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22# A sour surprise

DAY - Marrakesh, Morocco - INT

"Stand for something or you will fall for anything." Rosa Parks

Malika has returned home after four years in France. She defended her thesis, graduated with honors, and became the first woman in her family to get a doctorate in economics. Beside her academic achievements, Malika had grown as a person. She was from the first generation of Moroccan women that studied abroad after the independance. The cultural shock turned the tide on her conception of a thriving society.

France was coming out of “The glorious thirty”; a period of economic growth after World War II. The benefits of the glorious thirty rippled through society, politics, and women rights. In 1974, Prime minister Jacques Chirac assigned four women his cabinet. Simone Veil, the health minister, led important reforms on abortion, wages, and divorces. She addressed and dismissed unjust laws against women. She and the Chirac government pushed for gender equality. Her actions impacted women’s conditions for the best, in France and oversees.

Malika settled in Marrakesh in 1988 and became a university professor. Inspired by the feminist movement, she wanted to liberate the Moroccan woman. Her plan was simple: to empower women through education and arts.

The academic corps gave her access to like-minded people that encouraged her ideas. Malika joined the Feminist Action Union (FAU) and created a branch in Marrakesh; the first one outside the capital. Educated women from different trades joined the union and strengthened her vision. Their meetings took place first in Malika’s living room. Every Sunday, they would meet to organize workshops. They taught women about financial literacy, theater, ballet, and sowing.

The workshops were an instant success. The committee grew each week, until Malika’s apartment became too small for the crowd. Supported by the union, she asked the dean to use the university classrooms on Sundays. Within weeks, they filled the classrooms. Within months, they filled the amphitheaters.

Malika had sparked a match of knowledge that spread like wildfire. The FAU branch of Marrakesh was attracting talents from all over the country. By combining education, arts, and handicraft, they appealed to the masses. Their message created a domino effect, reaching women in remote rural areas. Under Malika’s leadership, women of all walks of life came together to learn, play, and blossom.

The most important event of the year was approaching. Malika, her team, and their students had been preparing for months. They had planned a demonstration on March 8th to shed lights on gender inequalities. The march would start in the city square and lead demonstrators to a theater for a live performance. Local authorities tried to contain them, but they were outnumbered. Three hours later, the police gave in and the march began. People walked, chanted, and clapped in unison. They filled the theater where the students put on an incredible performance.

The day after the event, the head of the FAU contacted Malika to arrange a meeting. She wanted her to join the main branch in the capital and lead the woman division of their political party. Malika’s family and friends were in Marrakesh, and that was the end of that. They summoned her, and she refused.

The Women's March triggered a national movement. Women of all ages wanted to join the FAU committee. The Sunday meetings shifted to large gatherings with political agendas. Concrete actions were diluted in interminable ideological debates and internal conflicts. Malika was overwhelmed. She disliked politics and pushed for concrete field work. But her colleagues claimed that political support was essential for long-term efforts. In one meeting, Malika suggested an extraordinary assembly to set priorities straight. The assembly would happen in a month.

The day of the assembly, Malika was surprised to see the FAU’s president from the capital. She had come with a convoy to the assembly. Malika opened with the order of the day when a lady from the FAU's convoy interrupted her. She suggested a different order of business, an official vote.

They had prepared ballots and announced that they were in the presence of a court bailiff. The whole thing was staged. The vote was the democratic process to kick her out of the FAU, to make her pay for her previous refusal. Malika looked at her colleagues in dismay, but only a few held her stare, most looked down.

She did not wait for the assembly to start. Malika climbed the stairs of the amphitheater and banged on the back door three times. The crowd quieted. Malika was fighting to hold her tears. The sour taste of betrayal clung to the back of her mouth. She cleared her throat.

"Remember who you serve", she said, and slammed the door.

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