- AHMED R. BENCHEMSI
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"What if we offered a prayer for the soul of bin Laden?" The question was tossed into the meeting of the February 20 Movement like a hand grenade. But the young men and women gathered in the Moroccan Labor Union building in Rabat didn't duck for cover. Instead, they angrily challenged the questioner, a bearded, middle-aged man representing the Islamist prisoners who have joined from behind the bars with the secular youth movement calling for greater freedoms.
"Are you out of your mind?" asked one young man. "Just because we defend you people against torture, it doesn't mean we support terrorism. Don't you impose your creepy agenda on us."
The bearded man beat a hasty retreat. "No problem, let's just do a regular prayer," he said. "We're all Muslims, aren't we?"
The meeting had been held to discuss plans for protest outside the infamous Temara detention center, located in a cork-oak forest near Rabat, where terrorism suspects have been tortured, according to Amnesty International. The Islamist may have thought he could set the agenda: after all, his kind had for decades been the only antimonarchy group of any consequence. But as he discovered, change has come to Morocco.
It must annoy the Islamists that the shots are being called by these new kids on the block — and that their vibrant activism is shaking up the monarchy in ways the Islamists have consistently failed to for more than 30 years. The kids scored their first big success on Feb. 20, when tens of thousands of Moroccans hit the streets of more than 50 towns and cities, demanding change. The protests had been organized by young independent activists responding to calls made on Facebook.
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