Morocco: Protesting teacher trainees offered deal for classroom return

Morocco: Protesting teacher trainees offered deal for classroom return
Morocco's prime minister has offered a deal to teacher trainees protesting against controversial decrees that they say reduce their training grants and threaten their employment prospects.
4 min read
20 January, 2016
Benkirane was forced to offer a deal to teacher trainees following nationwide protests [Anadolu]

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has been forced to offer a deal to teacher trainees following nationwide protests that resulted in the use of force by police, Moroccan daily Assabah reported.

The deal offers to postpone one of the two controversial government decrees that triggered the protests earlier this month.

The amended decree, which will now be postponed to 2017, separates teacher training from recruitment.

This means that completing the one-year teacher training programme will no longer guarantee employment, as the trainees would have to sit for a recruitment test that would determine whether they get officially hired or not.

This programme threatens to worsen the unemployment crisis already affecting Moroccan teachers.

According to the Finance Ministry, the 10,000 current teacher trainees across Morocco must compete for roughly 7,000 teaching positions, leaving 3,000 unemployed with an "unworkable" diploma.

However, based on the new deal, the government and the education ministry will consider creating 3,000 new teaching positions that were not included in the 2016 fiscal year budget in order to solve budgetary issues.

The other decree, which cuts the number of teacher training grants by half, was not included in the deal.

Thus, the decree will continue to be in effect, reducing a teacher trainee's monthly stipend of 2,500 Dirhams ($252) to as little as 1,200 Dirhams ($121).

The decision marks a U-turn for Benkirane, who had insisted on going through with the two decrees "even if [the wave of protests] brings the government down".

"I am ready to step down if I am found directly responsible for the violence that took place," he said during a national gathering of the Justice and Development Party (JDP) on January 9.

Black Thursday

On 7 January, Moroccan security forces violently dispersed several peaceful protests across the country, causing dozens of severe injuries among teacher trainees.

Some protesters had serious head injuries that required emergency medical attention.

In Inezgane, on the outskirts of Agadir, police attacked peaceful demonstrators with rubber batons and wooden clubs, and in some cases threw stones at them, witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

According to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, the police crackdown injured 100 people in Inezgane, 20 in Marrakech, eight in Tangiers and 40 in Casablanca, including some who were seriously injured.

The day was later referred to in the media as "black Thursday".

Shocking images of the assault went viral on social media, sparking outrage and drawing local and international condemnations, with many people denouncing the excessive use of force by the police.

Photos provided by activists show a police officer in anti-riot gear beating a woman in a red headscarf and a white lab coat as she sits on the ground.

"Clubbing and tossing stones at peaceful demonstrators would fall well outside the realm of lawful means of dispersing a peaceful demonstration," Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said on Monday.

"The Moroccan authorities should make sure the police and security forces don't use unnecessary violence against demonstrators and to hold accountable anyone who does."

Contradicting statements

Last week, Interior Minister Mohammad Hassad spoke about the teacher trainees' protests at a parliament session, vowing to prevent any future protests.

"[Security forces] were left no choice but to use force after having warned protesters to leave," he added.

According to Hassad, the security intervention and dispersal of the protests were ordered by Benkirane.

However, Benkirane contradicted the statement when he said he was not aware of what happened until he called the interior minister.

To end the debate, Moroccan communications minister and government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi said that the government took responsibility for the events.

Unauthorised protests

During last week's parliamentary session, Hassad also emphasised that the teacher trainees' protests were "unauthorised" and had to be stopped as they "posed a danger to citizens".

A source at the teachers' National Coordination Committee spoke to Moroccan website alyaoum24 about the legality of the protest movement, and whether the organisers had obtained the necessary permits.

"The teacher trainees' protests are peaceful, and following the legal path would lead us into a maze," the source said, adding that the committee insisted on going through with the protests.

Organisers of the nationwide movement told Human Rights Watch they did not formally notify the authorities of the protests as they were certain the government would not grant approval.

Under Moroccan law, organisers of demonstrations on public streets are required to notify local administrative authorities at least three days in advance and must obtain a stamped receipt of acknowledgement from the authorities.

Protests will continue

The protests, which initially came in response to calls by the NCC, have evolved into sit-ins at training centres across the country.

In response, the interior ministry has adopted a new plan to deal with the ongoing protests in a "softer manner", according to Assabah newspaper.

The new approach includes deploying female police officers on the frontlines, as well as using water cannons to disperse the protests.

But Khalfi reiterated the government's calls for the teacher trainees to return to their training programmes - in order to avoid risking their post-graduation employment prospects.