Standoff Over Imider Silver Mine

“The Imider mine, on the eastern slopes of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, is the world’s seventh biggest producer of silver,” according to a feature article on reuters.com. “Instead of welcoming the mine, many local people resent it as a symbol of how Morocco’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of a privileged few while the rest of the population live in poverty.”

Hundreds of Imider villagers participated in cutting off the flow of water to the mine from a local well, and are now camped around the well to make sure it stays off. The decrease in the mine’s water supply has significantly impacted its productivity, which means that the people’s protest around the well cannot be ignored.

The protesters say that the presence of the mine has done more harm than good by creating pollution, depleting the local water supply and neglecting to help with development in an area of awful poverty. The mining company denies the pollution and water depletion allegations and contends that it has spent between 1 and 2 million dirhams each year to fund development in the region.

The fact that Morocco’s royal family is a major stakeholder in the mining company (and the Moroccan monarchy is the largest private shareholder in the country’s whole economy) does not help matters. The people are frustrated by the private network of court officials, businessmen and advisors who can do whatever they want because they are in cahoots with the royal court.

The conflict over the silver mine in Imider is symbolic of wide unrest due to wealth disparity between Morocco’s ruling elite and the people it governs.

“Clinton Should Urge Legal Reform,” says Human Rights Watch

Despite Morocco’s 2011 constitutional reforms, which signaled a move towards a more democratic and liberal society, there are still significant limits on freedom of speech for Moroccan citizens. There are still laws on the books that call for prison terms of up to five years for individuals who offend the government or Islam through speech. Human Rights Watch argues that these laws are not in harmony with Morocco’s revised constitution, and that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should push for change of these laws during her current visit to Morocco.

“Having praised Morocco’s 2011 constitution, Secretary Clinton should now urge authorities to revise both laws and practices so that they are in harmony with that constitution.” –Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch

Article 25 of the new constitution says that “freedom of thought, opinion and expression in all its forms is guaranteed”; and article 28 says “Press freedom is guaranteed and cannot be restricted by any form of prior censorship.”

However, article 41 of Morocco’s press code provides prison terms of up to five years for speech that “undermines the Islamic religion, the monarchical regime, or [Morocco’s] territorial integrity,” or that is offensive toward “His Majesty the King, and the royal princes and princesses.” Article 263 of Morocco’s penal code “provides prison terms for “gravely offending” public officials. Article 266 provides prison terms for “insulting” the judiciary or discrediting its rulings or attempting to influence the courts.”

It appears that the lofty commitments of the new constitution are not being matched by Morocco’s legal codes and authorities.

Source: http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/02/24/usmorocco-clinton-should-urge-legal-reform


New EU – Morocco Trade Deal

The European Union approved a bilateral trade agreement with Morocco on Thursday, February 16th, a deal that will expand the duty-free exchange of agricultural goods between the two parties. Starting this spring, 70% of the EU’s agricultural exports will enter Morocco duty-free, while 55% of Morocco’s agricultural exports will enter the EU duty-free. There was controversy over this deal because of concerns that it would negatively impact small-scale farmers in both Europe and Morocco.

According to reports from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), fruits and vegetables currently account for 80 percent of total EU imports from Morocco, and farming accounts for 13 percent of Morocco’s gross domestic output.

Morocco’s “soft power strategy” against terrorism? Hmm.

A column in Forbes magazine illuminates Morocco’s past and present. 

http://www.forbes.com/2010/06/14/morocco-islam-counterterrorism-opinions-columnists-ilan-berman.html

Note: this was not published recently. It was written in June 2010, months before the Arab Spring erupted. However, the author (Ilan Berman, Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council) makes some points that are very helpful to those of us trying to learn about Morocco’s history and its current atmosphere.

However, I do not think that Berman accurately depicts reality here in his assessment of Morocco’s political and social situation (even if he is writing in 2010). The argument put forth in this piece is that Morocco’s king is doing a great thing by eradicating Islamic ideals from civil society in favor of more democratic and liberal ones. Berman says that Morocco is “inhospitable soil for radicals seeking to drive a wedge between Islam and other faiths” and also that Morocco “has mastered the art of political reconciliation.” He paints Morocco as the one country in the Arab world that has handled the conflicts between Islamic extremists and the government.

Based on what I’ve read about the past decade’s events in Morocco, this is not true at all. There have been several deadly terrorist attacks, notably those in Casablanca in 2003 and 2007 and in Marrakech in 2011, with links to Al-Qaeda. There have also been less violent shows of opposition against the King’s reforms. Basically, over the past decade Islamicists have had a definite presence in Morocco and this presence has made for a struggle. For anyone to write “America desperately needs allies that are willing and able to promote moderate interpretations of Islam at the expense of more extreme ones. In Morocco, it is fortunate to have found one,” at any point in the last ten years seems to me to be glossing over the truth.

Self-Immolation in the Arab World

Five young men set themselves on fire in Rabat, Morocco last month. (For more on the Rabat protests, see Marissa’s post from February 11th)

This relates to part of the discussion we had in class today, during the Tunisia group presentation, about self-immolation as a form of protest. It appears that this is becoming more common in Arab countries, perhaps signifying increasing frustration and desperation among citizens.

