On December 17, when he set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid, Mohamed Bouazizi could not have guessed that his act would prompt a series of copycat self-immolations or that it would launch the revolutions we are currently witnessing in the Arab world. It is two months later now, and yet the connection between deep personal despair and meaningful political change is being made evident once again, this time in Morocco.
Last week, Fadoua Laroui, a 25-year old woman, doused herself with gasoline in front of the town hall in Souq Sebt, and lit a match. According to newspaper reports, the local government destroyed the shack in which she lived with her children and later denied her access to replacement social housing because she was a single mother. She died in a Casablanca hospital two days later.
A graphic video purportedly showing Fadoua Laroui’s self-immolation has been widely distributed on social media websites. On it, a young woman can be heard yelling against injustice and asking what will happen to her children, before setting herself on fire. A police officer watches the scene, but he makes no attempt to come to her rescue. Instead, a young man tries to put out the fire by alternately pouring water over the victim and covering her with his jacket.
Like Mohamed Bouazizi, Fadoua Laroui was not known to be part of any political party; she was not asking for political reforms. She was simply crying out against injustice, in a country where her status as a single mother made her a second-class citizen. But, unlike Mohamed Bouazizi, the plight of Fadoua Laroui has attracted little press coverage. Indeed, aside from a couple of reports in Attajdid and Akhbar Al-Youm, and a short news brief from Reuters, her death has gone largely unnoticed and unreported. Even in pain, it seems, there are hierarchies. Some deaths are noted and remembered, some aren’t.
The people who remember her most today appear to be the activists of the February 20 movement in Morocco. But what does meaningful constitutional reform—the central demand of the February 20 movement—have to do with the case of Fadoua Laroui? Nothing, some people might say. And yet: in a state in which all citizens are equal under the law, Fadoua Laroui would have been able to appeal her case and receive justice.
“Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born,” James Baldwin famously said. But without meaningful political change in Morocco, Fadoua Laroui’s personal plight will merely be compounded to that of that of thousands of others. And there is no telling what could happen when they finally decide to demand change.