It’s the center-top message that greets visitors perusing the 12th annual Mawazine Festival’s website. This year’s lineup features Rihanna, Psy, Enrique Iglesias, The Jacksons, David Guetta, Mika, Jessie J, among others (including a packed list of popular Arab singers). Previous editions of the festival have hosted Kanye West, Shakira, and Mariah Carey, among others.
Simply the large scale of the festival, along with the high profile headlines gives a general idea of the sheer cost of this festival. It’s no surprise, then, that the festival’s sponsors draws the creme de la creme of Morocco’s private sector–specifically, those companies that blur the lines between authoritarian politics and nepotistic business networks, with each serving one another diligently. Some of the sponsors highlighted on the festival’s website include the Jorf Lasfar Energy Company (JLEC), which is listed as the festival’s “major sponsor.” JLEC is 100% indirectly owned by the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company PJSC (TAQA). which enjoys “support from the Abu Dhabi and UAE Government.” The following information listed on TAQA’s website lists their relationship with the Emirati government:
Our roots lie in an initiative launched by the Abu Dhabi Government in 1998 to privatise the Emirate’s water and electricity sector. The establishment of Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority (ADWEA) led to the creation of Abu Dhabi National Energy Company ‘TAQA’ in June 2005.
In August 2005 the company’s shares were listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange under the symbol TAQA. Through its various shareholdings, the Government of Abu Dhabi retains a majority stake (72.5%) in the company. It has repeatedly stated its support and backing for a limited number of wholly and partly state-owned enterprises – including TAQA.
Fadoua Laroui’s self-immolation spread a wave of solidarity among Moroccans during a time of early mobilisation efforts for the beginning of the February 20 Movement. Fadoua Laroui was a single mother whose application for public housing was rejected in what was believed to be due to her marital status. Her self-immolation in front of her local municipal office was captured on video and shared widely on social media. In reaction to her self-immolation, Moroccan-American novelist, Laila Lalami, called her the “Moroccan Mohamed Bouazizi“.
The political and economic context surrounding her self-immolation is two-fold. Firstly, her self-immolation deliberately took place in the front gates of her local municipal office, an extension of the authoritarian regime’s hegemony. Secondly, her socioeconomic conditions that initially placed her in a position to demand public housing stem from years of top-down neoliberal economic policies. These policies made way for the king and his allies’ vast amassment of personal wealth at the expense of a majority of Moroccans, following the privatisation of Morocco’s state-owned enterprises. Forbes placed the king’s wealth at around $2.5 billion in a country where the Gross National Income per capita is $4,910.
Every time I return to DC from a trip to Morocco, I am usually asked, “So, what has changed in Morocco?” Beyond the boom of Gulf-funded commercial real estate, the ongoing gentrification of the popular neighborhoods outside major cities, the shifting consumption habits stepping away from the open-air souks and more towards the glossy-floored supermarkets, there was nothing I found that exemplified the political economic landscape in Morocco more than sugar packets.
The late afternoon and early evening café sittings in Morocco are common practice and there is, without a doubt, a prevalent café culture. With every caffeinated beverage ordered, there is a hefty dose of sugar packets on the side of the saucer. I had suspicions that these sugar packets were far bigger than in the past. To confirm my suspicions, I brought a couple back with me to DC and asked family members who reacted with surprise at the size.