Moroccan king announces plan to promote social, economic equality

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Article Summary
As Morocco's king marks 20 years on the throne, he's preparing a plan designed to aid the poor, largely through education.

CASABLANCA — Morocco is taking action on unemployment, King Mohammed VI said recently, stressing the need to develop a social protection program and enhance education, especially vocational training.

Speaking Aug. 20 on the 66th anniversary of the Moroccan revolution, the monarch said the government is ready to select a commission to reduce social and economic disparities. One way to do this, he believes, is by emphasizing education. He wants priority placed on vocational education over academic and university programs.

He said, “Passing the baccalaureate exam and going to university is not a privilege but a phase in the education process. It is even more important to receive training that opens up prospects for professional integration and social stability,” Morocco World News reported Aug. 20.

However, such job prospects look dim. Higher Planning Commission figures from May 2018 showed unemployment among vocational school graduates reached 26% in 2017.

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A new development model is needed because of deteriorating conditions. Morocco has suffered setbacks in the political, human rights, social and economic arenas, with protests igniting in multiple parts of the country. There have been demonstrations over jailed activists in the northern Rif region, protests over water scarcity in Imider and Zagora in the south and marches in Jarada in the northeast.

What has led to these declines? At the political level, most parties are struggling with internal conflicts that are using up what's left of citizens' trust.

At the economic level, the worsening budget deficit and national debt have affected productivity and the quality of public services and utilities, especially in the education and health sectors. The poor have been affected disproportionately.

One obstacle to approaching parity among citizens is the imbalance of power in managing the country’s political affairs. The late Driss Benali, who was a prominent economics professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, said in 2011, "In order to bring about a just distribution of wealth, societal pressure is required. This is why a democracy based on power and counterweight [to state] power is intrinsic. There is no need for us to form consultative committees.”

Looking back over Mohammed VI's rule, there were signs at the beginning of his reign in 1999 that he wanted to move away from the oppressive methods of his predecessor and father, King Hassan II. He toured Morocco advocating help for marginalized groups and was nicknamed the “king of the poor.”

He soon dismissed his father's Interior Minister Driss Basri, who was accused by political and human rights organizations of gross human rights violations. Basri was called Hassan II's "iron fist" during his repressive rule (1961-1999), known as the "Years of Lead."

Perhaps to ease his son's transition, Hassan II had appeared to soften in the last years of his reign, and in 1998 agreed to a rotation government chaired by socialist Abderrahmane Youssoufi. This government was still in place at the beginning of Mohammed VI’s rule. However, after the 2002 legislative elections, he appointed Driss Jettou, who had no political affiliation, as prime minister in a move that critics predicted would end the democratic transition process.

Today, eight years after the Arab Spring and 2011 constitution, the executive body is still subject to royal prerogatives. Speaking to Hespress in March, Abdullatif Wehbi, a leading figure of the Authenticity and Modernity Party, said Jettou in effect had abandoned his powers as head of the executive body.

Mohammed VI has implemented some humanitarian ventures, but with questionable success.

In 2004, the Equity and Reconciliation Commission was set up with the goal of investigating human rights violations under Hassan's rule and making sure victims received reparations. The experiment, a first in the region, fell short: Victims’ documented testimony provided a factual account but did not include the names of the perpetrators. Some human rights activists warned that failing to prosecute human rights violators would lead to a culture of impunity.

In 2005, under Mohammed VI's watch, the National Human Development Initiative for Morocco was launched to combat poverty by setting up income-generating micro-enterprises.

However, in 2013 the Economic, Social and Environmental Council reported on the project’s defects: low productivity and profitability, poor governance and no continuing support for the enterprises. These problems eventually contributed to the UN Development Programme ranking Morocco 123rd in its 2018 Human Development Index

As for the king's record regarding freedom of expression, there are still notable violations. Some media outlets have been closed for good, such as the Demain magazine in 2003 as well as Nichane and Le Journal, which both closed in 2010. Following the Arab Spring, increasing members of the press were arrested and prosecuted, including journalist Ali Anouzla in 2013, editor-in-chief of Badil.info Hamid el-Mahdaoui in 2017 and Taoufik Bouachrine, editor-in-chief of Akhbar al-Youm newspaper, in 2018.

Economist Najib Akesbi, a public policy professor at the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine in Rabat, gave his take on the situation during a 2018 seminar at the pro-democracy think tank Abderrahim Bouabid Foundation. He said, “The current political regime has made decisions without taking into account the community’s needs or correlating responsibility and accountability.”

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Found in: Education

Amine Belghazi is a freelance journalist and video producer based in Casablanca. He holds a master's degree in international finance.

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