There was a panel discussion last year, featuring quite possibly the two figures who have been my biggest academic and professional inspirations in the field of Moroccan politics: Marina Ottaway and Ahmed Benchemsi. I won’t mention how long I had been anticipating this panel, but I will say that the moment it was time for the Q&A, my hands were already in the air. I asked about the possibility of Morocco’s grim economic future as a source for another wave of protests. Ahmed Benchemsi agreed.
It’s been something I’ve closely watched. Dismissing the economic aspect from the popular uprisings in the region is extremely careless and unwise. After all, it was the confiscation of Mohammad Bouazizi’s material as a fruit vendor that sparked his utter despair, turning it into an act of self-immolation. The core of his frustration was rooted in the deprivation of his sole source of income. Shift your attention to Morocco, and you’ll see it is no different.
I could go back as far as February 2011, when Fadoua Laroui, a single mother set herself on fire after her application for public housing was rejected. She would be dubbed the The Moroccan Mohamed Bouazizi. It was only a month ago when five unemployed graduates set themselves on fire. One died a few days later from his burns. I’ve tried the nuanced analysis and the researched academic article to explain the historical and political economic reasons for this, but let’s crank it up a notch.
A friend writing for the BBC and I spoke on Skype for over an hour a few weeks ago. We had ironically been at the same press tour for the Morocco Mall back in November. The question came up in our conversation: “Why are these unemployed graduates demanding jobs from the public sector when they have better chances at higher pay in the private sector?” It was interesting. I recall a discussion with Zouhair, “The Moorish Wanderer,” who is also a supporter of the Unified Socialist Party. He raised a crucial point in understanding why these unemployed graduates were demanding public sector jobs. One reason: long-term job security.
And why is that relevant? Well, with a job in the public sector, you’re most likely to support the government that is paying your salary. Political loyalty and economic welfare come in a 2 for 1 package. If the state lays off workers, it risks losing political support. Morocco indicated that laying off workers is not an option for them during this time of political turbulence by increasing public sector wages and pumping up food subsidies. And now, the state budget must pay the price. Morocco’s budget deficit is the highest it’s ever been since the 1990s.
It gets worse. Morocco’s main markets are in Europe, and Souhail Karam illustrated the reality in a sobering headline: Europe woes spell trouble for Morocco’s economy. For the sake of excessively paraphrasing and summarizing, I suggest you check it out. Additionally, the Morocco-EU trade deal approved this week has received a disproving reception, where ethics and morals were pushed to the side with regard to Morocco’s questionable practices described as “exploitative” in the Western Sahara.
Meanwhile, a supposed “crackdown investigation” has been launched in the city of Taza, where economic dissent has fueled major protests for over one month now. Deaths, injuries, and arrests have plagued the area of Koucha in Taza, raising questions regarding Morocco’s sincerity in democratizing.
Morocco’s economic outlook is bleak. Its policies, such as the $4 billion TGV, suggest that long-term policy planning is not something officials are extremely skilled at doing. Its economic policies are still so heavily based on post-colonial economic growth, prioritizing capital over development. If that second wave of protests hits Morocco, giving handouts won’t be an option this time.