. "They put him in jail to silence him."
In one song, Stopping Being Silent, he addressed a taboo that has been breached but not entirely broken during the protests this year, directly challenging the monarchy and King Mohamed VI.
"While I'm still alive, his [the king's] son will not inherit," he raps.
Driss El Yazami, the head of Morocco's National Council for Human Rights, says Haked's case is being investigated, and that he is just one among "hundreds" of rappers.
The council is an official body created by the government amid a flurry of reforms prompted by the protest movement, and Mr El Yazami says Morocco is making big steps towards guaranteeing greater freedoms, noting that 65 of the 185 articles in a constitution approved in July refer to human rights.
During an interview in the capital, Rabat, he reaches over for a pile of newspapers with front page articles about the king and the Western Sahara, topics traditionally outside the limits of critical discussion in Morocco.
"I don't agree that nothing has changed," he says.
"Of course, the fact that a right is in a constitution doesn't mean it will be applied automatically. The effective enactment of the rights in the constitution is a task that will last several years."
Moroccan authorities say the constitution paves the way for a constitutional monarchy in which the new parliament and a range of other bodies will provide democratic checks and balances.
But the protest movement is deeply sceptical, saying that without further change, the privileged elite aligned with the royal palace will retain power and wield it as they please.
Many say voting will make no difference, because the political parties are not strong or independent enough to represent them.
"On the first day we went out to call for a democratic constitution," says Hamza Mahfoud, a leading member of the protest movement in Casablanca.
"But the constitution is not democratic and will not lead to a constitutional monarchy. We are sticking to our demand of achieving democracy now, not later."
The protest movement has been criticised for lacking realistic and coherent goals, and it has dwindled since the beginning of the year.
The reforms may have taken some wind from its sails, and it has been subject to a smear campaign.
The movement's members have been painted as homosexuals - a common slur in socially conservative Morocco - and portrayed in parts of the media as a fringe bunch of contradictory secular revolutionaries and Islamist extremists.
But at a demonstration in Casablanca days before the vote, thousands turned out despite heavy rainfall to call for an election boycott.
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