Inequality, the challenge of a country trying to modernise itself

Morocco: modernisation conditional on COVID-19

PHOTO/AFP - Terminal I of the port of Tanger Med in the city n of Tangier

The year of the coronavirus pandemic has affected every country in the world and has conditioned the process undertaken by Morocco to change the development model of its economy in order to face the greatest challenge threatening the country's stability and modernisation, namely inequality. King Mohammed VI himself was the driving force behind the reform. In his Throne Speech on 30 July 2019, a day before his 20th birthday as king, he acknowledged, and regretted, that the economic fruits of his reign had not reached all regions and social classes in the country, and ordered the formation of a committee to design a new development model. A few months later, the appearance of the coronavirus has almost completely paralysed economic activity for the year 2020, the borders remain closed, with the result that its important tourist industry has suffered considerable losses, and its consequences could be seen in the arrival of thousands of young people at the border with Ceuta with the illusion of crossing into Spain to seek better living conditions. The cessation of the porters' traffic due to the closure of the border in recent months has meant that thousands of people in the region have suffered many difficulties in their daily lives.

Vagón de un tren de alta velocidad TGV producido por Alstom se ve mientras llega al puerto marroquí de Tánger, el 30 de junio de 2015 PHOTO/AFP

Some radical Islamist cells with connections to Daesh terrorism were concentrated in this region. The anti-terrorist action of the Moroccan security services is key to preventing terrorist activity in Morocco, as is its cooperation with the European Union and very directly with Spain, where there is an exchange of judges and police officers in each country. Morocco suffered a major attack in 2003 at the Casa de España in Casablanca with 43 deaths, and another in 2011 at the Argana café in Marrakech with 17 deaths. On the occasion of personally expressing his condolences to the Moroccan people and their king, Juan Carlos I travelled to Marrakech and, in addition to expressing his condolences, was able to resolve with Mohammed VI one of the most serious crises between Spain and Morocco in recent years. The relationship between the royal houses of the two countries continues to be key.

Línea de montaje de automóviles en la planta de montaje de automóviles Renault-Nissan Tanger en Melloussa, al este de la ciudad portuaria de Tánger AFP/FADEL SENNA
Putting an end to inequalities

A few kilometres from Ceuta are cities such as Tangier and Tetouan with impressive economic and social development. It is one of the main poles of development in Morocco, along with Casablanca, to achieve an economic growth of 4.4% in 2021, compared to a fall of 5.8% in 2020. Among the main sectors of its activity Tanger Med, the large port already expanded which is achieving large shares in the Mediterranean; the car factories of Renault-Nissan and PSA and their derivatives such as the plant of the Spanish company Antolin and high-speed train inaugurated in 2018 between Tangier-Casablanca-Rabat. 

Another emblematic project is the construction of the Noor solar power plant in Ouarzazate. Morocco already has 35% of its energy from renewables.  The Grand Theatre and the Rabat Bridge are major works that represent modernity backed by economic growth that has averaged 3.5% over the past 20 years. 

Fotografia de archivo, el rey Mohamed VI de Marruecos AFP/FADEL SENNA

To achieve this this year, Mohammed VI has once again surprised with risky but effective decisions. He launched the vaccination campaign against Covid with more than 12% of the population fully vaccinated. Less than 10,000 people have died from the virus. It diversified its economy by undertaking structural reforms, increased its industrial sector in the automotive, electronics and aeronautics industries, and granted tax exemptions to attract investment and adopted business aid. It is true that it depends on good weather and its exports to the European Union, especially in the agricultural sector, 13% of its GDP; and that, as the king himself acknowledged in his speech, there is a need to improve education, vocational training and financing difficulties.  He placed special emphasis on the new education law approved in 2019. 

Also a few kilometres south of Ceuta is the Rif, a region where basic services such as a hospital or institutes, improved transport or boosting its economic potential are demanded, and which forced the king to dismiss several ministers in search of solutions. Royal pardons have been granted to hundreds of prisoners, except for protest leaders such as Nasser Zafzati. 

Vehiculos en la terminal I del puerto Tanger Med PHOTO/AFP
Twenty years is a long time

Experts who know Morocco point to one indisputable fact: in the 21 years of Mohammed VI's reign, the evolution and change has been spectacular. The recommendation is to look at the streets, it is rare to find rickety old Mercedes or a cart pulled by a donkey, the entire vehicle fleet has been renewed. In 1999 there were 400 kilometres of motorways, now there are 1,800. The journey from Tangier to Casablanca takes just over an hour thanks to the high-speed train, inaugurated in 2018. This has been one of the Alawite monarch's most controversial decisions, which has been recognised for its early results. As soon as he came to the throne in 1999 at the age of 35, Mohammed VI was aware of the great personality of his father, Hassan II, and of the need to set his own style, more focused on the domestic needs of Moroccans than on international relations. He took advantage of the reforms undertaken with the constitutional reform of 1997, ratified the socialist Abdelrraman El Youssoufi as prime minister and struck a blow by dismissing the all-powerful and feared interior minister of 20 years, Dris Basri.  He began his reign with great drive, aware of the need to anchor Morocco in the 21st century with the appropriate changes and reforms in the political, economic-commercial, energy and social spheres. But, above all, in something as complicated as mentality. Much remains to be done, but progress has been made along the way with the family code in 2004, in which women's rights have been recognised and respected, although there are still pending situations such as underage marriages. 

Centro de vacunación en Rabat, Marruecos PHOTO/AP
Key constitutional reform in 2011

One of the crucial turning points, so far, of Mohammed VI's reign came in the wake of the emergence in several countries of the Arab Spring. In Morocco, several protest movements were formed and countered with a constitutional reform in which the king renounced his sacredness and curtailed some of his powers and retained key so-called sovereignty ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Interior and Religious Affairs; as well as the inviolability of his person and being the highest religious authority as Commander of the Faithful. A member close to the Moroccan power circle acknowledged the king's ability to take the lead in addressing popular demands. At the time, the election results produced a government led by the moderate Islamist PJD, the Justice and Development party, which renewed the confidence of the electorate in 2016. Since then, the Moroccan crown and government have cohabited respectfully, but with ultimate influence of the head of state.  The next general election is scheduled for after the summer.

Un vehículo de las Fuerzas Auxiliares del Ministerio del Interior de Marruecos patrulla un barrio, haciendo cumplir el bloqueo reimpuesto debido a la pandemia de coronavirus COVID-19, en el casco antiguo de la capital, Rabat, el 24 de diciembre de 2020 AFP/FADEL SENNA
Regularisation of immigrants

In the area of immigration, Morocco decided to change its regional strategy and took several important decisions such as returning to the African Union, an organisation it had left when it welcomed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Since then, Moroccan diplomacy has succeeded in getting more than ten African countries to change their position and open diplomatic representation in the Sahara, thereby recognising Moroccan sovereignty over what they consider their southern provinces, as have the United States, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, among others. Washington's strong backing is being used by Rabat to gain more support, such as that of France, and it is also seeking support from Spain and the EU. Spain's refusal, for the moment, clouds relations that have entered a serious crisis due to the presence of the Polisario Front leader in a hospital in Logroño and the assault of thousands of young people at the Ceuta border. 

Morocco changed its immigration policy to reinforce its role as African leader with the regularisation of more than 50,000 sub-Saharan Africans in the last five years. 

Article published in ABC on Sunday 23 May 2021

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