Using Facebook and the citizen-led online open access site 'Mamfakinch', activists organized a broad based movement in Morocco on February 20, 2011. The online spaces acted as a safe public sphere, allowing activists to deliberate and coordinate their actions.
Problems and Purpose
While Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy ruled by King Mohammed VI with an elected prime minister and parliament, human rights organizations and domestic groups have long identified the need for democratic reforms within the country. There are also extensive documented cases of police brutality, political imprisonment, electoral fraud, widespread corruption and media censorship which has led to a decline in political participation. Despite this context, civic activism and strategic consensus-building mechanisms are being created by citizens to disseminate non-censored information, create new inclusive spaces to organize, discuss, share information and to build an effective broad based social movement within Morocco.
Shortly after the Egyptian Revolution on January 25th 2011, the Facebook group “Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير” was created by young activists in an effort to attract Moroccans in discussion surrounding the creation of a consensus over collective demands, tactics and the coordination of protests for reform across the country. The citizen-led online open access media outlet Mamfakinch – meaning “no concession” – was also created to disseminate uncensored information, providing information to protestors and allowing non-journalists to submit information based on personal experience. The innovative use of these two platforms outside of state mediation contributed to the formation of consensus and networking of anti-government grievances as well as directly enhancing the mass mobilization of protestors in Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier and Marrakech on February 20th 2011. This case demonstrates the complexities of decentralized tech-based online open-access platforms that enable direct participation and connect individuals/activists within networks in an effort to nurture collective action.
Background History and Context
The February 20 Movement began as a Facebook discussion among Moroccan youth activists under the online banner “Democracy and Freedom Now” in early January 2011. During the Tunisian uprising, this group organized a sit-in at the Tunisian embassy in Rabat to express support for the “toppling of a dictator”. Participants comprised young activists from a variety of political spectrums. The activists met again in early February at the headquarters of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights in Rabat with an attendance of approximately 30 participants. This meeting established that a priority was to use Facebook to advertise the protest and to educate the public about the group’s demands using online platforms. The heart of this effort was the “Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير” Facebook page. By February 2, 2011, the page had 3,000 active users (Reuters, 2011). On February 3rd, the newly formed group announced their call on Facebook for nationwide protests on 20 February. Illustrations were created to attract more members and were uploaded to Facebook photo albums and used as profile pictures, widely disseminating the message; a YouTube page was also created.
The citizen-led open media outlet, Mamfakinch, was formally launched by activists connected and inspired with the Facebook page on February 18th. This provided an alternative media outlet to state run programs designed specifically to disseminate information about the protests to enable “awareness and coordination” (Mamfakinch, 2011). On February 20th, 2011, hundreds of thousands of Moroccans participated in mass demonstrations and riots at every major city across the country. These would persist until September 2011 when King Mohammed VI put forth reforms to the constitution and executive branch. The Facebook page is still active nurturing activism and discussion. Mamfakinch, despite receiving the Google/Global Voices Breaking Borders Award for “defending and promoting freedom of speech rights on the internet”, stopped producing new content in 2014 after increasing government pressure 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Facebook page “Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير” was first started by the original participants at the January meeting. It is moderated by a network of unknown online activists without any centralized hierarchy. It is an open-access page, participants do not need to be members to view it or engage with its content. The active user rate was constantly increasing from its conception. Lists of original participants are not known.
Although the February 20 Movement is decentralized with no leadership, just regional co-ordinators connected through Facebook and Mamfakinch, they relied on the active support and participation of several political parties, unions and associations including: The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH); The Unified Socialist Party; Annahj Addimocrati (The Democratic Path): the party of the Democratic and Socialist Vanguard (PADS); Al Adl Wal Ihsan; Ittihadis of February 20; The Moroccan Organization for Human Rights (OMDH); ATTAC; Al-Mounadil-a; The Collective of Amazigh Associations; The National Union of Students of Morocco; the Moroccan Labour Union and the Democratic Labour Confederation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Initial participants comprised of online youth Facebook activists, bloggers, and commentators – numbers were no larger than 30. Participant totals in the Facebook page “Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير” began at 3000, rising to 20,000 before February 20th and 60, 000 shortly thereafter. These were comprised of majority youth participants, although they notably ranged in gender, sexuality, class, and religion. Online participants under the age of 18 on both Facebook generally and the page specifically are not known. Furthermore, it is an open page where individuals could participate as non-members and indirectly on Facebook through news feeds, participants varied considerably. Given that active user rates are lower for over the age of 34, online participants were drawn from the Moroccan internet savvy youth. In contrast, no specific data exists related to user/reader rates on Mamfakinch. Access to a cell phone/computer and an internet connection also determined who was able to participate or be exposed to both online platforms. Diasporic Moroccans in France participated marginally in the February 20 Movement.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative involved social media activism as well as offline collective action in the form of protests and mass demonstrations. The citizen-led online, open access media outlet, Mamfakinch, arose out of the Facebook page.