Click on the New York Times headline below to see the full article that appeared in the news in January (it should open in a new window or tab).

Self-Immolation Is on the Rise in the Arab World

BEIRUT, Lebanon — More than a year after a young Tunisian set himself on fire and touched off revolutions throughout the Arab world, self-immolation, symbolic of systemic frustration and helplessness, has become increasingly common across the region.

The five men in Rabat were unemployed university graduates. According to the Times, the official unemployment rate in Morocco is 9.1 percent nationally, but it is 16 percent for university graduates. The Times also said that the Arab media has been paying little attention to these recent self-immolations across the entire region.

– Svati Narula

Looking Back on Morocco’s Arab Spring

Arab Spring impacted Morocco in February 2011 beginning with protests of solidarity for the Egyptian revolution and later nationwide demonstrations motivated by a general overwhelming dissatisfaction with current affairs. Moroccan youth, frustrated by their country’s poverty, inequality of opportunity, and authoritarian regime, began protesting on February 20th. The protests were organized and promoted via Facebook and YouTube.

Below is a video clip about the “February 20 Youth Movement” in Morocco.

In response to this and other protests, King Mohammed promised to enact constitutional reforms. These reforms came about in June 2011, but unsatisfied citizens continued protesting through September.

NPR recently (February 7, 2012 – one week ago) reported on the lasting effects of the Arab Spring in Morocco. Here is an excerpt from the online article, describing the reasons for unrest and the continued protests of young people calling for more substantial reform: 

Poverty is one of many issues that ignited protests in the region — and in Morocco. On Feb. 20, 2011, Moroccans took to the streets to demonstrate in a country considered one of the most stable in the region. King Mohammed VI moved quickly to placate the protesters by offering constitutional reforms and calling early elections. But progress toward democracy has also revealed the limits of civil disobedience.

Desire For A Different Kind Of Monarchy

The spark came when a group of young Moroccans called for demonstrations on Feb. 20 with a YouTube video that stated their demands for freedom and equality — their motives for calling for the street march. For the first time, demonstrators were directly challenging the absolute powers of the king, says businessman Karim Tazi, who joined the protest.

“In a lot of Arab countries, the goal was a simple one — get rid of the dictator,” Tazi says. “In Morocco, the situation was more complicated than that. No one wanted to get rid of the king, but they want a different monarchy, they don’t want an authoritarian one.”

Economist Fouad Abdelmoumni says they want a symbolic monarchy more like Britain or Spain and a parliament with powers. They want a democracy, he says, not through revolution, as in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, but through reform.

“We have a whole generation that is emerging to politics, that is beginning to think of politics and beginning to have faith that they can lead their life and change their situation,” Abdelmoumni says.

A year after the first demonstrations, reforms offered by the king are being tested. The head of the new government is an Islamist. His Justice and Development Party, or PJD, won the most votes in November elections, but the king and his advisers still retain substantial power, says Abdelmoumni, and can stall the proposals of the PJD.

“Will they be able to change the mindset where corruption and nepotism [are] the basic behavior of the state?” he asks.

That is the election promise, says Abdelmoumni, and party officials have already pledged to disclose the list of Moroccans who have benefited from a system known as grima, a French word that in Morocco means favors bestowed by the monarch.

“They will pay the price if they decide to go strongly against corruption, and they will pay the price if they don’t go far enough, because the population is expecting a lot,” Abdelmoumni says.

Moroccan King Mohammed VI (shown here in Tangiers in September) moved quickly to placate the protesters of the Feb. 20 movement. Now, though, the limits of those reforms are being tested.

A Limit To The Changes

This population expects jobs. Unemployed college graduates protest every week in the capital. They shocked the country a few weeks ago when five set themselves on fire. Three were hospitalized and one died.

The new government’s strategy is to seek economic growth and curb corruption, but Ahmed Benchemsi says that could lead to a collision with entrenched interests — the elites connected to the king. Benchemsi, the former publisher of a popular news magazine, is now a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. In a visit home to Rabat recently, he explained that the monarch controls much of the Moroccan economy.

“[The king] is the No. 1 businessman in the country,” Benchemsi said. “He’s the No. 1 grocer, he’s the No. 1 farmer, he’s the No. 1 landowner, he’s the No. 1 steel producer, sugar producer. … He’s a huge businessman.”

And despite the new constitution, the king can still block any law he dislikes, Benchemsi says, adding that there are limits to the changes won by the protest movement a year ago.It’s a critique heard across the region from the young protesters who brought so many to the streets.

“They should have worked like a political movement,” says Benchemsi. “But the thing is, the protest movement in Morocco is not a political movement. It is just a bunch of kids who dream of democracy — which is a beautiful thing, but it’s not enough to shake a deeply rooted system like the Moroccan monarchy.”

The demand in Morocco was to shake up the system, not destroy it. But if the government and the king fail to deliver soon, analysts say, the next confrontation could be tougher — against the monarchy itself.

(This article, “In Morocco, Arab Spring’s Mixed Bounty,” by Deborah Amos, can be found at http://www.npr.org/2012/02/07/146526685/in-morocco-the-arab-springs-mixed-bounty)

– Svati Narula