Opportunity and Opportunism in Today’s Morocco
Morocco is in bad shape. On the surface, it appears to be a stable and developing country, but underneath it is simmering with rage and hopelessness. In a word, Morocco is similar to Tunisia’s pre-Arab spring uprising.
The youth is marginalized, forgotten and most importantly emasculated by a tribal/patriarchal system of government. Some take to the streets or to cyberspace to protest and express their indignation. Others drown their hopelessness in alcohol or drugs, and the rate of addiction is rising alarmingly.
The helpless periphery feels forgotten by the opportunist center that indulges in making empty promises every time there is an uprising. Rural development is seen as a joke. The government talks about it but nothing is implemented.
The poor are becoming poorer and no relief is in sight. They survive thanks to their extended families.
After the independence in 1956 and until 1982, there were three social classes in Morocco.
The Poor: Most of whom lived on the periphery experienced a brief respite from 1948 to 1984 when European nations sought to rebuild Europe thanks to the American generosity of the Marshall plan. However, after 1984 Europe closed its legal immigration doors and Moroccan people on the periphery relived their ancestral poverty and suffering with deafening disinterest from the establishment.
The Middle Class: After independence, the state employed thousands of people as Moroccan civil servants in a political process referred to in French as: “marocanisation de l’administration,” whereby the administration got rid of all French bureaucrats. As such, until the financial crisis of 1982, the state was the sole employer of all graduates from universities and higher institutes. This led to the creation of a middle class of thousands of people with credible buying power. However, in 1982, following the default of Morocco on its international loan payments, the IMF and the World Bank stepped in to clean up the financial mess and one of their first sour pills was to terminate state employment. Following that, the Middle class dwindled and by the end of the second millennium, it disappeared. Nevertheless, its disappearance is problematic in so much as it used to serve as a shock absorber between the rich and the poor but now will threaten stability.
The Rich: The rich in Morocco are part of the Andalusian elite that came to Morocco in 1492 after the fall of Grenada and the end of the reconquista. They were educated Arabs and skilled Jews and they settled in big cities like Tangier, Tetouan, Fès, Rabat, and Mogador, (Essaouira.) They opened businesses and engaged in politics. The Makhzen (traditional and undemocratic form of governance) relied on the Jews for business, finance, external trade and diplomacy and, thus, became Tujjar Sultan (Sultan’s business people.) In 1970 most of the Jews left for Israel and only 3000 remain in the big cities today. The Arabs succeeded in business and formed the business elite of Morocco, mostly in Fes and have become the Fassi bourgeoisie and are involved in the economy and politics. After independence, they moved to Casablanca, the hub of the Moroccan economy, where they control important businesses like banking, insurance, international trade, and industry.
The rich are made of the Andalusians who faithfully served the Makhzen since 1492. They became the Makhzen families, a pool of technocracy from which most governments are still formed today. Because of their wealth, they are able to send their offspring to the best universities in the world to prepare them to take key positions in the government in Morocco. So basically, most important positions are inherited. The only civil servant who came from the periphery and filled an important governmental position, the Ministry of Interior, was Basri during the reign of Hassan II. He started his career in the police corps and because of his excellent security services, he was hired by Hassan II to steer the “Mother of Ministries,” i.e. Ministry of the Interior as it was known then by the opposition when political opposition arose.
Today, the social gap is gigantic and presages future shocks. If one wants to see the huge social differences in the capital city, one must visit the affluent quarters of Hay Riad, Souissi, Dar Salam, etc., on the one hand, and the very poor dwellings in the various favelas of Takaddoum and Hay Nahda in Rabat or El Karia in Salé, etc.,on the other. This is reduplicated in every Moroccan city, which proves that the Moroccan development approach is a total failure.
