And Now We Go to Morocco…

Is the Moroccan King Mohammed, a member of the Alaouite dynasty ruling the country already for three and a half centuries, indeed a direct line descendant of the Prophet Muhammad? Even if it is so, now the people of Morocco are on the streets and squares from Marrakesh to Casablanca. And we’ll see more of them in the coming days, protesting against the way the country is governed. Yet one must acknowledge that in case of this Maghreb nation of 32 million people (as many as Canada) over the last two decades certain political and economic reforms have been carried forward, going much farther than in other Arab country to the East. They have introduced a system of a parliamentary monarchy and enabled the government to exercise more sound policies than, say, in Egypt or in Saudi Arabia. But there is still long way to go.

GDP per capita, estimated on purchasing power parity, PPP, is still below 5,000 dollars, i.e., slightly less than half of the world average. PPP implies that the average Moroccan income can buy, taking into account the Moroccan level and structure of prices, as much as one can buy for 5,000 dollars in the USA. On the current market exchange rate it is around 3,000 USD. Still worse, the income distribution – although less disproportionate than in the 1990s – is quite unequal, what is seen by many as unfair. The Gini coefficient (the higher, the less equal distribution; 0 implies total egalitarianism, at 100 one takes all, leaving nil for the others) stands at 41, what indeed reflects large disparities of income, and hence the standard of living. Unemployment is not high as for an emerging market economy standard and hovers around 10 percent. Indeed, it is lower than in Poland, but we don’t have a king to demonstrate against, nor is our income distribution that bad… (Gini for Poland is around 36). In fact, the Moroccan unemployment is much higher, because many, especially young people, which are not working, don’t register and don’t count as jobless, yet they should. As a result of the lack of job opportunities, low average income and its unequal distribution about one sixth of the population lives below the poverty line. At the top of all of these maladies the graft and corruption is another cause of people’s anger.

However, I’m much more positive regarding the way forward for Morocco than in the case of either Libya or Yemen. The people seem to be more pragmatic, the institutions a little bit more sound, and governance somehow more accountable. That gives a chance for a sensible way forward for the Moroccan people, their state and their national economy. The greatest risk is that the current political turmoil may be exploited for the purpose of provoking “patriotic” feelings among Moroccans, if only the people of West Sahara, the country partly administered by the Rabat authorities, will take to the street too, requiring both, independence and social progress. And they will. That calls not only for a peaceful and cooperative response of the Moroccan king and his government but for careful management of the crisis by the international community too. Especially Spain, of which Western Sahara used to be a colony until 1975, and the European Union should not wait and act on time.