Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Aragana Café/Restaurant Bombing: Al Qaeda-Like; Mohamed VI's Visit; The Victims; The Family of the Deceased Moroccan Server

During May 1 celebrations, Moroccans express their sorrow, and their rejection of terrorism (LP/Yann Foreix)

There has still been no group that has claimed credit for the bombing of the Argana Café/Restaurant, on Djema al Fna in Marrakech, on Thursday April 28 (see earlier post, "An Explosion in the Café Argana, Djemaa al Fna, Marrakech--Sad for the Whole Country)". However, it has been established that the explosion was a criminal one, using a nail bomb that was remotely triggered by cell phone. The style of the bombing, including the location which was a major focal point for tourism in Marrakech, and the timing during busy daytime hours are similar to an Al Qaeda attack, with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb the most likely origin, though all possibilities are being explored.

Arab Spring type demonstrations in Morocco have been peaceful, and have asked for social improvements, increased democratization, and a better balancing of powers within Morocco's constitutional monarchy. Demonstrators have not asked for a change of government, or for the King to abdicate. They want peaceful reform, and are afraid that the bombing will result in reprisals against all dissenters. While drawing less attention in the Western media the February 20 Movement is a broad group initiated by Moroccan youth, persistent, and determined.

Morocco does have internal Islamist movements which have condemned the violence of the Argana Café explosion, and distanced themselves from those methods for reform. They have participated in peaceful demonstrations since they began in February, and joined with thousands of others in the May 1 rallies in the capital Rabat, and the main city Casablanca, where demonstrators protested for change, and against violence and terrorism. These groups include the parliamentary Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD) and the semi-legal Al-Adl Wal Ihsane. Also issuing an unequivocal condemnation of terrorist actions were Moroccan Salafists. All these groups share the concern that protests and demonstrations for reform be allowed to continue, and that the plans for democratization occur.


Moroccans make it clear that they are against terrorism, demonstrating in front of the bombed Argana Restaurant, Marrakech immediately after the explosion

King Mohamed VI has offered various reforms, and there is a cautious optimism about those. No one expects him to compromise his own power, but he has been a far more progressive king than his father Hassan II. Notably, after inheriting the throne in 1999 he promised and delivered on reform to Morocco's family law, with the Moudawana of 2004 giving far more rights to women. He also dismissed the much hated Minister of the Interior Driss Basri, and removed others of his father's most oppressive cronies from government. He held a marginally successful Truth and Reconciliation Commission into his father's reign, the "Years of Lead". He has also promised greater democratizaion in the wake of the February to April protests with major reforms to the constitutional monarchy that would greatly increase the role and power of parliament.

However, Mohamed VI is also criticized for not having gone farther. Some are more likely to blame reactionary forces among the religiously powerful, the government, and the socially powerful in Morocco for the lack of greater reform. Others worry that he is following a familiar pattern of becoming more conservative as his own position on the throne is more secured. Still, he remains popular, and Moroccans have not embraced outside Islamist terrorist groups seeking power in the country. They are continuing protests as they are cautiously optimistic about the promised reforms.

Mohamed VI did visit the Restaurant Argana the day after the explosion, and visited the injured, as well as supporting the families of those who were killed. His government has acted rapidly to investigate and to bring the perpetrators to justice, as they have in the past against incidences of terrorism (Casablanca 2003, Marrakech 2007).

King Mohamed VI (in suit, back to camera) arrives to visit the Argana Restaurant shortly after the explosion. (LP/Yann Foreix)

King Mohamed VI visits the Argana Restaurant shortly after the explosion (AFP)

King Mohamed VI visits an injured woman at Ibn Toufail hospital (AFP)

Of the 16 who died in the attack, 8 were French, one Canadian, one Briton, one Dutch, one Swiss and one Portuguese. 3 were Moroccans. Of the 18 who received significant injuries, 7 have been repatriated, and 11 remain hospitalized in Morocco--6 French, 3 Moroccans, and 2 Dutch.

One of those killed was a Moroccan server at the restaurant, Yassine Bouzide (age 32), a husband and the father of 1 daughter. His wife is expecting their second child. He was the sole income earner for the family. As a child he dreamed of being a singer, and would say "You'll see, I'll be famous". The irony of his current fame is not lost on his grieving brother.

The family are touched by the letter they received from the King, and by his providing a tent for 300 people for the funeral in their popular neighbourhood. However, Yassine's brother would like help from the government for his widow and children. While the rest of the family looks at photos and reminisces about the gentle and caring child he was, his grieving wife finds it too painful. The family trusts Allah to deliver justice for Yassine's death. They are relieved by the death of Osama bin Laden, who has caused such death and grief (see full article in French below).

La jeune soeur de Yassine Bouzidi, tué lors de l'attentat de Marrakech le 28 avril 2011, regarde des photos avec son ami Moustapha. FAUSTINE VINCENT / 20 MINUTES

Attentat de Marrakech: La famille d'une victime marocaine témoigne
Créé le 03.05.11 à 11h33 -- Mis à jour le 03.05.11 à 11h38

REPORTAGE - La famille de Yassine Bouzidi, serveur dans le café visé, a reçu «20Minutes» chez elle. Elle se dit «soulagée» par la mort de Ben Laden...

