Republican Reference - Area (sq.km) 446,500 sqm - Population 31,968,361 - Capital Rabat - Currency Moroccan Dirham - President Abbas El Fassi

Morocco

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Background:

Morocco: Modernity in the Arab World
There have been important changes in the Arab world and North Africa in particular in 2011. Egypt and Tunisia have witnessed longstanding regimes collapse, replaced by transitional governments working toward a more radical and, presumably, democratic transformation of their societies. Libya is in split in two as rebels from Cyrenaica, with NATO help, are slowly moving toward Tripoli to deliver the final blow to the Qadhafi dictatorship, one so idiosyncratic that whatever emerges from its dust will be revolutionary. Libya’s neighbor Algeria, perhaps still absorbing the shock of the civil war it suffered during the mid 1990’s and Morocco have not experienced revolts in the Egyptian-Tunisian or even Libyan mode. If Algeria saw its attempt at democracy fail in the decade of the 1990’s, the reason for Morocco’s milder response to the impetus for change witnessed in North Africa is rooted in its more advanced stage of ‘modernity’, compared to the rest of the Arab world. Ironically, Morocco‘s modernity has been nurtured by a monarchy, the oldest ruling monarchy in the Arab world. The royal family has typically enjoyed popular support and it has proven to be more stable and willing to embrace change than the various self styled ‘revolutionary’ regimes that have emerged in the Middle East, since the period of independence. The monarchy is central to the understanding of Morocco.

The modern Caliph
The King is also known as the titled "Ameer Al-Mumenim", or the Prince of Believers and, in a sense, he is the Caliph, for he holds religious as well as temporal authority, which stems from the claim that the Moroccan royal family descends directly from the Prophet Mohammed. While, such claims are resisted outside of Morocco, the monarch acts as the protector of the Maliki rite (one of the four main juridical schools of Islam, which prevails in North Africa) with a view toward tolerance of other faiths and against extremism. The monarchy has rooted itself in the Moroccan social fabric as it was established 12 centuries ago. This has given it a solid foundation from which to embrace the social and economic values that the West typically associates with modernity. The current King is Muhammad VI and he was installed in 1999. He has perpetuated the policies of his father and predecessor, Hassan II, who established close ties to Europe and the United States. The current monarch has also encouraged social and economic reforms during his decade in power that have acted as a shock absorber in the face of the revolts and demands for change seen in man parts of the Arab world in 2011.

Morocco, Reforms and the Arab Spring
Moroccan youth have launched a massive popular mobilization on February 20 to demand more rights, freedoms and work (there is at lest 10% unemployment in a country of 32 million) using similar methods, such as social media, as the protests in Tunisia and Egypt. ‘February 20’ has given the name to the Moroccan youth reform movement, which has pushed the King to adopt further changes. However, over the past decade, the monarchy has enabled the emergence of associations bringing together recent and unemployed university graduates in order to help them find work. These associations operate like unions and they have often protested in front of parliament, serving as an outlet to express anger. In many Arab countries this kind of social ‘anger absorption’ has usually been performed by Islamic associations and movements; these also exist in Morocco, but unlike elsewhere, they do not hold a monopoly on ‘protest’ and anger and have to compete with secular associations that have been officially permitted by the State. This level of free association is typically viewed with suspicion in Arab regimes, but it shows that while the King rules Morocco in a far less liberal way than would a Western democracy, it is also distant from the authoritarianism that has characterized most Arab regimes.

The ‘February 20’ movement has demanded a drastic reduction in the King’s powers motivated by the desire for renewal. It is important to note, that ‘February 20’ does not demand an end to the monarchy or even that Mohammad VI step down; this prerogative is limited to some radical islamist movements. ‘February 20’, however, would like to see the current monarchy evolve into a system closer to what exists in Great Britain or Spain, where the apolitical monarchy remains the head of state, even though lacking actual governing authority. To this effect, Mohammad VI held a Constitutional referendum in June 2011 to bring his rule closer in line to the aspirations of the February 20 movement. The referendum was widely approved by Moroccans, but the result falls far short of a European type monarchical arrangement. The constitutional changes have not affected the King’s status as Amir al-Mumenim and his decisions are still deemed infallible, and as such cannot be criticized – some newspapers have been shut down in Morocco for criticizing the monarchy. The constitutional referendum has also not affected the King’s power to issues royal decrees, nor his authority over the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Islamic Issues. The King has also retained his power to dissolve both Houses of Parliament. The few notable changes include official recognition of the Tamazight (Berber) language alongside Arabic.

