Back at the house of one of Ahmed’s friends, I was shown photos of other demonstrations – an old man with blood on his lips; a woman’s bare red back, rashed by a police baton; a youth with a red gash on his forehead from a stone thrown by a policeman. The range of ways in which people had been attacked was telling, as was the volume of the material.
But it was the stories they told that struck me more forcefully than the pictures, and none more so than Salaam’s.
She had been taking part in demonstrations since she was fifteen, when her mother had to go and pick her up at the police station after she was kept in overnight.
‘Of course we take part in demonstrations,’ she told me, ‘we must! It is our land as much as the men’s. And a lot of the men can’t take part because they will lose their job if they are seen at the demonstrations, or maybe they are already in prison. You must understand, we are different from women in Morocco. Our status is different. We have respect in society. If you are a woman in Morocco, your husband will beat you all the time and you cannot complain, but it isn’t like that here. In Saharawi culture, if a man beats his wife it is very shameful. We will go to our family and the man must do a lot to get us back.
‘Once I stood in front of fifty policemen, we were demanding freedom, work, our resources, the opportunity to bury our martyrs. They shouted back at us. They said, ‘you’re mercenaries’, and the deputy police chief hit me with his baton, they knocked me over and pulled off my milfha. You know, in our society, this is a great shame. They surrounded me, dragged me away from the others and pulled me by the hair and threatened me with rape.’
‘Are you ever nervous before the demonstrations?’ I asked.
‘Never! I feel hatred against them. When fifty policemen are facing you and I am only a single woman. I don’t feel scared, I feel hatred for them. Women are more involved than ever now,’ she said, ‘that is since Gdeim Izik. It was a breakthrough, it changed the mentality for women, now a lot of women who used to sit around gossiping, they talk about the political situation.’
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