1990s >> 1997 >> no-1110-february-1997

At the crossroads

Of all the Arabic countries, Morocco is the nearest to Europe. It is just 16 kilometres south of the southernmost tip of Spain, across the Straight of Gibraltar. But immediately you step off the ferry from Algeciras, at Tangier you know that you are no longer in Europe, but in North Africa.


After 44 years of “protectorate”— that is colonial rule—Morocco became independent of France and Spain on 2 March 1956. The Hizb el-Istiqlal (Independence Party) and a number of other pro-nationalist groups, but excluding the Parti Communiste Marocain which was also pro-nationalist, had achieved their aim. The PCM. being good patriots, supported a constitutional monarchy and the reunification of Morocco with Mauritania; but this did not stop the Moroccan government from dissolving the PCM in September 1959. Morocco has been ruled by King Hassan II since 1961.


About the only kind thing that can be said about Morocco is that it is a “guided” bourgeois democracy, where opposition parties (but not “subversive” parties) are generally tolerated —and where Islamic fundamentalists have not, as yet, resorted to the kind of violence witnessed in adjacent Algeria. In Morocco the king rules with a Parliament, in which two-thirds of the deputies are elected by universal suffrage. and the remaining third are chosen by an electoral college of local councils, professional groups, employers’ organisations and a few “tame” trade unionists. The iron fist of the state is generally covered by a velvet glove, although when I was there in 1981, I witnessed students who were demonstrating against the deposed Shah of Iran, who was in the country at the time, mown down by machine-gun fire from Moroccan troops.


French influence is still strong, although less than in the past. Nevertheless French companies have been responsible for much of Morocco’s industrial development. Politically, however, Morocco has. and has had, other less transparent allies and friends.


In 1948, there were about 200,000 Jews living in Morocco: and up to Moroccan independence in 1956, 100,000 of them had left for Israel. But following independence, the new Moroccan government gave in to pressure from other Arab states, and forbade emigration to Israel. However, MOSSAD organised secret escape routes bribing Moroccan officials. In 1961, Israel asked France and the United States to intervene with the recently crowned King Hassan II. The king needed Western support, and so quietly co-operated with Israel, thus allowing more than 80,000 Jews, who wanted to go to Israel, to leave the country. Although Morocco was a member of the Arab League, and officially a supporter of the Palestinian cause, it nevertheless established close ties with Israel. MOSSAD helped Morocco organise its secret service; and in 1965, did Morocco a favour by assisting the Moroccan secret police assassinate their dissident, Mehdi Ben-Barka. Morocco and Israel, sometimes with Egypt, have quietly co-operated ever since.


In 1977 Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan UNITA nationalist leader, backed by South Africa and the United States, travelled to Morocco, where he met King Hassan. From Morocco. UNITA obtained a secure external headquarters in Rabat. Morocco offered Savimbi military training facilities, near Marrakech, for up to 500 men at a time; and Morocco provided UNITA with arms, and other military equipment, most of which came from the United States, over a period of many years. In 1981, Savimbi and other UNIT A rebels met senior State Department officials in Morocco to discuss United States plans for Angola. Morocco has, since independence, been a loyal but subordinate ally of the United States; and the CIA has always had a strong presence in the country.


Economic problems
The Moroccan economy has suffered severe drought in recent years, which has badly affected the predominant agricultural sector. Indeed, agriculture is still dominant. It is the principal source of employment, accounting for half the working population. Most of the farms are not economically viable, with only one percent of the farms having more than 125 acres. Most of the rest are under eight acres.


Since 1993, the government has been involved in a massive privatisation programme of what was largely a state-run, dirigiste, capitalist economy. Banking and foreign currency regulations have been lifted. From the capitalist viewpoint, the Moroccan government claims that it is a success story:


“International fluctuations in commodity prices have led the government to build up a more diversified economy by reducing reliance on agriculture and mining. It has been largely successful since the mining sector’s share of GDP had declined steadily from 5.3 percent in the 1970s to 1.8 percent in 1994. Manufacturing has increased its share from an average 16 percent in the 1970s to almost 18 percent in 1990-94 period. The sector’s share of total exports has jumped from 20 percent in 1986 to about one-third since 1992” (“Images”, Observer, 22 December 1996).

However, the economy is estimated to have contracted by five percent in 1995.


And how has this affected the majority of the people of Morocco, the workers and the peasant farmers? The Times (26 December) reports that unemployment is 20 percent, with those under 30 years of age suffering unemployment of more than 40 percent. Fifty-one percent of the population are still illiterate; and the per capita income in Morocco, North Africa’s poorest country, is just £800 a year.


All this has resulted in thousands of poverty-stricken Moroccan would-be workers “illegally” going to Spain. Scores of them are detained every week, reports the Times. Last summer, 50 Moroccans were apprehended each day in Spain; and 1,300 were detained in June alone. Just how long it will take them, and many others, to realise that escaping the miseries of one country, Morocco, for the miseries of another, Spain, will not solve their problems, we cannot say. All we can say is that they will not solve them, in Morocco or elsewhere, within the framework of world capitalism.


Peter E. Newell