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The Last Straw: Quarantine and The Rise Of Suicides in Morocco

Said Walfakir
Moroccan Journalist
June 29, 2020
"Factors of suicide overlap, pile up, accumulate and get complicated until the person who is about to commit suicide no longer recognizes the problems he was facing and complaining about, whether they were related to poverty, social hardships, diseases, bankruptcy or any other reason."
The suicide message left by a citizen in the city of Fez.

“I dropped dead of hunger, there was no support and the authorities are liars and hypocrites.”

Written in hesitated handwriting printed in a messy line, and in a Moroccan dialect with linguistic mistakes, a fifty- year-old man expressed his dissatisfaction with his living situation, leaving this message behind before he committed suicide in the city of Fez. The message was written on worn cardboard and sprayed with some blood… Some of his possessions were abandoned next to his message, including a notebook, an old iron can and the flag of Morocco on the top of his letter.

The man’s life had not been easy. He lived merely from his daily work in construction, with incredibly low wages, that did not exceed 100 dirhams (about $ 10) a day. This amount of money was barely enough for him to secure the basics of his living. His economic condition got even worse after the suspension of construction activities, after the approval and enforcement of the quarantine in the country.

“He committed suicide to preserve his dignity and his self- esteem, which he lived for his entire life,” His nephew told Daraj.

Local media reported that the man who lost his life had asked for the government’s aid due to the difficulty of his living situation, but his request was rejected the first time, and his repeated attempts did not pay off, which led him to feel despair and frustration.

Nevertheless, the photo circulated on the social media of the man has raised a lot of doubt and concern among some people. His suicide almost seemed prepared and orchestrated by someone else, so that the issue would ultimately gain the attention and solidarity of the Moroccans. The question that was raised was specifically, how did the man who committed suicide write his message, although he was reportedly illiterate, as local press sources had confirmed?

The authorities categorically denied what was narrated by the man’s family. Moreover, they confirmed that the man who committed the suicide did not leave any message behind and did not apply for a request in order to benefit from the support dedicated for the families affected by the “Coronavirus”. Furthermore, the authorities stressed that the circulated data was “incorrect”, as it was promoted in a “delusional” manner. They also provided evidence by inspecting the scene of the suicide where they did not find any message like the one that was spread on the social media.

Al-Shaabany does not deny the role of quarantine as ” The Last Straw” for suicide as a catalyst, or a provocative and influencing factor for the recent suicide cases.

Apart from the details of this fifty-year-old man’s story and the mystery surrounding it, the economic situation and his living conditions are likely the factors and reasons behind his suicide, although it was perhaps not a pivotal motive but rather one part of other branched and complex factors.

The story of the man who committed suicide who wrote the message of “We drop dead of hunger” is not the only registered suicide story in Morocco during the “COVID- 19” pandemic. The country has witnessed a series of suicides during this period, as Moroccan news websites and newspapers have been filled with almost daily news of those who decided to end their tragedy with death. This matter raises the connection issue of these cases with the resolutions of quarantine enforcement and the almost total lockdown of economic and professional activities over two continuous months. The lockdown step, despite its importance in preventing the spread of the virus- COVID 19- and reducing it, has had severe social, economic and psychological effects on large groups of low and middle income groups. These effects have caused those who are the most underprivelaged to resort to suicide.

“Mol Al Sodor”, the first but not the last…

“Mol Al Sodor” (the Welder) was the first one to commit suicide in March due to the repercussions of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. The story of this man, who came from El Jadida province (western Morocco) was full of knots and problems. This man suffered from his own psychological and familial problems, but the motive behind his suicide, according to what his relatives narrated, lies in the aggravation of his living and economic situations. The aggravation of his conditions happened after the local authorities closed down his small commercial store. This lockdown came as an implementation of the health emergency requirements that prevent gatherings and reduce commercial activities to prevent the spread of COVID- 19.

According to local press sources, Al Sodor justified his move to commit suicide with the increase of the financial distress and his inability to provide the simplest essential needs for his family. Therefore, “he preferred death with his dignity to being a beggar.” Besides, he saw that death already existed everywhere and surrounding him i.e. particularly when the virus was ravaging many Moroccans at that time.

There is another case that is relatively similar to the previous two stories (the fifty- year- old man and Mol Al Sodor). This story revolves around a man who ended his life by hanging himself by a rope in one of the cafes where he used to work as a waiter in the city of Tangier. Press sources suggest that the motive of his suicide was due to the aggravation of his financial situation.

The phenomenon of suicide also included the Chtouka Aït Baha region (southwestern Morocco), an area considered a combination of rural and urban nature. There, a man aged fifty hung himself by a rope which he had wrapped around a tree trunk. However, the reasons behind his suicide remain mysterious, while some of those who are close to him confirmed that the main motive of his suicide lied in his tight financial and living conditions.

In turn, a farmer aged forty, in a village in Sidi Bennour region (western Morocco), ended his life in a stable for livestock which was not far away from his home. The reason for his suicide was again, due to his tight financial situation, according to press sources.