The 2011 Referendum
The July 1, 2011, referendum, nevertheless, has granted more powers to Parliament and their true effect will be seen during the legislative elections to be held in the autumn of 2011. The constitutional referendum, despite the shortcomings, was a test of support for Muhammad VI. The referendum was highly successful from a voter turnout point of view. Apart from the optimistic 98.4% result in favor of the Yes vote (in favor of the proposed changes); the referendum suggests that Moroccans are more enthusiastic about achieving change through the ballot box. The poor results of the 2007 legislative elections, marked by a 37% turnout, raised concerns about political disaffection and distrust. The almost 77% turnout at the referendum suggests that Moroccans have found a renewed sense of political participation, which raises optimism that changes in society and politics will come about in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary way in the near future.

Another important aspect of the referendum is that the monarchy will no longer be able to limit the number of seats that a given political party might occupy in parliament, This was done in the past to limit the influence of ‘uncomfortable’ parties such as those inspired by Islamists of the ‘Justice and Development’ formation. In addition, a first in Morocco, the leader of the party that earns the most votes becomes the prime minister. Until now, the prime minister was appointed by the king. Hassan II was closer to his regional counterparts and confronted opposition to his pro-Western foreign policy and mild anti-Israel positions using the more typical iron fist method. However, the over three centuries of continuous rule has given the Moroccan monarchy other social mechanisms through which to promote cohesion. The ‘makhzin’, a grouping of the tribal, business, landed and state elite – including the security apparatus is a traditional network through which the regime distributes power while receiving a feel for the social dynamic in the country. The French colonial establishment, relied on the Makhzin networks to help promote as more indirect style of colonialism and this continues to act as a social ‘shock absorber’ or a shield for the monarch, who will be freer to pursue the necessary changes or reforms without risking stability. Through his religious authority, as ‘caliph’, the monarchy also monitors mosques and the preaching of their 20,000 or so imams closely. Those who preach violence of fundamentalist notions risk being sanctioned by the Ulema Council. Conversely, the King uses the Mudawana, or family code, to guarantee women’s rights and liberal social ideals.

Even if, as some critics have accused, the referendum was ‘cosmetic’ and not all that different from two such processes used by Hassan II in the 1960’s to promulgate constitutional changes that merely left the status quo, the last ten years have seen important reforms that have established a level of modernity that does not exist in other parts of the Arab world. Certainly, reforms such as the Family Code (Mudawana), the Anti-Corruption Decree, the Right to Work, the Right to Health or even a specialized Road Behavior Code are unique in the Maghreb. These reforms suggest that the country has been on a course toward democratization and liberalization for some time; it has not approached democracy overnight. The government has been keen to improve the conditions for business, pursuing social progress, improving healthcare and access to water or access to education and strengthening civil society. Morocco has taken the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area, which will come into play in 2012, very seriously and its juridical, economic and social reforms have been geared to making the country more competitive in this context as well. Morocco has also held talks with the United States to set up a free trade area, making Morocco an even more important player in the Maghreb region.

Liberal social ideals are very important to Morocco because the tourism sector is crucially important to the economy. The political turmoil in Egypt and Tunisia, which typically compete with Morocco for tourist dollars, should be very beneficial to Morocco if it continues to stave off the socio-political pressure of the ‘Arab Spring’. European and North American tour operators have been promoting Morocco as a destination to their customers who were interested in booking vacations to Egypt and Tunisia. The plan has been too successful, as hotel capacity in Morocco has not been able to keep up with demand, though this has contributed to considerable price increases. The tourism sector has suffered until recently from the worldwide economic crisis. The sector was facing such losses that the Tourism Minister, Mohamed Boussaid, was sacked.

