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Moroccans take to social media to demand crackdown on crime wave

Moroccans call on their government to tolerate 'zero physical assault'. But in order to achieve that, the country must have 'zero inequality'

CASABLANCA, Morocco - Angry Moroccans have recently taken to social networks to call for an end to bloody physical assaults that have gripped many cities across the North African country. Online protests under hashtag #Zéro_grissage (zero physical assault) have swept social media two years after a similar campaign was mobilised against the tcharmil phenomenon.

Tcharmil comes from tcharmila, a colloquial word that means a meat marinade prepared by butchers with large knives. It has become synonymous with crime and theft after being initially associated with a clothing style (bling bling watches and expensive trainers and tracksuits) created by young Moroccans coming from the lower working class where the likelihood of educational success is rock bottom. Some of the aggressors, mostly teenagers, posted their pictures on Facebook wielding large knives and sabres and sums of money they allegedly stole in a sign of defiance to both the authorities and society. 

The media reported several knife and sabre attacks amid growing feeling of insecurity among Moroccans, prompting the king to give instructions to the interior ministry to deal with this shocking phenomenon.

The security services then carried out mass arrests in order to calm down the public opinion.

However, two years later, the "Zéro Grissage" virtual campaign, which was inspired by the Zero Mika campaign to eradicate disposable plastic bags in Morocco, emerged following many assaults across the country.

Many pages were created on Facebook to report the assaults, using pictures and videos, some of which are gruesome, depicting fights with sabres in broad daylight. These scenes are reminiscent of violent movies where lawlessness prevails and could be dangerous for viewers with weak hearts.

A cartoon shared on Facebook comparing Moroccan gang members to Islamic State militants in Syria

The most daring attack took place on 14 July in the seaside city of Mohammedia, 20 km away from Casablanca, where the Sablettes beach was the scene of a violent assault on beachgoers with sabres and knives by a group of “drunken” young men. They sowed terror among the tourists on the crowded beach, brutally assaulting three young women for refusing to hand over their bags and mobile phones.

The founding group Zéro Grissage published a petition, calling on King Mohammed VI to “to take the necessary steps to stop these heinous threats with knives and provide security to the citizens by enacting punitive sanctions against anyone with possession of a knife or sharp tool with the aim of threatening or stealing.”

The petition, which was launched on 20 July, has gathered over 14,500 signatures and seeks to reach 20,000.

The security services reacted to Moroccans' ire on social networks and the extensive media coverage of the Zéro Grissage campaign with massive arrests across the country.

Just after the campaign was launched, the General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) revealed in a statement that 256,171 people were arrested in Morocco in the first half of 2016. Of these 9,721 individuals were arrested for possession of knives and 9,560 knives of various sizes were seized.

The interventions of the security services will continue in all Moroccan cities with the same determination and the same effectiveness to prevent crime and combat all aspects of crime, said the statement.

However, the call was not enough for some Moroccans who feel that the law is still lenient towards the aggressors. Some activists called on the judges to sentence them to a number of years in prison according to the length of the knives they use in the assault. Others called for the king’s amnesty to be dropped against the aggressors and slap them with hard labour while fully serving their prison sentences.

Overall, the Zéro Grissage campaign managed to raise again a problem that is affecting Moroccans on a daily basis, making them feel insecure in a country that has one of the world’s most efficient anti-terror intelligence apparatus.

The campaign is awash with angry comments and posts against the aggressors and calls for self-protection with knives; eye for an eye action whose consequences could be far more dangerous.

Yes the aggressions are gruesome and thoughtless. Yes the aggressors must be brought to justice. But shouldn’t we look at the roots of this delinquency? Aren’t the government and society responsible for pushing teenagers down this road?

Morocco should carefully revise its educational system where school dropout rates are high, where classes are overcrowded in public schools, where education has become a prolific business and the list goes on.

Social welfare is another sticking point that needs to be addressed by the government. The gap between the rich and the poor keeps widening in big cities whose streets are packed with fancy cars and four-wheel drives. Social inequality will surely drive teenagers from deprived backgrounds to delinquency.

The government has to set out realistic targets to reduce this gap through the overhaul of the educational system, crackdown on corruption, eradication of the remaining shantytowns and reduction of the scale of income inequality through the creation of more job opportunities, both directly and indirectly.

Why don’t Moroccans create a campaign of “Zero Inequality”? It sounds nice but literally impossible to achieve unless the government enacts solid economic and development strategies that are inclusive of all social layers and can steer Moroccans’ progress towards efficiency, sustainability and wellbeing.

- Saad Guerraoui is a senior editor at Middle East Online and regular contributor to the Arab Weekly newspaper. He graduated from Newport University (London Campus) with a PhD in Business Administration. He has appeared on various satellite TV channels as an analyst.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A Moroccan policemen walks past a police van in front a prison in Sale, near the capital Rabat on 26 February, 2011 (AFP). 

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