Lahcen Achy, economist at the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, looks into the economic situation in Morocco: A disturbing observation.
Maroc Hebdo International: Do you believe that Morocco is safe from the possibly contagious events of Tunisia and Egypt?
Lahcen Achy: What happened in Tunisia and Egypt is no new phenomenon. Popular uprisings have already taken place in Eastern Europe and Latin America not so long ago.
In Morocco, the ruling regime, namely the King, has garnered undeniable popular legitimacy. To avoid any popular dissent, Morocco must now undertake a number of reforms towards more balanced power sharing. The executive authority, namely the government, must have broader powers. The Parliament must fully play its oversight role by monitoring government actions. The judicial authority should be more unbiased and autonomous by distancing itself from the other two authorities. The governance system in Morocco has to evolve in the right direction to guarantee more rights and more equality to Moroccans.
Maroc Hebdo International: The Moroccan government has recently adopted economic measures to subsidize a number of food staples (sugar, oil, flour etc.). In your opinion, are these measures adequate?
Lahcen Achy: I do not think that increased subsidies of food staples can be sufficient to satisfy the grievances of the Moroccans. These subsidies not only benefit the poor, but all social classes, including both the rich and the richer. This encourages a poor distribution of wealth, thus leading to blatant social inequality. Moroccans, just like Tunisians, Egyptians or even Jordanians, have other major concerns in life such as securing a stable job which guarantees their dignity and reasonable purchasing power to live decently. Citizens also need a place to live with their families in peace and dignity. Arab peoples, including Moroccans, aspire to more democracy and freedom. Political grievances usually overshadow economic grievances.
Maroc Hebdo International: What do you think of the economic situation in Morocco?
Lahcen Achy: The Moroccan economy is generally doing well. The government has managed to uphold a number of macroeconomic indicators, namely inflation, controlled at around 2%. The 5% economic growth in Morocco is also interesting compared to other countries of the region.
However, there are still certain structural problems preventing Morocco from stepping into the world of truly emerging economies. Unemployment, namely youth unemployment, is constantly on the rise, while the education and training system remains below expectations. If economic reforms are to be undertaken soon, they should focus on employment and education in the first place. While Morocco has successfully overcome the global economic and financial crisis, it faces today a profound social crisis. It is further dangerous as it directly affects Moroccans. The upcoming years seem to be even more difficult than previous years.
Maroc Hebdo International: Exactly. Morocco is expected to face a very difficult year with the soaring prices of raw materials worldwide. Do you think Morocco will succeed in its stake?
Lahcen Achy: It is up to the current government. I believe, however, that 2011 will be very difficult, as you mentioned, because of the soaring prices of raw materials, namely oil, which has exceeded more than 100 dollars per barrel.
The upcoming year will also be difficult because of the increased subsidies. When will the Moroccan government stop bearing the difference between the real price of products and their market price? Fourteen billion were allocated to the Compensation Fund for 2011 while predictions are based on 30 billion. Where is the rest to be found?
There is also the public debt. Morocco has recently borrowed one billion Euros on the international financial market. All these figures ought to weigh down on the budgetary deficit.
Maroc Hebdo International: What do you think about political practice in Morocco?
Lahcen Achy: There is today a real problem of credibility in the official and political discourse. Young people have no faith in officials or in lifeless political parties. I believe political practice in Morocco is deficient.
Maroc Hebdo International: Would you say that political life needs to be revamped?
Lahcen Achy: I am not sure about that. But Moroccan political parties are not playing their role anymore, i.e. guiding citizens and rationally managing public affairs.
If Morocco has managed to organize somehow transparent elections, how can we explain the weak voter turnout? The government, political parties and all civil society actors must seek to answer this question. Today, citizens and politics are estranged.