Problems and Risks
Morocco has suffered from the worldwide economic crisis, particularly because of a reduction in tourism from Europe and because of its trade and industrial ties to the EU. In the province of Tangier, which had been home to major infrastructure investments to attract companies like Renault and Nissan, carefully designed policies were put in place by Morocco to turn one of its poorest regions into an economic center. The two car manufacturers were preparing to invest in what was to be Africa’s biggest industrial project ever. The plant would have assembled nearly a half million cars per year, with major implications on the Tangier economy and job creation in northern Morocco. However, the companies, pulled out of the deal at the last moment faced with the global economic downturn in 2009.

Civil society has remained Morocco’s true strength. The social fabric is rich with cooperatives, associations and groups, such as – but not limited to – the Makhzin that favor the interaction of the people with politics. Women enjoy rights that are unheard of in other Arab countries. They can divorce, travel alone and live independently. Agriculture remains a strong sector and there is adequate infrastructure, while the industrial sector is expanding as many car manufacturers have set up assembly facilities in the country. Even at the more advanced level, Morocco has been conducting research on renewable energy. In essence, it is as if Morocco, more than other Arab countries, has been able to shed a sort of inferiority complex that enables it to embrace and integrate with the West at a deeper level. The question remains, for how long will the Moroccan monarchy keep the people’s gaze westward rather than inwards toward a reactionary Islamism, as may be happening among some strata of Tunisian and Egyptian society – though, ostensibly not the strata that initiated the ‘Arab Spring’.

The darker clouds surrounding the monarchy have to do with evidence of corruption and financial voracity, reminiscent of the Trabelsi and Ben Ali family in Tunisia. A rather noisy scandal broke out in Morocco over revelations from Wikileaks in 2011 of corruption implicating the royal family and its entourage. The pretext was to protect the Moroccan economy from excessive foreign competition. The King owns a holding company, Siger, which controls insurance, banks and one of three telecom operators. This excessive business involvement from the royal family may explain why Morocco ranks below Saudi Arabia in the Transparency International corruption index. Media that have criticized the royal family for their business interests have faced censorship and /or shutdowns.

Corruption
The King’s investments strategies have sometimes also created embarrassment in view of his position as ‘prince of believers’ or Caliph. He has invested in casinos and a brewery. Social groups close to the monarchy have been worried by this. Such indiscretions by the royal family also cause concern because they raise the standing of the official Islamist party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which has made inroads by collaborating with the leftist Socialist Union of Popular Forces. The two make strange bedfellows, but both have criticized the financial excesses of the monarchy, espousing its removal. The Monarchy has no tolerance for any Islamist presence anywhere in the governing system, but if the economic program and promised democratization process, especially in the wake of the referendum, are not successful, the Islamists could continue to leverage these weaknesses to gain more power within a more liberalized parliamentary context

Mohammed VI has ruled with an eye toward reform, but this has not always been successful, even if the country has managed to stave off the revolts of its neighbors. Some of the issues that have lingered will have to be addressed by the next government or they will constitute an important element of risk. Corruption is widespread and MPs take an opportunistic approach, rather than one related to fulfilling voters’ expectations, frequently changing allegiances as it suits them at the personal level. This is not unique to Morocco, and it happens in the heart of the EU; however, Morocco has gambled with the population that modern social policies and more political interaction are necessary. Personal appointments avoid risk-takers from leading change, which leaves the status quo. The parliamentary system, in this way, cannot be said to be representative.

Western Sahara and Al-Qaida
Morocco is still involved in a dispute over Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony, which gained independence in 1976 after Spain was driven out by the Moroccan ‘Green March’. The Territory then became semi-independent and contested between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which conducted a guerrilla war against Morocco until 1991 when a ceasefire agreement was signed in view of a referendum over sovereignty. Western Sahara is recognized as an independent state by the African Union, but only as a ‘non-independent territory’. Most of the territory is under Moroccan control. Apart from the humanitarian issues, the Western Sahara issue has become a major area of contention between Morocco and its neighbors, and even made some inter-African relations difficult. The biggest diplomatic consequence is the related dispute with Algeria, which openly supports the independence of Western Sahara which it also neighbours. North Africa’s economic, social and political progress is being hampered by this old conflict. Not only people are suffering, but the Maghreb Union is held hostage by this crisis and security in the region remains challenged by this feud.

