An interactive blog to educate the college community on Africa and African issues.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Morocco King on holiday as people consider revolt
Discontent is ample in Morocco, the poorest, least developed North African nation, and many are inspired by developments in Egypt. Meanwhile, Morocco's King Mohammed VI rests in his French luxury chalet.
Morocco so far has been spared from larger protesting groups as those in Tunisia and Egypt, much thanks to the King's quick reversal of boosting prices for basic foods. The same move proved a good assurance for authorities in neighbouring Algeria.
But discontent is very widespread in Morocco. Despite an economic boom over the last years and some careful reforms ordered by King Mohammed VI - most prominently regarding gender equality and education - Morocco remains the poorest country in North Africa, with least employment opportunities and the lowest literacy rate.
The King, claiming to descend from the Prophet Mohammed, has an almost divine role in Morocco. Very few dare to criticise him, even in the mildest form.
Among the Arab majority, loyalty to the King is great, while the government - appointed by the King - and age-old ruling "Makhzen" class - controlling the administration, police, army and much of business - are the popular focus of hatred. In the streets of Casablanca, it is often said that the King is honest and wants to rule the country well, but the Makhzen is corrupting everything.
Minorities, however, to a wider degree dare to blame the King for their mischief. This includes large parts of the indigenous and disadvantaged Berber people. Estimates of the Berber population wary from 20 to 60 percent of the Moroccan total, with official estimates being the lowest. Unemployment is highest among Berber youths, of which many view the Arab King as a foreign imposer.
A growing Islamist movement in Morocco, which faces the same repression as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, also is loosening its loyalty to the King, which they see as a marionette of US and Israeli interests. Moroccan Islamists however are split in their view of the monarchy.
Moroccan youths are still struggling with poor education and employment possibilities. Official unemployment figures are only set at between 9 and 10 percent - although believed to be much higher - while the youth unemployment rate is set as closer to 20 percent, officially. Great masses, now mostly barred from migrating to Europe, are building up a similar rage as youths in Tunisia and Egypt.
As the tourist market in all North Africa now is crumbling - many travellers fear Morocco could be next - the kingdom's greatest growth and employment sector could soon be strongly impacted. A sudden growth in unemployment due to falling tourist arrivals could spark revolt.
The most united resistance to the King is found in occupied Western Sahara, where the indigenous Saharawis are denied most basic human rights. Rebellion is almost continuous in Western Sahara, with the population only waiting for a situation when troops must be pulled out of the territory to fight a rebellion in Morocco-proper.
A revolution attempt in Morocco therefore could catch the kingdom's extensive police and military forces fighting at very many fronts at the same time. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, urban protests would probably be quickly followed by rural Berber uprisings and a Saharawi attempt to oust the Moroccan occupiers.
Some few events have already occurred. At least four Moroccans have so far set themselves on fire in an attempt to spark unrests similar to Tunisia. Minor protest marches have been held.
But the population majority is watching what is happening in Egypt, which due to its large armed forces is more comparable to Morocco than Tunisia. If the people succeed in Egypt, many will be encouraged to try the same in Morocco.
King in his chalet in France
Meanwhile, the 47-year-old King seems assured that the situation in Morocco is in firm control. There are confirmed reports that Mohammed VI on Friday arrived at the private Paris airport Le Bourget in his luxury jet.
From Le Bourget, he was driven to his extensive private property in Betz, 70 kilometres north-east of Paris. The luxury chalet, often referred to as a palace, on a 70 hectares property, was bought by his father, King Hassan II, in the 1970s and is only one among a large list of luxury palaces owned privately by the Moroccan King.
The King's luxury spending is not reported by the Moroccan press, which is heavily censored on all issues regarding the King and his family.
According to reports from the Moroccan newspaper 'Hespress' and Spanish Morocco specialist Ignacio Cembrero, Mohammed VI was accompanied on his trip to France by "a delegation of high officials from the security and military forces." Mr Cembrero says he has information that "the situation in the Maghreb since the fall of [Tunisian Dictator Zine] Ben Ali" was to be discussed together with officials from the King's allied French government.
News from King Mohammed VI's stay at his luxury chalet in Betz has still not reached Moroccans and could cause further indignation.
Moroccans are following the developments in Tunisia and Egypt with great interest. The human rights, democracy and social conditions in the country are not very different from the revolutionising countries.