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Today, our attention turns to North Africa, where protests staged yesterday in Morocco turned violent and fatal for some and unrest continues in beleaguered Libya.
As pro-democracy protests spread like a virus through many parts of the Middle East, social media is still providing both a tool for organizers and a valuable window for the outside world into the volatile and intricate political situations in many countries.
Unrest in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Bahrain and elsewhere has taken center stage in world news for the past several weeks. In many of these countries, the government has completely or partially cut off Internet access during protests, especially since protesters have been using sites such as Twitter and Facebook to organize and gather support.
But the situation in Morocco, a constitutional monarchy with a notably pro-democracy king, is quite different from what we’ve seen in countries where decades-long dictatorships have predictably brewed strong and angry dissent.
The Kingdom of Morocco’s current ruler, King Mohammed VI, has reigned since July 1999. The dual-house parliament is led by Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi, who came into office in September 2007.
Protesters are asking the king to relinquish some of his powers and dismiss the current government, in addition to other constitutional reform demands. Before the weekend, a government spokesperson noted that the administration was not too worried about the protests, saying the country “for a long time has been engaged in an irreversible process towards democracy and widening public liberties.”
The protests were not expected to escalate into lootings and arson, but that’s exactly what happened yesterday. While most protesters were peaceful at the outset, some youth and “troublemakers” began committing acts of vandalism and theft, accorrding to Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui, who spoke in a press conference today.
Currently, approximately 128 people, mostly security officers, are reported injured, 120 people have been arrested, and five are reported dead, the latter specifically due to a bank that was set on fire. It is estimated that more than 37,000 Moroccans showed up to protest in dozens of cities around the country.
Historically, Morocco has been known to censor websites that might allow for certain freedoms of expression or that facilitate or encourage negative portrayals of the government. The usual roster of social networks have been used to coordinate protests in thr country over the weekend; in particular, several Facebook groups have been formed, and Twitter users are employing the hashtag #feb20. However, we are not aware that any censorship is currently occurring in Morocco.
More peaceful protests are slated to continue today in Morocco.
Meanwhile, in Libya, the Internet was shut down for six hours during violent protests against longtime dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi. When the country’s Internet access was returned, users immediately began turning to Twitter and Google maps to spread news and alert the world of known fatalities.
Yesterday, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam made a video statement, even as violence continued in the troubled country and foreign governments called for the end of the use of lethal force by the Libyan government.
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