Chefchaouen … The First in Morocco

Chefchaouen city, known for its calm atmosphere, blissful nature, and tranquil blue walls, has not been spared the rise of the phenomenon of suicide, neither before nor after the repercussions of Coronavirus pandemic. Although it has not registered any infection since the beginning of the pandemic, it has complied with the decisions of the government of imposing quarantine for more than two consecutive months.

There are many stories, and the motives are numerous and complex, depending on their different psychological, social, and economic backgrounds. The most prominent of these cases was the suicide of a woman during this month. She was found hanging from a rope on a tree trunk near her house, the motives of her suicide related to family problems, which affected her psychological condition.

As for the youth, known for their love and passion for life, they also have not been spared the infiltration of suicidal thoughts into their own minds. Two young men in their 20s living in rural areas strangled themselves during the happy moments of Eid al-Fitr. There are no details on the motives for their suicide more than what was being circulated by the media that the first was from a conservative family and his condition was ambiguous as “he was showing no symptoms of mental illness”. As for the second, he was overwhelmed by mental disorders, and ended up deciding to give up in the end.

Chefchaouen is ranked first in Morocco for suicides, with a horrifying number of 50 suicides per year, according to what Mohamed Benaissa, the head of the northern observatory for human rights told “Daraj”. 10 deaths were registered in the region due to suicide since the passage of quarantine during the period from mid-March to June 13. 90 percent of the suicides were committed in the rural mountainous areas; most of them were by hanging with a rope on the trunks of trees.

“The phenomenon of suicide in the Chefchaouen region has been haunting public opinion in the region for so long, and official institutions are paying no attention to it,” Benaissa explains.

“We wonder how many actors are silent, mainly the Ministry of Health, as long as it is about human mental health,” he adds.

Benaissa links the growing suicides in the region of Chefchaouen to the impact of the economic and living conditions on the citizens who have been dependent on the Indian cannabis trade for more than three decades, but their economic conditions have worsened in an unprecedented way during the last few years, after the revenues of this prohibited drug retreated.

Benaissa continues, “All of that had happened, while the state exerted no effort to find real opportunities to develop the region after it had used the Indian cannabis card for years to control and adjust the area”.

22 Suicides in One Month

The suicide rate of males exceeded that of females within one month of imposing quarantine. That is what was confirmed by a study prepared by the sociologist, Younis al-Gazouli, with a number of 18 suicides among males (81.81 percent) compared to 4 suicides among females (18.18 percent). In 2016, the suicide rate of females recorded a higher number than that of males, as they recorded a number of 613 suicides compared to 400 suicides among males, with a total of 1013 suicides (WHO statistics).

The study, supervised by the Moroccan Center for Educational Studies and Research counted 22 suicides in one month, during the period from March 20 to April 20. It confirmed that the suicide rate had increased since late March and reached its peak in April. The author of the study, al-Gazouli, concluded that “As the days of quarantine pass by, the rate of suicide increases”.

“Daraj” observed that the vast majority of suicide cases had humble jobs, and that imposing quarantine had made them lose their jobs and worsened their living and economic conditions, which increased their frustrution, leading to the deterioration of their psychological conditions, which enhanced the chances of suicide.

A research-source for “Daraj” showed that the suicide rates in the urban and rural regions were close in numbers, and also that the most used method to commit suicide, whether it be in urban or rural regions, was through hanging, with 19 cases, an average of 63.86 percent, compared to 3 cases that preferred to jump off the balcony, with a percentage of 36.86.

Using hanging in committing suicide more than other methods is explained to be due to “its ease and efficacy”, while other ways that were more common before quarantine were harder to come by, like the use of rat poison and pesticide. This was attributed to “the curfew that affected people’s movement, and the closure of most shops that sell these products”.

“The Last Straw”

Researchers believe that suicide, as an individual case or even as a phenomenon being recorded by a society, remains complicated and can’t be confined to a single factor or cause.

Ali al-Shaabany, a professor of sociology, agrees with this theory and believes that the suicide factors have been ramified.

“Suicide factors overlap and accumulate, as problems increase and get complicated, until they make a suicidal person completely unable to face the problems he is always complaining about, whether it’s poverty, social hardship, illness, bankruptcy, or any other reason,” he tells Daraj.

Al-Shaabany does not deny the role of quarantine as ” The Last Straw ” for suicide as a catalyst, or a provocative and influencing factor for the recent suicide cases.

At this point, al-Shaabany explains to “Daraj” that: “The quarantine has acted like a catalyst that has added to the fragility of the personality of the suicidal person, the absence of the social immunities, and others. A person may also commit suicide due to economic conditions or any other factors, which make people pessimistic towards the future.”

Al-Shaabany refuses to compare the suicide case of the city of Fes who wrote the message “We dropped dead of hunger” to all the suicides in Morroco, whatever the similarity between them may be.

Al-Shaabany concludes: “We can’t treat the case of that person as a model to generalize it against all the Moroccan suicide cases. We did not study this person’s life before to know the other factors that caused him to kill himself.”

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