But, aside from its association with Majidi, Mawazine also riles up Moroccans with its ostentatious displays. Imagine if, like 15 percent of Moroccans, you and your family lived on less than $2 per day. Three loaves of bread and a bottle of milk cost about as much as that -- never mind housing, health care, or education. Imagine if, like a large majority of working Moroccans, you were paid the standard minimum wage of 10.64 dirhams per hour; that's almost exactly the price of a liter of gasoline. (Assuming, of course, you've saved up the tens of thousands of dirhams it takes to buy a car.) Imagine, now, if you found out that Shakira were paid 6.5 million dirhams to perform -- nearly a million dollars.
There are others, however, who support Mawazine as a rare opportunity for the public to see Moroccan and international music stars perform locally. They argue that many of the scheduled concerts are free. They point out that the festival is funded by business sponsors and that only a small percentage of its budget comes from the government. In an interview with TelQuel magazine, Aziz Daki, spokesperson and artistic director for Mawazine, said that those who oppose Mawazine are "demagogues" who keep an "obscurantist discourse." And, just as there are anti-Mawazine groups on Facebook, there are pro-Mawazine groups as well.
It is true that Mawazine has many private sponsors, but these come at a much higher long-term cost for the country. In a lawsuit filed in Michigan, Peter Barker-Homek, former CEO of the energy company Taqa, alleges that he was asked by his employers to pay $5 million per year to unnamed Moroccan officials in order to finance a music festival. (Although the festival is not named, it is widely believed to be Mawazine.) In exchange, Taqa would be allowed to extend its electrical plant in Jorf Lasfar, a commercial port on the Atlantic Coast. The behind-the-scenes business deals are particularly relevant now, in the middle of a popular protest movement that has made an end to corruption a central demand.
Mawazine is scheduled to start on May 20. Despite the mounting rhetoric of the past few weeks, a cancellation had been unlikely for some time now. Since the terrorist attack on the Argana cafe in Marrakesh, all eyes have been on Mawazine, an event that normally attracts tens of thousands of spectators. Safety concerns were immediately raised, but the organizers have cleverly portrayed any rescheduling as tantamount to saying that the country is afraid of terrorists.
What's more, a cancellation would be seen as a capitulation to the demands of the February 20 movement. The Moroccan government's official position with regard to the reform movement mirrors that of Dr. Pangloss in Candide: All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Khalid Naciri, spokesperson for the government, has repeatedly declared that Morocco has long been engaged in a process of reform. The March 9 speech in which the king announced some constitutional reforms was part of this long-standing process, he said, and not a response to the street protests. In this context, the show must go on.
And while the show goes on, the Moroccan government can continue to deny that it practices torture, and its police can continue their brutal harassment of political activists, including, and especially, activists of the February 20 movement.