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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

A Falling State: On the Daily Increasing Poverty Rate in Morocco

Poverty Rate in Morocco
Moroccans confined at home thank the authorities from their windows as security forces and health workers instruct people to return to and remain at home as a measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Rabat’s district of Takadoum, on March 25, 2020. FADEL SENNA / AFP

Ali al-Ajeel

Whoever contemplates the severe social and economic differences between Moroccans will know the nature of future challenges this country faces in the long and short term.

While wealthy Moroccans live lavishly, millions of the poor live in slums, deprived of the necessities of a decent life.

The wide gap between the wealthy and the poor in Morocco exceeds the present and overshadows the future of impoverished Moroccan children.

According to the CIA and the World Bank, a fifth of the Moroccans lives near the poverty line, translating into 6.3 million people being denied access to basic needs. This reality results from this country’s firm social, political, and economic foundations.

The country of broad disparities

Two-thirds of Morocco’s poor are concentrated in distant rural areas. They encounter several major challenges, as vast regions in these rural areas aren’t sufficiently supplied with water and electricity due to substandard infrastructure.

Besides the long distances that must be crossed to reach the designated joint wells, rural areas’ residents suffer from many problems derived from said primitive water wells. Also, agricultural production is entirely dependent on water availability.

Adding to their suffering is the inadequate transportation network, which hinders many Moroccan children from reaching their schools. Not to mention the migration of the young people who occasionally don’t find an exit from this affliction except by pursuing better luck elsewhere, in a big city.

Education plays a critical role in one’s life, as it mostly settles people’s future and forms the mentality which guides their lives. Hence, the disparity in quality education leads to an unequal opportunity in the individual’s fate in all life aspects.

Like other Arab countries, Morocco has approved all the international treaties that advised non-discrimination in education; it also included it in the constitution. Despite that, the reality of education in the kingdom shows enormous disparities in access to quality education, as academic success rests on social class.

The wealthy families’ children receive a better education in private schools throughout their lives. They learn foreign languages at an early age. When they reach high school, their parents can afford to enrol them in pricey institutes and universities outside and inside Morocco, seeking quality education.

Hereafter, they choose the most prominent specialities in the labour market like medicine, business management, and engineering, which, inarguably, enhances their chances in life and thus preserves the status of their elite families. This cycle repeats itself indefinitely for generations.

As for the poor children, they settle for public schools if found near their residence. Usually, these schools witness a severe lack of quality in their educational environment, particularly when compared to private institutions, especially international ones.

The schools the poor attend usually suffer from over-crowdedness, chaos, and under-qualified teachers, not to mention inadequate academic content. When these students are in college, they choose less socially celebrated specialities, such as literature, and study in universities with limited success potential.

Accordingly, the Moroccan schools perpetuate social inequality in Moroccan society. The wealthy children receive better education, which eventually leads to a more luxurious life financially and intellectually. In contrast, the poor education that the deprived receive amplifies their low status in society.

One Million Job Opportunities Not Attained!

Poverty Rate in Morocco
Morocco’s Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch speaks during the High Level Segment session of the One Ocean Summit in the northwestern France port city of Brest on February 11, 2022. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

Comically, the Moroccans still recall when the National Rally of Independents party presented its electoral programme. Before the 2021 legislative elections, Aziz Akhannouch, the party’s leader and current Prime Minister, promised citizens to create 1 million job opportunities.

A few days following those promises, Akhannouch’s party topped the election results. However, he has not lifted a finger since then.

It was evident when Moroccan society was waiting for his intervention to rescind the Minister of National Education, Preschool and Sports, Chakib Benmoussa’s decision regarding the requirements for hiring professors and academic staff.

The decision subjected professors’ and academics’ files to selective criteria, setting the working age at 30 years, not to mention giving a greater opportunity to professional license graduates from faculties of educational sciences at the expense of fundamental licence holders. Despite the strikes and vigils sparked by Benmoussa’s move, and the great controversy it caused, Akhannouch did nothing but defend his minister.

