Morocco – protest repressed

Summary: leaders of the 2018 protests in the Rif jailed. Teachers’ protest peters out. Morocco is not Algeria.

On 5 April an appeal court in Casablanca confirmed sentences of up to 20 years imprisonment on leaders of al-Hirak al-Sha’bi (the popular movement), the protests at economic and social conditions last year in the impoverished northern Al Hoceima province following the crushing to death in a garbage lorry of a fishmonger (our posting of 2 July 2018). A total of 42 were jailed including the leading name Nasser Zefzafi. There were shouts of protest at the sentence, and on 21 April some hundreds or according to other reports thousands protested in Rabat calling for their release.

Young teachers staged a weekly protest from late February in front of the education ministry demanding job security and civil service benefits for those on renewable contracts, again numbering hundreds or according to a Carnegie report thousands. They reportedly decided to suspend the protest during talks with the ministry, but on 25 April water cannons were used to disperse them, reportedly injuring about 65. We have seen no further reports of demonstrations.

According to government figures unemployment has eased to 10%, compared with 10.5% last year. 152,000 jobs have been lost in farming and fisheries – farm incomes are volatile, depending on rainfall, which has been poor – but the losses were offset by 144,000 new jobs in services, 4,000 in industry, and 19,000 in construction. A government target of 8% unemployment by 2021 seems unlikely to be achieved.

On 25 April the government announced a new social deal agreed with employers and the main unions, with a 10% increase in the minimum wage (except the agricultural sector).

Morocco’s reluctance to take sides in the Qatar vs. four dispute (our posting of 12 February) appears to continue; the history of the relationship is considered at link. In mid-April the UAE Ambassador was recalled, “abruptly” according to a NewArab (pro-Qatar) report, following a visit by the Moroccan Foreign Minister to Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia (but not the UAE). At the end of April a new Qatari ambassador was appointed.

Several commentators compare and contrast recent events in Morocco, where protests appear to have been effectively repressed, with Algeria where mass protests continue. The difference in scale of protests is striking; in Morocco hundreds or thousands, in Algeria hundreds of thousands. The most interesting analysis we have seen is by the Moroccan journalist and publisher Ahmed Charai writing in (of all places) the Jerusalem Post. Some key points which he makes:

  • Unlike Algeria Morocco experienced major demonstrations in the 2011 Arab Spring, calling for reform but not regime change. A new constitution, elections, and the entry of Islamists into government opened a channel for change.
  • The Moroccan monarchy is centuries old and its legitimacy is not disputed.
  • Algeria and Morocco have to work together to combat terrorism (and one might add the closed frontier makes unnecessary problems for the people).
  • Therefore the Western Sahara issue must be revisited.

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