There are related security implications involving Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a group that has roots in the Algerian civil war of the 1990’s, which has been gaining inroads into the Sahel, threatening Morocco as well. Moroccan and Mauritanian government sources claim that in the past two years, in the harsh desert Sahel region of Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania, some Marxist nationalists are colluding with AQIM, which has engaged in a campaign abducting westerners for ransom, as well as becoming involved in drug and arms smuggling and staging bombings in Algeria and Mauritania. There is some evidence that stalled discussions over independence or autonomy for Western Sahara may have created a marriage of convenience among some elements of the Polisario independence struggle and AQIM. Polisario is based in southwest Algeria near the Sahel zone under AQIM influence. Maj. Gen. Abdeljebbar Azzaoui, Morocco's director of intelligence and counterterrorism, alleged some 75 arrests by Morocco, Mauritania, and Mali of Polisario members involved in al Qaeda operations. He said the Moroccan government works closely with these two countries and shares a list of captives. On Oct. 30, Morocco's Interior Ministry announced its capture of a supposedly al Qaeda-linked terrorist cell, the "Saharawi Jihad Front," headed by a Polisario supporter. There is of course a tendency that observers should note, for the Moroccan government and its supporters to seek to conflate Al Qaeda with Morocco’s post-colonial problems with the Polisario, now long established as a distinct entity ruling its own part of Western Sahara which is seeking UN recognition.

The rise of AQIM has brought US and Moroccan security establishments closer, collaborating in the Sahel to improve security; accordingly, this will require Algeria’s assistance and the situation could be conducive to a rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco in the long term, as concerns over AQIM may help put aside longstanding disagreements over Western Sahara. Both Algeria and Morocco have been strengthening their military capabilities and the United States could engage them to devise a common strategy.

Update No: 009 - (26/04/12)

The Arab 'Awakening' Could Still Arise

Some of Morocco's problems derive from its overly close economic ties to Europe. Right now there is a growing crisis south of the Sahara, the Sahel that will inevitably affect Moroccan security. Mali, a poor country but one of the shining examples of parliamentary democracy in Africa, suffered a coup while enduring a separatist war with regional consequences in the north. Niger has faced another drought and is suffering from another period of famine. The Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali, which has seen the bulk of the fighting led by opportunist Islamist forces, could prompt a renewal of militant fighting in Western Sahara, seeing as little progress has been made in the latest round of talks. If a solution isn't found soon, Western Sahara, in the context of the turmoil in the Sahel, could promptly become embroiled in the web of terrorist and smuggling networks that are threatening North and West Africa.

In North Africa, Algeria and Morocco are the two countries that have experienced the softest manifestations of the Arab Awakening. Algeria avoided the turmoil largely because it had experienced an 'awakening' of its own throughout the decade of the 1990's that permanently 'put to sleep' over 100,000 people. Morocco avoided massive uprisings thanks to the existence of institutions capable of absorbing and translating social dissent into political language. The language was clear enough, for the King to become the most enthusiastic promoter of important Constitutional changes that, at least on paper, seemed to provide for a reduction of the monarchy's powers.

However, not even the reformist monarch, Mohammad VI, could avoid the wave of Islamic and socially conservative politics that has affected the rest of North Africa in the wake of the 'Arab awakening'. And now, in Morocco, as in Tunisia or Egypt, the Islamists are having to confront difficult economic conditions such as high unemployment, high food prices , difficult weather that destroys crops and of course political demands from citizens that make it difficult for the government to lift traditional subsidies from basic consumption goods. This leads to a growing budget deficit and less control over public finance, which also adds difficulty in meeting citizens' demands.

Morocco has also been affected by Europe's economic crisis, which has uncovered an important weakness. That is that it is overly reliant on the European economy, such that when the EU sneezes, Morocco catches more of a bad 'flu than a cold. Morocco exports less to Europe and suffers from reduced investment. The excessive weight of Europe creates a spillover effect on human and social policies affecting hundreds of thousands of Moroccans (and other North Africans), who have migrated to Europe. They are also affected by the financial crisis, suffering from the lower wages, unemployment and the anti-immigration backlash that inevitably occurs in difficult economic periods. Accordingly, the French presidential election is having just such an effect on North African migrants, as candidates have discussed the idea of reducing the number of Algerians residing in France. The mere fact that such ideas are being discussed affects the way Moroccans, as fellow North Africans, are perceived, making their lives all the less bearable. Naturally, a difficult European economy, implies that Moroccan migrants are remitting less to their homes, contributing to the budget deficit and the economic burden of many individual families. In northern Morocco, near Tangiers, the textile sector has suffered considerably. Lower European demand is creating a social conflict as well.