What Went On: Protest, Interaction, and Participation
The February 20 Movement is decentralized through local coordinators and individuals connected through the Facebook page and Mamfakinch. It was determined that the group would remain radically open with no leader in the first meeting.  On February 3, 2011, the group published its demands translated into English as follows:
- “To nullify the current Constitution, and appoint a founding commission among uncorrupted and qualified countrymen, that would establish a new Constitution putting royalty at its natural place.To dissolve the parliament, the government, and political parties which contributed to the political corruption.
- To take real and tangible action to relieve the suffering of the Moroccan people, and create an urgent fund to compensate unemployment.
- To release all political detainees.
- To appoint an interim government that would do management tasks temporarily, pending the establishment of the Constitution and the consensus of uncorrupted factions and institutions on the actions to be taken, in the context of the new social contract between royalty and society” (Press Release, 2011).
These demands provoked significant debate among users of the Facebook page, resulting in consensus and campaign building. One user commented on February 5th that the demands are “too radical…requiring complete revolution” while another critically asked “what might dissolving the parliament and government look like?” garnering thousands of impassioned replies. A significant number of comments and content uploads on the Facebook page have hundreds and thousands of user comments and interactions via ‘likes’ or sharing.
A young activist from Salè posted a video promoting the movement on February 8th, leading to a series of personal vignettes that featured 14 activists ‐ nine young men, four young women, and one elderly woman ‐ in two‐minute videos, entitled “I am Moroccan”. Each video begins with an activist saying, “I am Moroccan and I am partaking on February 20” followed by the specific reason for participating. These reasons range from corruption in government, police brutality, to unemployment and the rising costs of living. The video was re‐posted all over Facebook, blogs, and news sites when it was released on February 13th.
Activists used the Facebook page to advertise events, edit statuses to spread the movements’ message, and invite/forward invitations to participate. Through this process, networks of individuals on Facebook in Morocco became connected. Those who were not already active participants in the page but users on Facebook became confronted with it in their respective ‘news feeds’ and notifications. This nurtured a far-reaching network of solidarity of grievances against the regime – individuals with different concerns and life experiences – united around the prospect for reform. Thousands of independent Moroccan Facebook users actively uploaded photos/videos, shared stories of abuse/misfortune, and ideas for how to proceed politically. The “I am Moroccan” video slogan was reposted throughout 2011 on the Facebook page to promote ideas of unity and citizenship. Even though the Facebook page was inclusive and participatory, there were noted moments of inter-ethnic racism and sexism which forced moderators to remove comments in violation of Facebook policies.
The Facebook page and Mamfakinch articles functioned together, as the latter would be uploaded and shared through the former. Mamfakinch was designed specifically to inform the protestors about what was happening in the national movement. It served as a supporting open access platform where non-traditional journalists and activists could upload entries based on their ‘on the ground’ experience. (Mamfakinch, 2011) Moreover, the pictures and videos of the February 20 campaign and protests were universally available for publication by traditional national, further extending the impact of the February 20 Movement’s efforts. (Mamfakinch, 2011) It also attracted international media attention as part of the Arab Spring, further contributing to the dissemination content uploaded on Mamfakinch or the Facebook page. By February 20 2011, subscription to the Facebook page had risen to 20,000 members, hosting fierce debates and exchanges of ideas, this number would grow to over 60,000 in the following weeks.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In 2011, Morocco was ranked third in the Middle East and North Africa for active Facebook users  and between the months of February and June 2011 the numbers rose from 600,000 to 3, 525, 460 active users (Internet World Stats, 2011). This dramatic growth of the use of Facebook in Morocco was concentrated at 65% among users between the ages of 18 to 34 – of which 41% are between 18 to 24 – with only 12% of subscribers being over the age of 34. The “Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير” was able to build off of this popularity. As individuals participating on the page constantly updated their status, post Mamfakinch articles, and upload pictures, the activists spread content to their Facebook friends’ newsfeeds which became “saturated with information”. Through Facebook and Mamfakinch, news of the upcoming protest on Sunday February 20th spread nationally.