Thus, while the Moroccans were waiting for the promise of 1 million jobs that respond to people’s needs, the Prime Minister has so far issued only some political projects that would only deepen class disparities.

A good example is the Urash programme, which aims to conclude temporary contracts coordinated by civil society associations, enterprises and cooperatives.

It is primarily intended for those who have lost their job due to the COVID-19 pandemic and people who do not find work despite their qualifications, which led many to consider emigrating.

The king of the poor, or the one responsible for their misery?

Critics do not view Mohammed VI as “King of the Poor,” the title he has requested for himself since assuming the throne in 1999. Instead, “the one responsible for poverty,” according to the regime critic and writer Abdellatif Laabi. In this context, Laabi said that the king “runs his country as if he were running a multinational corporation that aims to increase shareholders’ wealth.”

Laabi’s theses support the scandals published in a 2012 book titled “The Predator King.” According to the book’s authors, Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent, the king and those around him “are profiting from the Moroccan national economy, using quasi-mafia methods, and they hardly care about the public interest.” Due to the fact that the book raised sensitive issues for the ruling family, it has been banned from circulation in Morocco since its publication.

According to an article by Marianne magazine, the Moroccan monarch ranks fifth among the world’s richest kings in 2021, with a fortune of $7.5 billion. The French magazine said that this matter is directly related to the Moroccans suffering from poverty, as they will remain so for as long as their king enjoys all this wealth, while they do not have the right to be rich. Even the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the Moroccan economy as much as the king. During the pandemic, King Mohammed VI purchased a 1,000-square-meter mansion worth 80 million euros in Paris.

The king of the poor’s wealth continues to grow day by day, despite the tragedies of the Moroccans and the problematic social situation resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and the repercussions that followed. The hashish profits continue to stream into his accounts with official protection. He also holds a 40 per cent stake in the holding company La Société Nationale d’Investissement, which owns a controlling stake in the largest bank in the country. In addition, he has shares in the Attijariwafa group, which is a mining company and one of the largest agricultural manufacturers. All while his investments and institutions generate billions externally and internally.

Debts Loop

Morocco’s external debt has increased rapidly in recent years. In 2016, the external public debt did not exceed 312 billion dirhams. However, this debt began to take an upward turn year after year, as it jumped during 2017 to 332 billion dirhams. After it decreased in 2018 by about 6 billion dirhams, it rose in 2019 to 340 billion dirhams. In early 2020, external debt rocketed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, rising by more than 34 billion dirhams, exceeding 370 billion dirhams. In 2020, it constituted 34.4 per cent of GDP, compared to 29.5 per cent in 2019.

International donor institutions are on the top of Morocco’s creditors, with 49 per cent of the total public external debt, followed by creditors from the international financial market and commercial banks with 27.8 per cent, then the EU countries with 16.2 per cent. In contrast, Arab countries’ share of Morocco’s external debt does not exceed 2.8 per cent. The treasury’s foreign debt currency basket consists mainly of the euro with 59.4 per cent, followed by the US dollar with 34.8 per cent.

The financial effort undertaken by the state to face the repercussions of the pandemic crisis exacerbated the public budget deficit and raised the public debt to an unprecedented level.

Economist Najeeb Aksabi says: “The country has entered into a debt loop, since the government borrows every year, not to direct them towards investment or pay expenses that would push the economy forward, but rather to pay what it owes from previous debts.”

Aziz Akhannouch’s government has recently faced enormous social anger due to high prices and fears of deteriorating conditions, given the severe drought that threatens a weak return on the agricultural sector, the most important to Morocco’s GDP. The hashtag “Akhnoush leave” and “No to high prices” ranked high on Twitter in recent days in the Kingdom.

Parliamentary opposition parties and consumer protection associations have recently called on the government to take urgent measures to protect the purchasing power of Moroccans and control prices.

Morocco is betting on raising public and private investment to achieve a growth rate of more than 6 per cent annually by 2035, to get out of this impasse, hoping that this will actually work.

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