Monday, April 8, 2013

Thousands of Moroccan youth take to streets

Labor leaders led a March 31 protest in Rabat against the policies of the current regime. (AFP/Fadel Senna)

On March 31, nearly 10,000 Moroccan youth took to the streets of Rabat, in an attempt to express their frustrations with the Moroccan government's failure to halt unemployment rates and counter high costs of living. Chanting "the people want to overthrow the government", peaceful protestors marched through the capital to rally in front of Parliament. The national march, led by the Democratic Workers' Confederation (CDT) and the Democratic Workers' Federation (FDT), organized to criticize Prime Minister Benkirane and the government's indifference to Moroccan citizens' longing for policy changes and economic opportunities. 

With nearly half of the Moroccan youth unemployed, they are becoming accustomed to an unwanted life of poverty and despair. Following protests in 2011, the regime in power has, more or less, gone unchanged and done nothing but offer empty promises to temporarily appease the people. With a state that continually dips its toes deeper into the raging, murky waters of economic uncertainty, where small businesses cannot sustain themselves, and 18 percent of Moroccans ages 25-34 are unemployed (Ali, AllAfrica), it is easy to see why tensions are rising and Moroccan citizens are resorting to protest.     

According to Central Bank Governor Abdellatif Jouahri, the budget deficit grew by 7.6 percent last year, due in part to an increase in the cost of subsidies, which hit 54 billion dirhams (4.8 billion euros) at the end of 2012 (Ali, AllAfrica). It is hard, indisputable economic truths like this that frighten and frustrate Moroccan citizens, especially the youth.

Although the governor of the central bank says that unemployment in urban areas has stabilized at a firm 9 percent, actual job creation levels are falling, hitting rural areas the hardest, with a 13.4 percent unemployment rate in these regions (Ali, AllAfrica).

If the government does not take steps to rectify the economy, specifically in urban areas, job growth is not a possibility and unrest will only spread. 

Economist Mehdi Sebbane says, in an interview with The Magharebia, that without government incentivized growth, the country's situation will only disintegrate further.

"If growth does not increase, Morocco cannot create jobs. The outlook for the agricultural season is promising. It could boost growth. But this will not be enough," Sebbane says. "Structural deficits must be prevented from worsening, otherwise the situation could deteriorate."

Occupying the youth: Al-Qaeda eyes Morocco for recruits

One problem with a growing, ostracized youth population in Morocco is finding ways to keep them occupied, in positive ways. According to African Federation for Strategic Studies head Mohamed Benhammou, these youth can easily fall prey to radical groups or ideologies, such as Al-Qaeda.

“These young people can feel ostracized, they don't have much to do and are beyond all hope: they end up in a life devoid of education and possibilities. They can therefore easily fall prey to radicalization and violent fundamentalism," Benhammou says (Ali and Lahcen, The Magharebia).

Given Morocco’s proximity to Europe, Al-Qaeda has set its sights on Morocco as a safe haven for jihadists fleeing war-torn Mali, causing Morocco to tighten security near its borders with neighboring Algeria. Recently, jihadists have been circulating video footages showing Moroccan recruits carrying weapons and fighting in Syria and Mali. The jihadists use the footage in order to promote and publicize their activities in Mali and Syria (Al-Awsat).
Recently discovered jihadist recruitment network in Morocco brings Mali crisis close to home. (AFP)

Earlier this year, Moroccan authorities arrested several networks that were recruiting and sending fighters to Mali and Syria from Morocco (Al-Awsat), whose goal was to recruit young Moroccans who were willing to embrace jihadist ideas, in order to send them to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) camps. While some Moroccans worry Al-Qaeda's influence is growing within Morocco and their youth is becoming incredibly susceptible, other Moroccan sources, including the Moroccan government, feel Al-Qaeda's influence is minimal within Morocco and that Moroccan security is well-equipped to face Al-Qaeda.  

What many in Morocco can agree on is the focus should be on occupying the youth.
The Moroccan government is working to alleviate idle times of youth by boosting state sponsored cultural and sporting centers. According to the ministry for youth and sport, projects already in development include 120 youth clubs, fifteen new cultural centers and four new holiday camps (Ali and Lahcen, The Magharebia), all of which will serve nearly 300,000 youth

If the Moroccan government is unwilling to address its dire economic situation, this is at least one positive step toward lending a helping hand to Morocco's youth. 

Works Cited

Al-Awsat, Asharq. AllAfrica. 26 March 2013. 8 April 2013 <>.
Ali, Siham. AllAfrica. 2 April 2013. 8 April 2013 <>.
Ali, Siham and Mawassi Lahcen. The Magharebia. 5 April 2013. 8 April 2013 <>.
Qasserras, Mohamed Amine. Morocco News Tribune. 1 April 2013. 8 April 2013 <>.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Morocco's pro-democracy movement has been working in an interesting under-the-radar way for the past two years. I think the low level of civic education and lack of democratic political history are large contributing factors to the regime's survival, and historical and cultural legacies of the monarchy as a very well-liked regime perpetuate preference falsification. Nevertheless, the regime has been torturing prisoners (, pushing back against artists calling for democracy (, and is dealing with some very interesting politics regarding prostitution ( Issues like these, among many others, show cracks in the supposedly well-liked monarchy's power.

    At the Conference on World Affairs "Arab Spring: Identities in Revolution" discussion today, the panelists asked each other which regime yet relatively unscathed by the Arab Spring is looking the most vulnerable. Panelist Willow Wilson (an American journalist who lived in Cairo 2003-2008) responded "Morocco" because of economic and social issues. She could be right.

  3. Sounds like a lot of the same problems going on in neighboring Algeria. Although protests may be nonviolent for the time being, if things don't change it is only a matter of time before the violence begins. I do agree that the development of youth centers and camps is a step in the right direction and shows that the Moroccan Government recognizes how important the youth are to the country's future.

  4. This case of Morocco is interesting in various ways. From this article and from the class discussions, the issue of youth unemployment is central to the Arab Spring protests; but according to this entry, the labor movement is at the front of the protests in Morocco, which hasn't been emphasized as much in other countries. Makes me wonder what kind of influence left/labor groups may have in the future of Morocco and the MENA region more openly, as it seems to be a movement that has lost much momentum compared to the past.

    In regards to Al-Qaeda wanting to establish a base so close to Europe, the proximity makes me think of the situation in Spain. Is there any possibility that protests in Morocco could jump the handful of kilometers across the Straight of Gibraltar? The youth economic situation is surprisingly similar. High levels of youth unemployment, dissatisfaction with a government increasingly out of touch with the people... Although there are obviously differences between the two countries, it would be an interesting example of diffusion.