On February 20th, thousands of Moroccans rallied in the capital city Rabat demanding that King Mohammed radically reform the country, chanting slogans as they marched to the parliament building; “Down with autocracy” and “The people want to change the constitution”. Simultaneously separate coordinated protests were happening in Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakesh, Al Hoceima, Chefchaouen, Larache, Ksar-el-Kebir, Fez, Guelmim, Tétouan, and Sefrou. It is estimated by national media that the turnout in Rabat was 4,000, while organisers and Mamfakinch put the crowd outside Parliament at 20,000 (Mamfakinch, 2011) The Interior Ministry estimated that the total number of protesters was about 37,000 people, although these figures are contested by activists involved (Mamfakinch, 2011).
This enthusiasm persisted intermittently with protests throughout 2011 on; February 26, March 13, March 20, April 24, May 8, May 22, and June 5. Despite police repression against these demonstrations, King Mohammed VI announced a willingness to cede a series of constitutional reforms, passed through a national referendum on July 1st. These proposed reforms saw mixed support by Moroccans. Popular celebrations were observed throughout the country while activists of the February 20 Movement rejected the proposals as insufficient and called for continuing protests on June 19th 2011 demanding "truly democratic constitution and a parliamentary monarchy", while calling for a mass boycott of the poll. A large number of protesters went onto the streets again on September 11th 2011 and on September 18th 2011. There continues to be yearly anniversary protests across Morocco, the movement has garnered considerably criticism about its lasting legacy and effects.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
When describing the role of Facebook in the February 20 Movement one activist notes that it was a “decisive tool that served in expressing and voicing different claims, mobilizing masses with logos and posting videos, providing information”. According to Rahman, the success of these participatory media platforms is in “its ability to translate online activism into real world activism”. This is an important lesson as Abdullahi Ahmed An‐Na’im warns more generally that although this “new media” may provide “tremendous opportunities...it is not a substitute for the human agency of the actors”. The effectiveness of this ‘new media’ is in its ability to mobilize bodies for inclusive participation around a unified theme of reform.
One of the most significant achievements of “Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير” and Mamfakinch was its targeted broad based foundation, tackling a diverse range of political issues outside of state run outlets which allowed it to network individuals from all spheres of society and online portals into a participatory environment. By leaving the mission and goal of the movement broad and decentralized, “reform” against the ruling regime became an inclusive and unifying discourse chanted at protests, reproduced on Facebook and in daily Mamfakinch articles (Mamfakinch, 2011).
However, the causal link between media platforms and individuals risking imprisonment to participate in mass mobilizations against the government is not clear. Whether the majority of participants in the protests were active users on the Facebook page or readers and up-loaders of content on Mamfakinch cannot be determined with certainty. It can be argued that the systemic social, political, and economic issues prevalent in the country combined with regional instability created the conditions for national protests in Morocco. Facebook and Mamfakinch may not be direct ‘causes’ of the protests, but they were effective tools in helping to nurture consensus and connect angry/marginalized voices through networks that enabled coordinated activism centred on a specific date and location.
Commentaries and Criticism
Commentators have raised concerns regarding the age bias in the participant lists in the online groups, describing that the aims represent a radical internet savvy youth not the majority of the population. While the active Facebook user rate in Morocco is high, with Facebook being searched more than Google in 2011, the majority of users are youths between the ages of 18 to 24. Furthermore, statistics do not capture online participation from individuals under the age of 18 – the percentage of youths could be even higher. This means that people over 34 are less likely to participate or be effected by Facebook or Mamfakinch, thus detracting from the overall inclusive and broad based democratic theme of the movement.
A significant number of criticisms have also arisen concerning the legacy and effectiveness of the movement. The reforms implemented in the aftermath of the protests did not cede to any of the 4 main demands of the February 20 Movement. Instead they gave the prime minister and parliament more executive authority, and made Berber, Arabic, and Arab-Hassani the official language of Morocco. The proposal empowered the prime minister with the authority to appoint government officials and to dissolve the parliament – the powers previously held by the king. However, the king remains the military commander-in-chief and retains his position as the chair of the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Security Council, the primary bodies responsible for the security policy. The reforms also introduced a provision confirming that the king remains the highest religious authority.
Lastly, since the movement was decentralized and involved mass mobilizations, the actions of activists could not be formally controlled or regulated once individuals met at designated protest locations. This resulted in looting, dissolution of protests, and sometimes strategic miscalculations creating less effective campaigns and violent encounters with police. It became a movement, some argue, lacking direction and organization (i.e. on where the movement is heading) as it was unable to sustain its momentum to challenge reforms posed by the government.
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Mouvement du 20 Février - Maroc - حركة 20 فبراير https://www.facebook.com/Movement20/
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Project on Middle East Democracy http://pomed.org/