The #Rif and the Moroccan State’s Economic Pressure Cooker
Although these demands were drafted to respond to the concerns of the Rif, they echo similar ones carried by social movements throughout #Morocco. The #Hirak emerged from similar economic injustices found throughout the wide margins of the Makhzenist state, the neglected “backlands” that actually constitute the vast majority of the country. It should come as no surprise then that their movement has spread more easily to villages and towns in the Atlas (Central Morocco) and Asammr (Southeast) than to the former colonial metropolises (Rabat-Casablanca). Vestiges of colonialism, roads and train lines point to these wealthy urban centers, taking capital, raw resources and cheap migrant labor from the margins in return for remittances, “development” aid and weak tourism.
In these epicentres of Moroccan capital, business goes on as usual. The neoliberal war waged on the poor rages on, encouraged and facilitated by institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. Today, the state works diligently to meet the requirements of their international debtors, beginning to sketch out the grounds for a new social contract. “It is time for the state to take its hands off certain sectors, like health and education” declared former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane at the African Bank of Development’s 2014 conference, “the role of the state should be limited to assisting private operators who wish to engage in these sectors.”
Indeed, the state has began to savagely privatize the education sector, making the 1984 fee hike of $5 appear miniscule. In the last few years, public elementary and secondary schools have been closing left and right. According to a report by militant organisations, 191 have closed in Casablanca and Rabat alone between 2008 and 2013. Those that remain are seeing overcrowding with some classrooms sometimes holding more than 70 students. Meanwhile, students at public universities will begin to pay subscription fees and graduate students will begin to pay tuition.
Public health has also been undermined with the state completely disengaging itself from the sector — no new public hospitals are planned, increasingly fewer doctors are employed and equipment is rarely purchased or renewed. Instead, the state works in favor of expensive private clinics which escape regulations and controls. Public water and electricity services have also been privatized, with the public National Office for Electricity and Potable Water (ONEE) seeing entire cities taken off its grid, its tax-funded infrastructures given almost for free to foreign multinationals like France’s Suez Environnement and Veolia.
#Privatization has meant increasing costs across the board, while the minimum wage has remained low at $250 per month. And that’s if you’re not part of the 10.7% that is unemployed, reaching 25.5% amongst younger Moroccans. Meanwhile, higher costs of rent, subsidy cuts on fuel (with more to come on other basic goods) and increasing costs of living in general have ravaged both proletarian and middle class households. Even lentils, considered the food of the poor, have almost tripled in price from about $1 to almost $3 per kilogram.
Yet, it is not difficult to see why the state has so fully embraced these #neoliberal policies despite the anger they provoke. Rampant liberalization of the public sector has generally meant its recuperation by multinationals owned by the private Societé Nationale d’Investissement (SNI), the royal investment holding: from mining corporations like Managem, to banks like Attijariwafa Bank, to real estate giants like Addoha.
Cracks in the Pressure Cooker
In this context of capitalist predation, the uprising in the Rif should be seen as a justified expression of the popular anger which has been boiling both, under and over the surface for decades. But the last decade demarks itself as a period of unprecedented proliferation in social, political and even environmental movements. According to sociologist Abderrahman Rachik Social, labor-related protests and strikes have shot up by 200% since 2012, while the totality of protest actions in the country have gone from 700 protests in 2005 to 18,000 last year.