It’s the center-top message that greets visitors perusing the 12th annual Mawazine Festival’s website. This year’s lineup features Rihanna, Psy, Enrique Iglesias, The Jacksons, David Guetta, Mika, Jessie J, among others (including a packed list of popular Arab singers). Previous editions of the festival have hosted Kanye West, Shakira, and Mariah Carey, among others.
Simply the large scale of the festival, along with the high profile headlines gives a general idea of the sheer cost of this festival. It’s no surprise, then, that the festival’s sponsors draws the creme de la creme of Morocco’s private sector–specifically, those companies that blur the lines between authoritarian politics and nepotistic business networks, with each serving one another diligently. Some of the sponsors highlighted on the festival’s website include the Jorf Lasfar Energy Company (JLEC), which is listed as the festival’s “major sponsor.” JLEC is 100% indirectly owned by the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC (TAQA). which enjoys “support from the Abu Dhabi and UAE Government.” The following information listed on TAQA’s website lists their relationship with the Emirati government:
Our roots lie in an initiative launched by the Abu Dhabi Government in 1998 to privatise the Emirate’s water and electricity sector. The establishment of Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority (ADWEA) led to the creation of Abu Dhabi National Energy Company ‘TAQA’ in June 2005.
In August 2005 the company’s shares were listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange under the symbol TAQA. Through its various shareholdings, the Government of Abu Dhabi retains a majority stake (72.5%) in the company. It has repeatedly stated its support and backing for a limited number of wholly and partly state-owned enterprises – including TAQA.
Other sponsors include Maroc Telecom, which is Morocco’s main telecommunication company formerly a state-owned enterprise, but whose majority shareholders are now Vivendi, a French company. Vivendi’s history in Morocco’s private sector is far from spotless. Through Veolia (which is also a festival sponsor), a former core of its business in Morocco was through the privatization of Morocco’s utilities, including water, electricity, and sanitation services. Mehdi Lahlou outlines the history of utility privatization in Morocco here. He points out how under Hassan II the whole process was familiarly opaque and conducted behind closed doors, while the companies awarded contracts engaged in questionable practices, including numerous contractual violations.
Various state media outlets, banks and other companies are also included in the list of sponsors. To consider the Mawazine Festival as something entirely separate of the authoritarian regime is naive. From its sponsors to its participants, politics is subtly weaved in. For example, during last year’s festival, Egyptian singer Hany Shaker performed waving a Moroccan flag, singing the praises of the king while also proclaiming the Western Sahara as undeniably Moroccan. For this, objection to the festival has spanned from the halls of parliament to the streets. It was no coincidence that during the first year of the February 20th Movement in 2011, the month of May (when the festival was scheduled), was also the month when police brutality towards protesters spiked to an all-time high. Below are examples:
- 12 May: Students protesting on a campus in Kentira violently dispersed by riot police
- 14 May: Riot police chase and beat protesters in Khroubiga
- 15 May: Police beat protesters indiscriminately in Temara
- 15 May: Graphic images of injured protesters from Temara
- 15 May : Riot police assemble in response to a February 20th Movement protest
- 17 May: Clashes unfold between riot police and protesters in Tangier
- 22 May: Riot police beat and disperse protesters in Oujda
- 22 May: Riot police violently disperse protesters in Rabat
- 22 May: A man recounts an arbitrary detainment in which he was beaten and had his possessions seized by authorities in Rabat
- 22 May: Protesters violently beaten in Rabat
- 29 May: Riot police violently disperse protesters in Casablanca as a woman is singled out by riot police for exclaiming “You’re our brothers.”
- 29 May: Riot police beat a woman holding her child in Casablanca
Chants during 2011 were even popularized and continue to be used in protests up until today, such as “Bghina khoubza ou koumira, ach ghan dirou bi Shakira?” (We want [typically round] bread and baguettes, what are we supposed to do with Shakira?) When I attended a protest in front of Parliament this past February, similar chants alluding to the objection of the festival and the participation of its stars were used.
As the festival approaches its 12th edition, the above are some points to consider as reforms remain unimplemented, political prisoners remain in prison, freedom of speech remains repressed, and poverty remains rampant. No international music festival can hide the dire issues facing Moroccans today. And when the festival finishes and tourists go back home, the problems will remain.