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.

Secret Political and Economic Agreement between Spain and Morocco

Morocco World News has just published an article that details a currently developing secret agreement between the Spanish and Moroccan governments.

According to the article, during the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs Saâdedine El Othmani’s last visit to Madrid (purported to be sometime around February 1st, 2012), the two countries agreed to cultivate the deal. This agreement reportedly revolves around the concept of mutual assistance: due to their proximity and intertwined history, both countries would aid each other within their respective regions of influence. Morocco would aid Spain with its economic and political affairs in Africa, as countries such as France and the United Kingdom have almost always surpassed the country’s presence in the continent. Furthermore, Morocco is in a prime position in the African continent, according to the article, “…Where it could build amicable and economic relations with many countries.”

In return, Spain will use its deep-rooted relations with Latin America to give Morocco an economic entrance to the region.  Historically, according to MWN, Morocco has had trouble entering the region, thus it could benefit greatly from Spainish intervention.

Considering the historical tensions between the countries, this new agreement sounds like a step in the positive direction for relations between the countries.  On one hand, the deal also sounds like more of a one-sided situation, as Spain’s proximity to Africa definitely makes its relations with the continent more essential the than Morocco’s with the Latin American world. Yet, Morocco’s entrance into the Latin American world could also signify great economic success for the country, as the South American region is a large consumer in the phosphate market. According to Businessweek Magazine, Morocco is the world’s third largest producer of phosphates, and although phosphates are being produced in Latin America, there is a much larger reserve in Africa than in South America (the agriculture industry there is much larger than its phosphates industry); furthermore, King Muhammad VI owns more than half of the world’s phosphate reserves. (Article here: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_46/b4203080895976.htm)  The results of this agreement cannot be predicted until it has actually been reached, but it is clear that if such an agreement is reached, it could be mean a MAJOR increase in economic stability and job availability for Moroccans.

For further reading:  http://moroccoworldnews.com/2012/02/details-of-the-secret-agreement-between-spain-and-morocco/29172

Agricultural season in Morocco under threat

This article was written by Siham Ali for Magharebia in Rabat. Magharebia is an AFRICOM sponsored online news website dedicated to coverage of North Africa.  Since Oct 2004, Magharebia is the only regional website that publishes content identically in three languages: Arabic, English and French.

”]This article is about the recent cold snap in Morocco which is likely to reduce this year’s harvest. According to the Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhennouch, Morocco has seen temperatures as low as 6°C (42°F)  which has slowed crop growth around the country. In addition, rainfall levels are 60% below normal which has greatly affected sugarcane and potato production. The Moroccan government has allocated 110 million dirhams to support the struggling agricultural sector.

Economist Moha Zerouali reported to Magharebia that agriculture contributes to 20% of Morocco’s GDP and employs 40% of the national workforce. Poor agricultural yields will cause large perturbations in the Moroccan economy. The government had already revised its growth forecast from 5% to 4.3% for 2012 because of the projected reduced harvest. I hope that trouble within the agricultural sector does not lead to heightened unrest and continued protests throughout the country. With many farmers struggling this year, disillusionment with the King and government is likely to continue. This is unfortunate because Morocco needs time for the recent Constitutional reforms to take root and the affects to percolate throughout society. Reduced crop yields are likely to inflame farmers and prevent them from seeing any positive affects from the new reforms. Farmers’ feelings towards the government will be contingent upon the government’s ability to cover their losses and support the struggling economic sector.

To read more: http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2012/02/29/feature-03

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.

European Woes Spell Trouble for Morocco’s Economy

In the past Morocco’s economy has benefited from the country’s close ties to Europe. Currently, 2.5 million Moroccan migrants live and work in Europe. Moroccan migrant workers are generally based in France, Spain and Italy and work blue-collar jobs. Relatives in Morocco depend on whatever cash their relatives abroad can wire home. Remittances from migrant workers generate more revenue than Morocco’s top export, phosphate sales. The blue collar jobs held by many Moroccans are the most vulnerable to cuts when economies slow. This means that economic austerity in Europe is likely to spread to Morocco.

