Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

“Traitors to Morocco”: a campaign of harassment and racist abuse targets a human rights association

Author(s)

Maria Hagan
Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam
Sébastien Bachelet
Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester

Posted

Time to read

5 Minutes

Guest post by Sébastien Bachelet and Maria Hagan. Dr Sébastien Bachelet is a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. He is the principal investigator for the ESRC-funded research project “Acts/Crimes of solidarity: an ethnographic study of illegalisation and criminalisation amongst pro-migration activists and other citizens”.  Dr Maria Hagan is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. She previously worked as an associate researcher on the “Acts/Crimes of solidarity” project led by Dr Sébastien Bachelet at the University of Manchester. 

 

A (cyber) harassment campaign has targeted GADEM (antiracist group of defence and accompaniment of foreigners and migrants): a respected Moroccan association that meticulously documents migration policies and practices. This post draws on our research project exploring “crimes of solidarity” to outline how anonymous accounts have violently targeted human rights defenders, peddling far right rhetoric and spouting racist abuse at migrant people and those who support them. This has arisen in a broader context of hostile politics of migration and stifling of dissent. In an earlier piece for the Border Criminologies blog, we outlined how activists at the French-British border are criminalised in the British media. As illustrated here, the targeting and repression of activists supporting migrant people is also a concern south of the Mediterranean Sea.    

Since 2006, GADEM has provided support to migrant people facing violence and rights abuses, and offered vital evidence-based contributions to public debates on politically sensitive migration-related issues. Several (anonymous) online accounts have described the association as a “danger” and accused it of disseminating propaganda promoting “miscegenation” (métissage) between “Moroccans” and “Black people”. This abusive campaign plays out in a broader national context marked by uncertainty over migration politics. It is symptomatic of entrenched discrimination targeting Blackness in the Maghreb, which has grown acutely apparent alongside Morocco’s uneasy cooperation with the European Union over border control. Amidst wider crackdowns on dissent, this campaign of abuse echoes calls from state actors to consider activists and organisations that support migrant people (or engage in other forms of dissent) as traitors.    
 

Illustrated picture of a woman sitting on a couch holding a phone, looking distressed
[Illustration by Loup Blaster

Many (often anonymous) accounts on X (formerly Twitter) are calling for “traitors to the nation”, “internal enemies” and “collaborators” to be deported, arrested, or even lynched. We prefer not to link to these (often violent) posts. Online accounts have shared the association’s address and phone number widely, urging others to call - or worse. Employees and other supporters have been named, and some details about their personal lives (e.g. profession, pictures etc.) shared, including information about their children. Several activists and NGOs have publicly denounced this campaign of abuse, calling on the authorities to intervene. They, in turn, have been portrayed as traitors - and thus targets.     

These unfounded accusations have been echoed in magazines (e.g. Maroc Hebdo) and online media (e.g. Barlamane). Detractors have singled out funding from the Open Society Foundation as evidence of complicity with a “globalist agenda”, relaying conspiracy theories with xenophobic, racist, and antisemitic undertones. GADEM is accused of promoting Morocco’s transformation into a “camp of undesirable migrants”. The association’s goal of defending migrant people’s rights through advocacy is described as a front for facilitating the mass irregular migration (of Black people) into Morocco, and collaborating with certain international NGOs as part of a liberal agenda that seeks to transform society by imposing new norms (e.g. gender theory, ecology etc.).  

One recurring accusation in this content and the associated hashtags (#we_do_not_want_black_immigrants; #les_marocains_contre_lintégration_des_subsahariens [Moroccans against the integration of sub-Saharan migrants]) is that GADEM threatens Moroccan integrity by promoting relationships between Moroccan women and Black migrant people. They accuse the organisation of indoctrinating Moroccan youth through their work on multiculturalism. These shocking messages relay racist tropes from online accounts associated with the Moroccan Moorish Movement. This online movement emerged in the second half of the 2010s as a “free and spontaneous initiative engaged in the reinforcement of Moroccan culture, history and identity”. It has mostly remained in the online sphere and is marked by nostalgia for a lost glorious Moroccan past. Its proponents regularly issue garish calls-to-arms to shake up “indigenous Moroccans” in the face of identity-threatening internal and external enemies. In this toxic sphere that revels in commenting on a range of political issues (Western Sahara, Spanish enclaves etc.), racist posts have long targeted migration politics and the integration of “sub-Saharan migrants”. Echoing far-right tropes (“great replacement theory”) that have become entrenched in Europe (including in mainstream politics), these anonymous accounts (often belonging to people who present themselves as Moroccans living in France or Belgium) decry the “sub-Saharan invasion” and traitors such as GADEM, who they accuse of facilitating “the great replacement of native Moroccans''

These racist ideas have not emerged in a vacuum. Activists across the Maghreb have called for urgent progress in “recognising anti-black racism and the legacy of slavery in the region”. Journalists, scholars, and activists have called out a widespread refusal to engage with the legacies of slavery in the Maghreb even though they “continue to affect intimate, social, and political forms of life”. Debates over migration in the Mediterranean region have contributed to giving more prominence to race and racism in public debates, namely in Morocco where ordinary and institutional forms of racism have been documented.  

The multiplication of abusive messages targeting GADEM followed a policy note by the association calling for reform of the 02-03 Law on migration and its strong security focus. GADEM made several recommendations to the Moroccan government on this legislation, stressing that reform is long overdue in the light of unfulfilled promises articulated in the 2014 national immigration and asylum strategy. This strategy supposedly heralded a more “humanist” turn in Moroccan migration politics, yet local and international NGOs have denounced the continued mistreatment of migrant communities, for example through arbitrary arrests and forced displacement. Observers have noted a lack of progress on many of the strategy’s objectives and on migrant people’s overall integration. The death of dozens of migrant people along the border with Melilla in June 2022 demonstrates the need for radical improvements to the treatment of migration people in Morocco. 

Online abuse targeting GADEM clearly references incendiary declarations by Tunisian president Kais Saied who has peddled great replacement tropes and cracked down on dissenters (whom he depicts as “traitors”). The campaign against GADEM has included calls to emulate President Saied’s hostile stance against migrant people and their supporters. The Moroccan authorities have barely responded, but some posts tag the DGSN (Moroccan police), exhorting them to act against GADEM. GADEM supporters have rather called for the authorities to investigate. However, state actors have themselves often engaged in intimidating civil society organisations and activists. In a recent report (‘We know who you are’: hostile migration politics and the criminalisation of solidarity actors in France and Morocco), we document such state intimidation practices targeting human rights defenders and associations working to protect migrant people’s rights in these countries. Beyond migration, civil society has called out the Moroccan authorities’ deployment of a range of indirect tactics to silence dissent and critics (e.g. journalists, activists etc.).  

This campaign against a Moroccan NGO emphasises how issues of migration, justice, equality, and democracy are closely enmeshed. State and public responses to the abuse targeting the GADEM and its members are an indicator of where Moroccan society stands regarding the respect of fundamental rights for both migrant people and Moroccan citizens. 

 

 

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

M. Hagan and S. Bachelet. (2024) “Traitors to Morocco”: a campaign of harassment and racist abuse targets a human rights association . Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2024/02/traitors-morocco-campaign-harassment-and-racist-abuse. Accessed on: 15/07/2024

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