On March 11th 2004 Spain was the target of a series of deadly attacks which caused 200 deaths and left hundreds more injured. Young Moroccans are implicated in this crime. Moroccan extremism has cast a shadow across many attacks carried out throughout the world. Has Morocco become a base for international terrorism? But more importantly, how has a country known for its open-mindedness and seen as a symbol in the Arab world of the symbiosis of cultures and religions, produced young people capable of carrying out such crimes? Terrorism is an international and trans-national scourge which is feeding off the conflict in the Middle East and the frustrations of people wanting freedom, justice and recognition. Nevertheless, the root cause is unarguably misery, exclusion, and difficult social and economic conditions.
These factors, together with the policy of those in power to encourage over many years the emergence of Islamic movements to counter democratic opposition, contribute to explaining the phenomenon in Morocco. For a long time religion dominated education. Dogmas such as the impossibility of separating politics and religion in Islam were enforced. Schoolbooks served as vehicles for ideas which did not sit very easily with human rights. For a substantial period of time, the State refused to allow the teaching of human rights in schools. The years of repression damaged those who wanted progress and helped the emergence of Islamic movements. The absence of a clear and coherent democratic strategy increasingly cultivated frustration. Young people easily succumbed to radical Islamic discourse.
Nevertheless, Morocco has undergone significant development in terms of human rights:
- Several political prisoners have been freed.
- Family law has been reformed giving women rights. This reform is a giant step for Morocco, despite the ambient conservatism of its society.
- A ‘Justice and Reconciliation’ committee has been created. Its mission is to throw light on serious human rights violations since independence in 1956 and to rehabilitate its victims. The work of this committee should allow Morocco to turn the page once and for all from the dark years.
However, if progress has been made in terms of individual and collective freedom, social and economic rights are still lacking. Every year, hundreds of young people risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean in so-called ‘boats of fortune’ to reach the Northern shore. Social conditions are very difficult and the gap between rich and poor is continuing to widen. Economic growth was 4% in 2003*; the average in the last five years is 3.5% - less than other countries in the region and insufficient to lift Morocco out of its economic stagnation. In urban areas unemployment is officially 20%. It affects all parts of the population and doesn’t spare graduates - one in four is unemployed. The casual sector employs 40% of the population.
Absolute poverty affects more than 5 million Moroccans (it increased to 50% during the 1990s). Society is very unequal because 20% of the population monopolises more than half the country’s resources. At the other end of the social scale, 19% of Moroccans live below the poverty threshold. The gaps are widening – that figure was only 13% ten years ago. Ignacio Ramonet wrote in Le Monde Diplomatique in July 2000 that ‘the middle classes represent barely 5% of the population. In Tunisia the figure is more than 35%. A system of networking, nepotism, clans and closely linked families who prefer to give a job to an inept and incompetent relative than a well-educated young person from modest origins dominate in Morocco. Just as is the case for the Makhzen authorities, what counts most is loyalty and submission, not competence. That is why most young people don’t hold out any hope any more. They don’t believe in their country any more, or in political change or the revival personified by the young King who they view, incidentally, with sympathy. They only dream about leaving. Girls even more than men. A recent inquiry revealed that 72% of Moroccans wanted to emigrate. Amongst young people between 21 and 29 this figure reached a staggering 89%’.
On the political scene, despite the open-mindedness of the new King, Mohamed VI, the regime has remained a personal power. The King simultaneously has the control of all powers; he reigns and governs without fear of any form of criticism. The eradication of political parties and the crumbling of the political landscape haven’t helped find a solution to the Moroccan equation.
But Morocco is being called upon to reform its institutions and build a true State of law and democracy. The Western Sahara issue will weigh heavily on its future. In the current international context, broad autonomy for Saharans in a democratic Morocco would be a probable solution and could even be imposed by the United States. But the true stakes lie with the European Union. The Union must finally settle on and work at its policy. It must choose between more integration of the North African countries through development of the Mediterranean basin and leaving the region to look after itself with all the political and social risks that this scenario presents. On several occasions the EU has denounced human rights violations in Morocco. Such condemnations have contributed to increased freedom - but they have not brought about democracy and human rights which are essential since the economic stakes depend on it. However, the Association Agreement between Morocco and the EU stipulates in article 2 that ‘respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights inspires the internal and international policies of the Community and of Morocco and is an essential part of the present agreement’. Unfortunately, this article has had no effect on the Tunisian regime either; Tunisia continues to flout human rights with all impunity.
Even if the EU is generally full of good intentions, it lacks the necessary tools to put its policy into place. Despite intervention by Pat Cox, President of the European Parliament, to the Moroccan authorities over worries concerning the incarceration and condemnation of the journalist Ali Lmrabet who was prosecuted for his beliefs, Lmrabet was eventually freed thanks to American pressure…
* Figure according to the World Bank