Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Casablanca, Morocco's largest city, May 27, in a renewed push for democratic reforms. The march, organized by trade unions, was the largest since a new government took office in January, with leaders accusing Prime Minister Benkirane of failing to deliver promised changes amid continued high unemployment. November elections brought to power a coalition government led by the Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist party, but protesters charge he has done little to fulfill his promises of social justice. "There are more than 50,000 people who are demonstrating to call on the government to start a genuine dialogue addressing our country's social ills," opposition Socialist MP Hassan Tariq said. (AlJazeera, May 28; BBC News, May 27)
Morocco's fashionable Mawazine "Rhythms of the World" international music festival also wrapped up over the weekend in Rabat, with performances by Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz. But just a week before the festival opened, Human Rights Watch criticized Morocco for sentencing a rapper to a year in prison for lyrics deemed insulting to police. "Morocco hosts one famous international music festival after another each spring, but meanwhile it imprisons one of its own singers solely because of lyrics and images that displease the authorities," HRW's Mideast director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement. "Morocco should be known as a haven for world music, not for locking up singers with a political message."
Rapper Mouad Belghouat AKA El-Haqed (The Enraged) was convicted on May 11 of "showing contempt" to public servants with his song "Dogs of the State" about police corruption. A week later, dissident poet Youssef Belkhdim was convicted of attacking police—a charge he denies—at a sit-in he organized in support of Belghouat, and sentenced to two years in prison. The two artists belonged to Morocco's pro-democracy February 20 movement that last year brought tens of thousands into the streets. (AP, May 29)