The 1981 Moroccan hunger games

Updated: Aug 4, 2021

17 january 2021,

History is like a giant book composed of endless papers that are filled to the bone with each action anyone has ever made since the beginning of time. However, the book has secret pages that were glued together and chances are, you have no idea how to open the pages without cutting them and destroying the valuable information held in between. Today I will open a page for you that was glued to the heart of many Moroccans and to the world at a certain point.

You might have watched or heard of Westworld, the walking dead, or even the hunger games where you sat watching a scene after the other and wished you were there to live the adrenaline rush and face the unknown in a never ending adventure. The odds are you are one of your parents who have lived long enough to tell the story of an adventure as scary as any of those shows or movies, and probably to this day it’s not known to the bigger public well, at least, not the full story.

The time is early 1981 where the western Sahara war took most of the public funds for 6 years and the world bank had some global adjustments under the International Monetary Fund, and the times couldn’t get any tenser after the economy had the biggest recession and diving into the big depression that was named as the hunger years for morocco. It was chaotic, everywhere. Even the prices of first-hand needs were up the roof, flour up 40 %, sugar up 40 to 50 %, oil up 28 %, milk up 14 %, and butter up 76 %. The population has a big frown upon its face and people are wandering the streets looking for a way to change the situation and stop the starving.

As they say, a hungry desperate man can be the most explosive bond for a dying country, and it was true for Morocco back then, that the call for riots were starting within UMT and CDT two big unions for workers. The call for riots spread across the country like fire in a barn, it moved from the north parts (Nador, Husseima, Tetuan, and al-Qasr al-Kebir.) to Berkane and Casablanca.

The riot started 28 Mai 1981 in the hope that the government would reduce prices and help the society face the persistent drought (the country suffered its first wave of drought from 1980 to 1984) and the very high inflation (around 12.5% in 1981). The riot persisted and stayed in the streets for over a month in different cities due to the government's constant refusal to reduce the prices or give any salary raises, which is a very reasonable right but back then the tension was so high that it could to blow up.

It eventually did blow up on 20 June 1981, exactly in Casablanca where the rioters went all over the city looting and burning public and private assets (bank branches, food stores, luxury cars, police stations and vehicles, buses and premises for auxiliary forces) which made the military go out to the street pushing back the rioters. Police and military units fired into the crowds with real bullets and arrested whoever walked in the streets or even opened its windows. To this day in old houses, you might find bullet holes in the broken windows.

The view was brutal and only if you could see from above, back then, you would see the terror and the desperate screams in the streets, the fear in people’s eyes yet still running in the streets of big Casablanca because after all, they have nothing to lose anymore. Many interesting stories have been told about that day and many are very terrifying, one of those stories states that many men ran from downtown to their neighborhoods to warn people and ran across the streets only to get arrested at the end. Some say that entire fields and big boulevards were filled up with the military, all you could see is their green uniforms.

The tragic days of 20/21 June 1981 took around 1000 deaths that day and some may claim to be more, and more than 5000 arrests which will set free only after years. Some only got released in the early 2010s, and interesting enough there is a movie explaining exactly what it feels like to get out after all those years to meet and confront the Arabic spring of 2011.

The movie is called ''THEY ARE THE DOGS'' by Hicham Lasri with many Moroccan stars, the movie is brilliant, captures the horror in his eyes and the sorrow of no one remembering him after almost 30 years of being away, it,s a movie I highly recommend you to watch.

The bread riots ثورة الخبز will always be one of the most tragic things some have witnessed as Moroccan citizens, however, it showed how we care for one another and look out for one another in times of hardship and hunger.

This is it for today’s hidden history. I will see you next time to uncover another page of the burned-down stories, that must be told.

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