Moroccan Graduates Step Up Protests Demanding Jobs

Article Summary
The standoff between the Moroccan government and young, unemployed graduates has continued to escalate, with youth movements occupying the offices of Rabat’s ruling party to unfurl banners demanding jobs. Nadia Bensalam reports on the tough task job seekers have in Morocco, where protests rarely affect swift change.

The tug-of-war between young unemployed college graduate and the Moroccan government continues, with indications that it will carry on for a while longer.

There is a lack of common ground upon which an agreement can be forged between the two parties, whose positions have grown more extremist than ever before. Civil-service enrollment examinations have been ongoing since last summer, but have been boycotted by young unemployed degree holders who never relinquished their activist ways, and who considered the examinations to be rigged and said they lack transparency. They demanded that jobs be granted directly on an individual basis.

At the same time, the government has denied that anyone boycotted one of the largest enrollment examinations that took place at the beginning of last July to fill positions in the education and training sector.

In related news, a well-organized and speedy takeover of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party’s headquarters occurred last Monday in the center of the capital Rabat. This represents an escalation in actions carried out by the unemployed, which usually target — in addition to the ruling party’s headquarters — public institutions and ministries.

Dozens of unemployed college-degree holders of both sexes surged toward the party’s headquarters, crowding around the building and spreading through its courtyards. Swiftly and nimbly they climbed to the roof of the building, declaring that they had occupied the place by unfurling banners carrying their usual slogans.

They were demanding immediate employment. The occupation did not last long after security forces arrived on the scene to disperse the protesters. But the message had reached those it was intended for; there would be no compromise on the demand that public job vacancies be filled directly by the institutions themselves.

This was the first time that these activists had stormed the party’s headquarters since it had assumed power to protest its policy of insisting on enrollment examinations. They had previously stormed the headquarters prior to the government’s formation, a month after the Moroccan monarch appointed the party’s secretary-general as prime minister. The latter found himself surrounded by a number of activists who ate their Ramadan evening meals on the sidewalk beside his home, in protest of his appointment.

These unemployed youth, who consider themselves intentionally deprived of jobs — and who hold the government wholly responsible for finding them work — have been waging their desperate battle on the streets for years. They have been demonstrating in the capital, as well as in many other cities where they have established coordination committees.

They decided to join the February 20 political and social movement, receiving, at its onset, promises that jobs would be granted directly and on an individual basis. These promises were meant to defuse the protesters’ anger during the previous government’s reign in order to gain time, allowing it to amend the constitution and hold early parliamentary elections that led to an Islamist opposition party coming to power.

But the militant struggle currently faces two main hurdles. The first lies in the significant decline of the influence of the February 20 movement, and the second in the current government’s strong rejection of the logic of exercising pressure through street action in order to guarantee receipt of government jobs.

This is in addition to its insistence on the implementation of the Public Employment Law, which, in the movement's opinion, does not differentiate between a minority of unemployed university graduates who are demonstrating in the streets, and the majority of young people who sit on street corners or look for alternative self-employment options. In the current job market, 200,000 new graduates find employment every year while less than 100,000 non-graduates do the same.

The current prime minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, had previously held his predecessor responsible for “forcing the state into implementing a system that blatantly contradicted the law. This occurred at the end of his mandate just before the elections, when the government announced the lifting of the condition that applicants must pass enrollment examinations in order to receive public-service jobs.”

He considered this move to be “a manipulation of the law that the government had itself passed,” and said that it “contributed to an atmosphere where job seekers did not possess equal employment opportunities. Furthermore, it forced the government into a vicious cycle where it had to hire job seekers under pressure, as a result of hundreds of university graduates joining the ranks of the movement demanding direct employment on an individual basis.”

When legal arguments do not seem effective in convincing the protesters, the prime minister never misses an opportunity to inform them of his personal views regarding the issue of labor and employment. On the occasion of the launch of an online public-sector employment portal last July, aimed at instilling the principles of equality and merit-based opportunities in the sector, he declared that he did not believe that employment in the public sector should be viewed as a “source of livelihood,” stressing that his advice had succeeded in convincing a number of people who decided to seek jobs elsewhere.

It is obvious, though, that those demanding to receive public jobs resent such advice and, just last week, promised to step up their protest movement.

Found in: unemployment, protests, rabat, morocco, demonstrations, arab spring, arab

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