The Moroccan Association of Textile Industries says that the rise to power of the Islamist PJD Party has led to an increased presence of their related UNTM union, which is said to be unusually aggressive; so aggressive that businesses are lost as to how to deal with the unprecedented degree of militancy. The UNTM blocks access to factories and insults managers. Union members also block entry and exit of goods. All the while, unemployment is very high and textile exports are stalled. In some factories, staff numbers have had to be cut by half and owners are having to deal with debts or be forced to shut down. Meanwhile, UNTM influenced workers demands to be paid for the days they have not worked. There is little that the Tangiers region can do, as its economic fate is tied to that of large Spanish companies, facing their own recession. Other textile intense areas, such as in Casablanca or Rabat, produce finished goods destined for the wider European market, faring better than their counterparts in Tangiers, who produce unfinished textiles that are then finished in Spain.

While the wheat harvest has turned out to be better than expected - and agriculture still accounts for more than 15% of Morocco's economy - given a drought, tourism has suffered as well. Most tourists are European and a drop was to be expected. Tourism accounts for some 10% of GDP normally, but it fell significantly in 2011; some estimates based on Marrakesh suggest drops of as much as 9% overall, while there were 16% fewer French and 25% fewer Spanish visitors, both groups accounting for the bulk of Morocco's tourists. While most of the drop stems from lower disposable incomes in Europe, it certainly does not help when members of the Islamist controlled government, and no less a figure than the minister of justice, Mustafa Ramid, deliver nonsensical statements in Marrakesh, describing this most important of Moroccan travel destinations as a place where "people come from all over the world to spend time sinning in and being far from God". Not surprisingly, the minister's statements drew much criticism from Moroccan tour operators and some major national newspapers, suggesting that there is still some common sense. Moroccans can at least console themselves for the fact that tourism in their traditional 'competitors', Tunisia and Egypt, has dropped far more drastically with ministers, preachers and other personalities delivering even more counterproductive statements.

If some of Morocco's problems derive from its overly close ties to Europe, there is a growing crisis south of the Sahara-the Sahel-that will inevitably affect Moroccan security:

Mali, a poor country, but one of the rare shining examples of parliamentary democracy in Africa, suffered a coup, while enduring a separatist war with regional consequences in the north.

Niger, has faced another drought, and is suffering from another period of famine. The Tuareg rebellion in northern Mali, which has seen the bulk of the fighting led by opportunist Islamist forces, could prompt a renewal of militant fighting in Western Sahara, seeing as little progress has been made in the latest round of talks. If a solution isn't found soon, Western Sahara, in the context of the turmoil in the Sahel, could promptly become embroiled in the web of terrorist and smuggling networks that are threatening North and West Africa.

Apart from incidents, such as kidnappings of foreign aid workers, that have already occurred in Polisario controlled camps in Algeria, the area is awash with weapons from the Libyan conflict while the border areas are destabilized. As the Tuareg separatists and the various criminal or islamist groups find it easier to penetrate this territory, the timing is ripe for a militant resurgence of the Polisario, which officially gave up the armed struggle against Morocco in 1990.

Armed elements from the various renegade groups are free to recruit members in refugee camps, especially in the almost lawless areas bordering Western Sahara such as Mauritania and the above mentioned Polisario camps in Algeria. The latter have already been implicated in drug smuggling and kidnapping activity, which suggests that the al-Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM) has already established links to Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf. In addition, the Polisario's nationalist agenda may also have lost its appeal among the Sahrawis in the camps, which makes those living in the camps more vulnerable to being recruited by militants.

France continues to back Morocco' claims to the Western Sahara, but no progress was made at the recently UN mediated talks. Algeria and Morocco are the key players around the conflict however, and these two states must reach a compromise in order for the Sahrawi issue to be engaged with more vigor at the international level.

 

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