Beznassa: Since 1982, there appeared a new social class that Moroccan refer to as Beznassa (the word is derived from business.) The beznassa are classified into two categories:
Mwalin shkara (men of a given capital): They are people who have some capital that they try to capitalize on in business through legal or illegal practices. They act mostly as intermediaries in various trades and make basically easy money using corruption, forged documents, abuse of power, etc. to move forward and make a profit. In many ways, they are the shameful face of Moroccan capitalism.
Mwalin l-Ghabra (owners of powder): They are people who made easy money by selling Moroccan hashish to European intermediaries. During the reign of the late Hassan II, they were tolerated and some even managed to get elected to parliament by buying votes. At the time, they contributed the equivalent of US 2 billion to the economy, but as a result of pressure from Europe, the state cracked down. These people, however, still exist today and try to launder their money mostly in the building sector.
In Tangier, there are big beautiful buildings referred to, tongue in cheek, as “imarat na’na” (the high-rises of mint, mint here is a polite term for hashish.) Their major weapon for survival was and still is corrupt money in hard or local currency which is used to influence politicians and security forces who allow them to transport their “merchandise” within the country or from Moroccan shores to Europe by go-fast boats.
Spatial differences: The social differences are aggravated further by spatial discrepancies. During the French Protectorate period 1912-1956, Morocco was divided into two regions:
Useful Morocco (Maroc Utile) which is comprised of plains of arable land used for agriculture and plateaus for mineral ores, like the Khouribga phosphate plateau. There rich agricultural areas were exploited by the French and were easy to control by the French army and administration.
Useless Morocco (Maroc Inutile) was made of mountainous areas and arid plateaus inhabited by fierce Amazigh/Berber people. It took the French 24 years to pacify these areas which were of no economic interest to the colonial power, anyway.
This spatial categorization was a continuum to another one that existed during the sultanic era. Prior to the colonization, Morocco was divided into Bled l-Makhzen (area under government control equivalent to Maroc utile) and Bled s-Siba (land of dissidence equivalent to the Maroc Inutile). The Bled s-Siba refused to acknowledge the temporal authority of the sultan in order to avoid paying his taxes, but acknowledged his religions mantle as Commander of the Faithful “amir mouminine” and conducted Friday prayer sermons in his name.
Sixty years after independence, this categorization is taking another turn, but along almost similar lines:
Morocco of the Golden Triangle: It is a triangle that starts in Tangier/Tetouan and runs all the way to Laayoune, on a north to south axis and from Laayoune to Fes in a south-center axis. Moroccan wealth and power are concentrated in this area where most of the industries and all job opportunities are. The successive governments, since independence, have done little to distribute wealth evenly among the regions.
Over the last decade, the government crafted the regionalization process, but, actually, it is just an illusion and is far from being some sort of local government power as known in the West.
The Morocco of Despair: It is the Maroc Inutile where there is no development, no opportunity, but only government bureaucracy that takes advantage of poor people through corruption and abuse of power. The Morocco of Despair is made of Amazigh/Berber areas and arid plateaus. When immigration was possible, people flocked to Europe to make money and sent remittances back home. Even today, the migrants and their offspring send the equivalent of $7 billion, but when they come back home in the summer they find that none of it has been used to develop their areas: no roads, no schools, no hospitals, and no industry. The youth, in these regions, indulge in drugs and toxic substances with no hope of treatment.
Sick of this situation, the population took to the streets in Alhoceima, in Jerada, and in Zagora to express their despair and the government, after making the usual empty promises, cracked down on these hiraks (uprisings) and put their leaders in prison where they remain.
In 2011, when Moroccans took to the streets, in the aftermath of the infamous Arab Spring, the monarchy reacted by revamping the constitution whereby the king gave up some of his powers.
The ensuing elections brought the Islamists to power but did not bring incremental democracy nor wellbeing to the population.
The Islamists are obsequious to the Makhzen and ineffectual because they have no economic program.
Now Islamism is on the wane but so is democracy and Morocco has, alas, become a land of opportunism where there is no hope for an opportunity, at all.