Morocco’s economy has  performed well during Europe’s debt crisis thus far. Part of the reason is the government’s increase in social spending to maintain political stability during last year’s Arab Spring. Finance Minister Nizar Baraka estimated this week that the economy grew 5 percent last year, up from 4 percent in 2010. Salwa Karkari, an economic expert and member of the parliament from the opposition USFP Socialist Union party said

“We have yet to see the full extent of the repercussions of the euro zone crisis on our economy.”

2012 looks to be a difficult year economically for Morocco. Around 60 percent of Moroccan export revenues are generated by trade with the European Union. In addition, 80 percent of Morocco’s foreign tourists come from Europe. The tourism industry  provides 400,000 jobs and 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Karim Tazi, chair of the AMITH, an industry lobby group said

“The forecasts for 2012 are not very optimistic…The conditions for 2012 should be more difficult. Exporters now have visibility only for the short term. France and Spain are our main markets.”

Economic troubles will test the power of the new constitution. Increased economic strife will fuel the protesters’ message and is likely to lead to more protests throughout the country. Morocco has managed to avoid a regime toppling revolution; however, economic disparity will continue to challenge the king and prime minister. The king and new government will have to work hard to maintain a level of satisfaction with their governance and economic policy.

To read more about the connection between Moroccan and European economies check out

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/17/us-morocco-europe-idUSTRE81G1X820120217

Source: Reuters

Violent Protests in Taza

Throughout the Arab Spring, there have been protests in which the Morrocan people have called for constitutional, economic, and human rights reforms.  On February 10th, the International Press Service released a story that detailed some of the latest protests that have occurred within Taza, many of which have been plagued by police brutality and violence.   While the Moroccan government has appeared to maintain a relatively calm political tide, the recent protests in Taza suggest that many Moroccans are all but content with the performance of their country’s government.  Yet, in order to monitor the drift of this political tide, it is important to understand the origins of this current civil unrest.

On July 1st, 2011, changes to the constitution were enacted which granted more power to the executive branch, while allegedly reducing the power of the monarch. These changes were granted in response to demands made by protestors throughout the country on February 20th, 2011, in an effort to maintain calm during a time of regional turbulence.  Furthermore, during the general elections of September 2011, Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane was elected while running on a partial platform of job-creation and economic reform. However, according to the article, almost nothing has been done to reduce unemployment throughout the country:

For instance, the promise to completely eradicate unemployment, which currently touches 19 percent of the working population, evaporated soon after his [Benkirane’s] appointment, giving way to a negligible decrease in joblessness of a single percentage point.” (IPS)

While the government determined that it would “completely eradicate” unemployment, it failed to present a viable way to do so. Furthermore, Benkirane’s promise to increase the minimum wage to 3000 dirham has been pushed back to 2016. Benkirane just presented his proposal to Parliament last month, and no increase to the minimum wage has been enacted, indicating that accomplishing the proposed goals has taken a backseat to creating the illusion of political calm.

As a result of this inaction, public opposition has been strong and incensed; in particular, recent college graduates have been protesting throughout the country, demanding jobs and economic reform.   On January 21st, 27-year-old unemployed graduate Abdelwahab Zaidouin set himself on fire at a political demonstration held by other graduates in front of the Ministry of Education in Rabat.

Three days later, Zaidoun died, igniting the current wave of violent protests within Taza; the most incendiary of which occurred on February 1st.

