Every Wednesday in February PITAPOLICY will review a political economy issue regarding a Maghreb country. In the first week Sarah Hassaine reflected on Algeria. The second week focused on Egypt. Last week’s posting explores Tunisia’s business environment for women. This week, PITAPOLICY is posting a guest contributor’s piece on Morocco. Our guest contributor is of Moroccan descent.
Background of Morocco:
The Kingdom of Morocco is a lower-middle income country compared to Tunisia, PITAPOLICY’s country in focus last week. Morocco won its independence from France in 1956. According to the World Bank, Morocco’s literacy rate stood at 56 percent in 2009. Merchandise trade comprises about 58.2 percent of Morocco’s GDP. In 2006, Morocco entered into a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States; currently, Egypt and the US are considering an FTA as well. Morocco’s unemployment rate is estimated at 9.2 percent.
The World Bank presented the following highlights:
Economic Developments & Macro-Economic Outlook
~”The Moroccan economy continues to fare relatively well. Growth was estimated at 4.5 % in the first half of 2011, mostly driven by domestic demand, and is expected to keep its momentum for the rest of the year, with annual 2011 estimated at 4.5-5%. Inflation has been under check at less than 1% by end July (food inflation is higher at 1.4%).” ~World Bank Country Brief.
1) “Unemployment, especially among the youth, remains a critical concern.”
2) “High world prices of basic commodities are putting tremendous pressures on the subsidy system and hence on public finance.”
3)”The slowing growth of Morocco’s main trading partners is exacerbating the weaknesses of the balance of payments.”
4)”The government has launched the preparation of the Budget Law 2012 while its implementation will be the responsibility of the next government.
A Moroccan-American’s POV
In 2011, Tunisia gave birth to the Arab Awakening. Egypt became the face of the uprisings; and Libya joined in arms. As I watched this unfold, I couldn’t help thinking, would Morocco join as well?
Morocco is rarely on the news. In fact, the only time you see or hear about Morocco is when a rare bombing has detonated and robbed the lives of innocent bystanders in a major city to the credit of terrorist groups; Anthony Bourdain taking a bite of the Sahara desert, savoring its immaculate cuisine cooked by Bedouins; or international/Western fashionistas and music artists singing or modeling under the shadows of the red city, Marrakesh. Most Arabs don’t think Moroccans are Arabs because of their language (but don’t get me started on that).
Amidst all of these common stereotypes, where was the political activism?
Well, it was steeping like a nice hot glass of Moroccan tea (yeah, I had to throw in the cheesy pun).
After a month or so, Moroccan youth did follow in the footsteps of their fellow revolutionaries or what I like to call, “reformers” in the MENA region. About a year ago, Moroccans launched a YouTube video on February 20th, 2011 which represented how various Moroccans across different ages and ethnicities–Arabs and Berbers–voiced their opinions and encouraged everyone to go to the streets and demand change (economic justice and opportunities, and ridding nepotism, to just name a few).
The King responded quickly by introducing new constitutional reforms and held snappy elections. Despite all of this, the King and his closest advisers still have a strong grip to their power. In a country, where the walls have ears, anything said by anyone against the monarchy and current regime risk tremendous repercussions (e.g. disappear and be thrown in jail, never to heard of again—yes, just like Hollywood movies).
But before we dramatize here, it’s important to understand the situation in Morocco is slightly different from its Arab neighbors. According to an interview done by NPR, Moroccan businessman, Karim Tazi claims most Moroccans are not seeking to get rid of the monarchy (a similar scenario in Jordan), but changing it’s authoritarian ways and allowing more participation of the people. In other words, while the rest of the Arab revolutions consisted of throwing out an entire government and beginning from scratch, Moroccans want to keep the monarchy but modify it so that it better serves them.
Hmm, that’s interesting. Perhaps, they would like the European model; keeping the monarchy symbolic and part of the country’s culture and traditions. Remember Morocco differs from its neighboring countries since it still managed to preserve its cultural customs, languages, and traditions of the monarchy despite it’s occupations from France and Spain.
Two days ago marked the one-year anniversary of the February 20th video-posting. Since then, not much has changed. Moroccans are still out protesting; in fact, five young men lit themselves on fire last month. Unfortunately, there is not much media attention given to the unrest there. Why? Because in the journalism world, it’s not “sexy” enough. “Sexy” being that these people are not being killed or massacred in the hundreds like in Syria. The point is it’s important to continue to keep an eye on the entire region because this is not about the glamorous horror stories you hear or see, it’s about trying to support change in the MENA region.
Note: The author welcomes comments and discussion by posting comments below in response to this piece. In the meantime (As always) PITAPOLICY looks forward to receiving pieces on Libya, Mauritania and Sudan for the remainder of February. Please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org