A New Feminism? Gender Dynamics in Morocco's February 20th Movement

Article excerpt

Abstract

The February 20th movement shows new modes of engagement with feminism, despite a striking absence of feminist organizations from the protest movement. Nevertheless, and in sharp contrast with most accounts that posit the irrelevance of feminism for Moroccan youth's identifications and political subjectivities, I argue that feminism has not only penetrated the social imaginary of a new generation of activists, but has also informed their practices. What kind of tension does this appropriation of feminism by the youth of February 20th bring about with traditional feminist circles? Does this high visibility of women in February 20th indicate the rise of a new feminism? I will first briefly locate February 20th in a genealogy of feminist activism in Morocco showing places of friction, influence and tensions. Second, I will provide some indications of what I call a new feminism. Third, I will analyze the gender dynamics among the various components of February 20th, notably the secular and Islamist. I will conclude by sketching a new map of protests led by women and not necessarily intelligible under the old cartography of feminism

Key Words: New feminism, Gender, Parity, Subjectivities, Activism, Arab Spring, Social Movements, Islamism.

The Rise of a Movement

The February 20th movement took many by surprise. During the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings several virtual conversations were taking place about bringing the Arab Spring to Morocco. The fall of both regimes triggered demands for protests on February 20th, 2011, the date that became the name of the movement. The calls first appeared on Youtube showing signs of new gender arrangements and cultural politics. This was not simply because of the alternation of colloquial Arabic (darija) and Tamazight (berber) languages. Rather, it was the young men and women's alternating voices and faces that were indicative of new gender dynamics among the February 20th activists.

The clip of the call started with Amina Boughalbi's face and voice. Unknown to the public, Amina is a twenty-year-old journalism student and a founding member of February 20th. In a fashion similar to that of the Egyptian Asmae Mahfouz, Amina, speaking in the first person, initiated the call for protests stating: "I am Moroccan and I will march on February 20th because I want freedom and equality for all Moroccans." She was followed by a young man who stated "I am Moroccan. I am marching on February 20th because I want all Moroccans to be equal, (2)" (Call for protest February, 2011). The faces of young men and women keep alternating, each one speaking in the first person stating her/his reason for marching. On February 20th, several thousand rallied in the streets in more than 60 cities and towns in Morocco.

This gender performance of parity shown in the call for protest is not only virtual, but also the bodily presence of women in the movement is visible at all levels of mobilization and organization. The women too take their share of police brutality, to which the recent kidnapping and trial of Maria Karim, a February 20th activist, bears witness (E1-Ayoubi 2012). The women also speak on behalf of the movement in national and international forums. Amina Boughalbi's intervention at the Centre Mosellan des droits de l'homme, in Paris in June 2011 (3) and the first press conference organized by the movement on February 17, 2011 in Rabat serve as examples. The conference took place at the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH) in Rabat. The AMDH is headed by Khadija Riyadi, a long standing human rights and feminist activist. Riyadi opened the conference by introducing Tahani Madad, a 19 year old science student who spoke on behalf of February 20th. Tahani read the movement's memorandum, introduced the various organizational committees and stressed the peaceful character of the protests. She stipulated that "no sectarian, political or religious slogans are authorized" and defined February 20th as a youth dynamic that is secular, modernist (hadathl), democratic and independent of all foreign agendas or political affiliations". …