The new government violently quelled the protest, according to an eyewitness to the events:

“ ‘At first, the protests were peaceful. The police surrounded the city. They blocked Internet connections and cut off the telephone lines before beginning to club everybody,” he told IPS.’ ”  

The actions of the new government are a clear indication that the “Moroccan example” of political calm is not as true as it might seem; in my opinion, the Moroccan government has done a very good job of creating a front of political acceptance and tranquility, while operating with violence and indifference behind the scenes.  Although the government has decided to legislatively enacted changes, the Moroccan people have barely seen the results because the changes haven’t been physically acted upon. While preserving the Moroccan people’s civil rights and economic security might appear to be the new government’s number one priority, the recent use of violence to quell the Taza protests, and the government’s negligence in enacting economic reform, says otherwise.  It might appear that Morocco has a relatively calm political tide; yet, the new government is merely operating under a reputation bolstered by partial truths, and riding the resulting wave of international approval.

For further reading: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106714

Obtained from http://www.presstv.ir/detail/224713.html

Taza citizens clash with police during Feb. 1st protest

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

Morocco’s new govt targets 5.5 pct GDP growth

Morocco’s new govt targets 5.5 pct GDP growth

This article details the new government of Morocco’s plans to boost economic growth and create more jobs. Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane stated that the government is looking to target average economic growth to 5.5% per year during its 2012-2016 mandate. Benkirane also pledged to “ensure strong and sustainable economic growth that would help boost job creation” and reduce the jobless rate to 8% by the end of 2016 from 9.1% currently. Benkirane’s plans are optimistic but the employment rate he should be focusing on is the 21.9% unemployment of 15-24 year olds. This age group is the most volatile and largely responsible for catalyzing the events of the Arab Spring.  Increased unemployment of young graduates will lead to more protests such as those that occurred in Rabat in the end of January 2012.

I am afraid that Benkirane is promising too much and will leave Moroccans disappointed. This is dangerous in the politically charged environment of the Arab world. So far Morocco has not witnessed a violent revolution as in many other Arab countries. With this being said, the prime minister needs to be careful of the promises he makes because unfulfilled promises could spark a dangerous and violent uprising. The constitutional reforms of 2011 granted the prime minister new duties and it is up to Benkirane to set the bar for following prime ministers.

In the past, Morocco has capitalized on its proximity to Europe and relatively low labor costs to build a diverse, open, market-oriented economy. Since King Mohammed VI ascended to the throne in 1999, the Moroccan economy has been relatively  stable.  The economy has shown steady growth, low inflation, and government debt has generally declined. Improvement in infrastructure such as the new port and free trade zone near Tangier are increasing Morocco’s competitiveness in the international market. Morocco is the only African country to have a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Despite Morocco’s economic progress, the country suffers from high unemployment and poverty. Key economic challenges for Morocco include fighting corruption, reducing government spending, reforming the education system, addressing socioeconomic disparities, and increasing industry.

-Marissa Lynn

Recent Protests in Rabat

Unemployed graduate, Idriss el Ouali Alami, made a particularly poignant comment stating,  “There is no desire or will to change the situation. If there was a will, we would not be here. Why should we be blamed because we managed to study and have high diplomas? Why should our faith be thrown in the streets?”

Alami illustrates an increasing trend in Morocco and the United States– the unemployed of recent college graduates. With college graduation in the not to distant future, I can empathize with Alami’s complaints and frustration. However, I do not support the use of self-immolation that has become common practice in the Middle East after the Tunisian fruitseller set himself on fire when humiliated by the police. Self-immolation is too destructive and violent a means of expression one’s opinion.

The protests that began on February 20, 2011, made the Moroccan government aware of citizens’ increasing disenchantment with their nations’ economic and political practices. Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane recently gave an outline of the government’s plans to target national economic growth which in turn would boost employment. This illustrates that the government is looking to address the staggering rates of unemployment in Morocco which fall around 21.9% for recent college graduates. Reforms are also expected to come in housing and in education. After the Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won the majority of seats in  the late November election, I think that there is a good chance that national reforms will be implemented. King Mohammad supports such reforms and the PJD has promised to increase democracy and curb corruption. Stabilization of the Moroccan economy depends on a stable government. Hopefully, the government will listen to the voices of the people and look to institute policies that increase social welfare.