Moroccan Authorities Arrest Alhoceima Protest Leader

Moroccan authorities arrested, on Monday morning, Nasser Zefzafi, the fugitive leader of the protests that have been shaking the northern town of Alhoceima for more than six months.

Zefzafi, 39, was on the run since Friday when the General Prosecutor ordered his arrest after his interruption of a Friday sermon at a local mosque.

Zefzafi will stand trial for hindering religious rites, an offense punishable under Article 221 of the penal code with prison terms ranging from 6 months to 3 years.

On May 26, Zefzafi created enormous disorder by interrupting a Friday sermon while criticizing the Imam for likening the protests in the Rif to sedation (Fitna). Zefzafi, who was surrounded by protesters, spoke with an ultra-conservative religious rhetoric against the Imam and the establishment and vowed to continue protests.

Clashes erupted when Zefzafi’s supporters throw stones at law enforcement officials who were about to arrest Zefzafi in his neighbourhood. The outbreak of clashes marked a turning point in the peacefulness that characterised the protests in the last six months.

Following this violent event in which several policemen were injured and one handicapped for life, the Public Prosecutor ordered the arrest of some 28 individuals involved in the protests on charges, inter alia, of receiving funds from abroad with a view to undermining public order and defaming the symbols of the nation.

Several sit-ins were staged in different Moroccan cities, with the largest taking place in Tangier, Casablanca and Rabat calling for meeting the social and economic demands of the Rif protesters. A coalition of mostly leftist intellectuals and organizations signed a petition calling for dialogue between authorities and protesters.

Tensions have been simmering in Al Hoceima since the death of Mohsin Fkri who was crushed in a garbage truck while he jumped in, in an attempt to retrieve his fish that was confiscated by the police last October.
Since then, protests have been building up in the city characterized by peacefulness. Protesters call for more jobs, hospitals, a university and social justice.
Upon directives from King Mohammed VI, a Ministerial delegation visited the city last week and inspected the progress made in a set of projects in fields including infrastructure, health, education, fisheries and agriculture. In this regards, 20 billion dirhams have been allocated to carry out social and economic projects within the upcoming five years in the city and its region.

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