The suicide of a young Moroccan bread vendor is raising fresh concerns about freedom and reform ahead of the November 25th parliamentary elections.
Hamid Kanouni, 27, set himself on fire outside a police station in Berkane on Sunday (August 7th), stirring up a fresh debate in Morocco and evoking memories of how the suicide of another young man, Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi, launched the Arab Spring.
“Hamid wouldn’t have set fire to himself if he didn’t have good reasons for doing such a thing. It’s a real sign that the supposed change hasn’t happened,” February 20th Movement member Zohra Meliani said. She added that people’s grievances have yet to receive a practical answer, and that nothing has been done about scorn and corruption and respect for personal liberties.
But according to student Fadoua Gertouli, young people must not let their despair push them to the point of suicide.
“I can understand the fact that Hamid, after being so badly treated, felt that no-one could vindicate him, given the way that people are going unpunished. But we have to campaign and be patient in the midst of our troubles,” she said.
Hmida Taji, a teacher of Islamic education, said that the suicide was a reprehensible act banned by Islam. He called on young people to be aware of this reality and not to believe that anyone using self-immolation as a form of protest can be a martyr.
The February 20th Movement is helping to transport the body from Casablanca to Fez and organise a number of protest marches, particularly in Berkane, where the incident took place. Young people are calling for people to rise up against hogra (scorn).
There were different accounts of the incident given by police and onlookers. According to eyewitnesses, the police beat and insulted the victim, seizing his bread cart following a complaint from the owner of the bakery outside which he was selling his goods.
On Tuesday (August 9th) police denied the accusations of abuse in the Hamid Kanouni incident.
The police claimed that that the man had been overwhelmed when, on leaving the police station, he discovered that his merchandise had been destroyed by an unknown party. This drove him to douse his clothes with petrol and set fire to them.
The government has not yet issued a reaction to the event. Government spokesman Khalid Naciri avoided answering questions about Kanouni at a press briefing on August 10th. Instead, he simply indicated that justice would take its course.
Self-immolation is becoming increasingly commonplace amongst marginalised youth and unemployed graduates, according to Sociologist Samira Kassimi.
“It’s a form of political protest against injustice. These young people prefer to draw attention to themselves rather than remain in the shadows,” she said.