Saturday, 31 May 2014

Tension in Morocco as Students Crash in University campus

(Morocco) (AFP) - Fez may be better known as Morocco's historic centre of Islamic learning, but the modern-day university is a rare bastion of radical leftist students, where tensions are simmering after bloody clashes with Islamists.
Under the campus arcades, as students queue for lunch outside the nearby restaurant, a group of young activists is locked in political discussion in the sweltering midday heat.
"Our university is one of the Marxist-Leninist bastions, which has always defended the interests of people suppressed by the regime," says one.
Dhar El Mehrez, as the university in Fez is known, is the country's oldest after Rabat.

But it has become associated with confrontations between knife-wielding students, the latest of which erupted last month, pitting the leftists against their Islamist peers, one of whom died in hospital after being stabbed.
Fez has not been spared the wave of religious fervour that has swept across Moroccan campuses since the early 1990s but, unlike elsewhere, the influence of leftists remains largely intact.
"The leftist movement at this university is not recent... And it has been one of the few to resist the Islamist tide," said Moroccan historian Maati Monjib, stressing the "social solidarity" among students.
"If one of them does have the money to buy a restaurant coupon, he just has to make it known and his comrades will help him out."
That solidarity was sorely lacking on April 24, when Abderrahim Hasnaoui, an Islamist from nearby Meknes University, was stabbed during clashes that broke out after the leftists tried to prevent a political debate organised by the Islamists.
In response, eight leftists were arrested.
Several days later, and mostly Islamist protesters marched in Rabat, chanting: "The university is for studies, not for terrorism."
But the leftist students in Fez are adamant that the violence was provoked by the Islamists, describing an armed "raid" on the campus.
Hasnaoui "did not belong to our university (but came) with others from Meknes to provoke us," said Mohamed Wafi.
"It was an armed raid, to attack... not just the leftists," he insisted.
- Troubling precedent -
One of those controversially attending the debate was Abdelali Hamieddine, now a senior member of Morocco's ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD). He was jailed for two years over the death of a leftist student killed during similar violence in 1993.
Hamieddine was released after the judge ruled that the evidence against him was insufficient, but he remains linked to the bloody clashes at the university 20 years ago, and his appearance last month irked the leftists.
Rachid El-Adlouni, the president of the PJD's student youth movement which called the debate, categorically denies any provocation and accuses the leftists of a "terrorist attack".
"We decided to organise a conference in the presence of a representative of the political left, Hassan Tarik, and a symbol of the Islamist movement, Abdelali Hamieddine," Adlouni said.
"It was a terrorist attack organised... by a gang serving the enemies of democracy," he said.
While the leftists disown responsibility for Hasnaoui's death, a student at the university, cited by independent Moroccan weekly TelQuel, said many of them often carried a weapon on the campus.
The issue has even reached parliament, where Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said around 120 students have been arrested for violence since the start of the academic year, more than 50 of them in Fez.
He also announced that the security forces would be authorised to enter campuses whenever they deemed necessary, after informing university authorities.
NGOs have criticised the decision as a "militarisation" of Morocco's universities, mindful of existing tensions, notably in Fez, where a 22-year-old leftist student reportedly died of his wounds in February 2013 after police forcefully broke up a protest there.
SneSup, one of the main teachers' unions, said the security approach was a completely inappropriate way of resolving the problem of violence in places of higher education.
"It would have undesirable effects and would further aggravate the tensions," warned the union, which has instead urged dialogue and respect for differing political opinions



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