Against border closures, the Fnideq Movement’s “Cry of the Poor”

Below is a report from Attac Maroc on a recent protest movement in the northern border town of Fnideq, against the Moroccan state’s closure of the border with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta (in Arabic, Sebta). The report was published in late February

The protests are amongst the strongest expressions of popular opposition to the border regime in Morocco over the last period. Note that the Moroccan state increasingly restricted the passage of “micro smugglers” (who bring Spanish goods into Morocco) over the last quarter of 2019, and in March 2020 blocked traffic altogether. 

The Ceuta border is one of two land frontiers between the European Union and the continent of Africa (the other surrounds nearby Melilla). Whilst the two enclaves are formally Spanish, they are widely viewed in Morocco as “occupied”.

Calligraphy is a feature of works by Mustapha Amnaine
Mustapha Amnaine, date unknown.

The Fnideq Movement continues for a third week in a row, as the people take to the streets every night despite the prohibitions, pressures, and promises from the local authorities. Led courageously by women, the movement is raising the demands of a local population affected by the state’s closure of the border with occupied Ceuta since December 2019 – a closure that has caused an economic and social crisis, as exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and deepened by the Makhzen’s disregard for citizens’ plight over the past months. 

As in the Rif, the movement is organised via social media, a feature that is both a strength and a possible weakness, given the various political and community  groups’ delay in attending – and even, absence from – the protests, whilst repression stalks this nascent struggle. Yet from the bitter experience of [the Movement of] Jerada, we have learned that brutal repression follows a movement’s isolation.

Women at the forefront of struggle

As with Bni Drar and Bni Nasser to the east, Fnideq is a victim of the state’s strategy of closing all “livelihood smuggling” crossings, measures defended as a way to “encourage national production” – a poor excuse, since the same foreign products continue to enter the national market, invading cities via the ports. The beneficiaries [of this closure] are the big merchants and bosses; the biggest losers are those inhabitants of Fnideq and all the northern border cities who make their living from the informal economy, without asking any help from the state. When closing the border, no alternative was provided, only promises, on which residents have not seen any practical action for two years: An unbearable situation, prompting them to protest.

The residents of Fnideq have broken through the fear barrier, confounding the [local] authorities’ calculations as well as those of the local and national elites. The first week of the protests, 5 February, was a test of citizens’ ability to face dictatorial repression [قمع الاستبداد]. The Makhzen met this nascent movement with repression, giving four young men suspended prison sentences – a warning message to a movement still in its infancy. But, with nothing to lose, the population has shown remarkable defiance and courage. 

Fnideq is living through a perilous economic recession. Due to the cessation of “livelihood smuggling” around 9000 people have indeed lost their livelihoods; due to the Moroccan government’s decision to [fully] close the crossing in March 2020, 3600 workers have been prevented from working in occupied Ceuta; 30% of the city cafés and restaurants have completely closed; poor citizens cannot afford to pay rent, water and electricity bills — generally, the city and its inhabitants are collapsing. Young people are risking their lives for the “Hrig” of swimming the five kilometres to Ceuta, at night – perhaps it was the recurring deaths of young people through their desperate attempt to cross the border that proved the straw that broke the camel’s back [1]. Residents of Fnideq, who once asked nothing from the Moroccan state, are now shouting on the streets every Friday, to the astonishment and confusion of the Makhzen. 

Fnideq’s uprising would likely not have continued without the drive of the women of the town, who come every Friday with their children, with pride, heads high, and a clear message: an economic alternative now, and the opening of borders so that licensed workers can reach their jobs.  

If the affected population has a clear vision, the local organisations’ effort on the ground is lagging (at least according to what we have seen there), still satisfied with a “Facebook struggle” – whilst the region’s elite defensive move has been to bargain, absorbing the population’s anger through an initiative to petition the north’s Regional Council [2]. 

As supporters of popular struggles, we must defend the population’s fight on the ground and in the media, and emphasize their urgent demands, which include: 

  • Ceasing water and electricity stoppages, and Amandis’ cutting off local people’s metres. 
  • Stopping the evictions of renters due to their inability to pay each month 
  • Stopping payment of micro loans for the local population, as well as cancelling late payment charges. 
  • The immediate opening of the crossing to occupied Ceuta in order to allow 100 citizens, held there since March 2020, to return to Fnideq, and so that 3600 workers [living in Morocco] can return to their workplaces in the occupied zone as normal, especially since they are now threatened with losing their work. 
  • Full transparency in the distribution of food aid, as distributed by the authorities to the poor and widows, without requiring vaccination against Covid-19 in exchange for the food parcel. 

Long live the people, death to their betrayers! [3]

Salah M. 

Attac Maroc.


[1] In the original, “drop that spilled the cup”. Hrig is a derivation of the verb ḥaraqa, “to burn”; one explanation of this image of “burning” is the burning of borders or identification papers.

[2] “Local organisations” is more literally “local frameworks” (‘الإطارات المحلية’). 

[3] “Life to the people, no life to those who betrayed them” (‘وعاش الشعب ولاعاش من خانه’). A slogan popularised by the Movement of the Rif. 

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