De notre envoyée spéciale à Marrakech

Une immense tente a été dressée dans la rue pour l’occasion, aux frais du roi Mohammed VI. La veille, 300 personnes sont venues dans ce quartier populaire de Marrakech pour les obsèques de Yassine Bouzidi, un serveur marocain du café Argana tué dans l’attentat. Quelques enfants jouent entre les chaises vides, pendant que les parents et les amis se retrouvent autour d’un thé dans la maison. Moustapha, l’un des frères aînés de la victime, raconte ce qu’ils ont traversé. La douleur quand ils ont appris qu’une explosion avait ravagé le café où travaillait Yassine. L’angoisse de l’attente face aux informations contradictoires. Les cris, ensuite, quand la nouvelle tombe, définitive. «On l’a su à 20h. On m’a dit "cette fois c’est sûr, il est mort". Je ne savais plus où j’étais», raconte ce Franco-marocain de Bordeaux.

A la différence des familles françaises touchées par le drame, pour qui la pression médiatique était une violence supplémentaire et qui n’ont pas souhaité s’exprimer, Moustapha souhaite parler au plus grand nombre possible. «Parce que cet attentat nous concerne tous, toutes nationalités confondues. Je veux dénoncer ce drame. Comme ça, peut-être que les terroristes se rendront compte de ce qu’ils ont fait.» Il attend aussi du gouvernement qu’il «fasse un geste» pour que la femme et la petite fille de Yassine, désormais sans revenus, puissent continuer à vivre. «C’est Yassine qui ramenait l’argent à la maison, avec son salaire et ses pourboires. Comment elle va faire, maintenant? Elle est enceinte, ne travaille pas, et n’a pas de diplôme.» Le téléphone sonne. Les enfants courent d’une pièce à l’autre. «C’était un cousin de Nantes, explique Moustapha. Il voulait nous exprimer ses condoléances.»

«Tu verras, un jour je serai célèbre»

L’agitation des jours précédents se termine. Les souvenirs ne resurgissent que maintenant. «Je me rappelle que quand il avait 6 ou 7 ans, mon frère allait frapper à toutes les portes du quartier. Il demandait comment ça allait, un verre de thé ou un morceau de pain. C’était quelqu’un de très gentil.» Surpris par l’affluence de ceux, anciens amis ou clients de Yassine, qui sont venus les soutenir aux obsèques, Moustapha avoue «découvrir à quel point [son frère] était aimé par tout le monde. Lui qui paraissait souvent être dans son coin, tranquille, discret». Yassine avait 32 ans et avait rêvé de devenir chanteur. «Quand il était petit, il m’avait dit : "Tu verras, un jour je serai célèbre." Quand l’attentat est arrivé, j’ai repensé à ça. Il est célèbre, aujourd’hui», soupire Moustapha.

Quelques photos circulent. La famille vérifie que l’épouse de Yassine n’est pas là pour les voir: «Elle ne peut plus les regarder, ça la fait trop souffrir», glisse son frère. Nawal, la petite soeur, s’effondre subitement. Le père, en costume rayé et babouches blanches, reste près d’eux. «On ne peut rien faire. C’est Dieu qui décide», dit-il paisiblement. Il se dit «très touché» par la lettre que leur a envoyée le roi ce jour-là pour transmettre ses condoléances. Un courrier signé de sa propre main, que la famille garde comme une relique sacrée. «C’est pas n’importe qui qui reçoit une lettre du roi», confie-t-il. «Il nous a aidés pour toutes les dépenses liées à la catastrophe», précise Moustapha.

«C’est le destin de Dieu. Il fera justice»

L’épouse de Yassine, vêtue d’une longue robe blanche en signe de deuil, se tient immobile sur le canapé. «C’est le destin de Dieu. Il fera justice», murmure-t-elle. Le corps de son mari a été enterré juste à côté d’un vieil homme auquel il aimait rendre visite quand il était enfant, et qui venait de mourir quelques jours plus tôt. «Je ne crois pas que ce soit une coïncidence. Il y a des choses qui nous dépassent», glisse Moustapha.

La nuit tombe. Avant de partir, Nawal rappelle le plus important à ses yeux: Que l’on parle de son frère, pour qu’il ne tombe pas dans l’oubli. Pour la jeune femme, la mort de Ben Laden a été un «soulagement». «S’il est bien le responsable de la mort de mon frère, Allah a rendu justice», confie-t-elle. Avec l’espoir, désormais, de «pouvoir recommencer à vivre normalement».

Faustine Vincent

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Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

Related Post:
An Explosion in the Café Argana, Djemaa al Fna, Marrakech--Sad for the Whole Country)

Djemaa al-Fna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since 2001

3 comments:

Delux said...

off topic, but wondering if you have seen this new book,http://www.franceculture.com/emission-cultures-de-soi-cultures-des-autres-images-racistes-des-beautes-noires-echo-des-savanes-vog

Chiara said...

Delux--thanks for the reference. I am just listening to the program now. I know and admire the work of Catherine Clément who presents this program, and I look forward to learning more about the author and the book.

The image of black women in adverts in France is very "echo des savanes" even when they aren't being portrayed as a panther.

There would be a whole topic to post on about the differential racisms Arab/African and the nuances for each gender--in France and elsewhere. I feel a post coming on! :D

Thanks again!

Wendy said...

There can never be an excuse for this kind of thing. I was so saddened to see this landmark area and major tourism center come under attack. I must admit it makes a difference to news like this when one is familiar with the place. I feel sadness for this as well as what has happened to the lulu monument in Bahrain and all that the damage stands for.

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