#Feb20, Driss Ben Ali, Moroccans For Change, Morocco, Protests

Professor Driss Ben Ali on Morocco and #Feb20 – English Transcript

Professor Driss Ben Ali offers a detailed analysis of Morocco’s sociopolitical landscape, highlighting its successes, failures and opportunities. He offers a roadmap on how to tackle the challenges ahead and avoid eminent disaster. 
” On Economic Development and Wealth distribution:
Regarding the issue of economic growth, let’s use the example of Tunisia. What happened in Tunisia? The growth rate was fine. Tunisia was mentioned as a model. Its growth rate was around 5%. The Moroccan growth rate is 3.9%.  Tunisia was certainly considered the regional model. Suddenly it collapsed. Why is it?

The problem is as follows: Economies are not only about production, distribution is just as important. In Tunisia, production was indeed available. However, as far as distribution, Ben Ali and his family controlled all the wealth. Therefore the real issue is specifically an issue of distribution, regardless of your economic policy and production strength.

This happened several times in history. The last time it happened, it was in Iran. Under the Shah, the growth rate in Iran was 10%. They used to say that the Iranian economy would become the second Japan in Asia, yet, it collapsed! And the Islamic revolution took place. Therefore, when economies reach a strong growth rate, we start noticing social inequality. If our production policy is not accompanied by a policy of distribution, the consequences would be disastrous.

What is the main principle in economics? The principle is that our programs and policies are designed around social coherence, which requires that the inequality gap is not dangerously wide. When we speak of big projects, sure we have some great projects, but Morocco faces two main issues:

One, the legacy of Hassan II. When Hassan II passed away, 60% of Moroccans were illiterate, 5% lived on less than 2 dollars a day, 42% lived in extreme conditions. Therefore, the balance was very negative. During the mid-nineties, the campaign to fight poverty started.

In the last ten years, there were some efforts. Rural areas had better access to water and electricity. Under Hassan II only 12% of rural areas had such access. Today, we have reached 75%. Rural areas now have roads and better access to hospitals. Before, rural areas were completely marginalized, which resulted in rural exodus. Urban areas began to resemble rural areas. So, yes, the nineties witnessed a policy of poverty eradication, in addition to the implementation of the National Initiative for Human Development.

From the outset, this was a good initiative. However, the funds invested in this initiative were not very significant: 10 million, a drop of water in a big ocean.

Second issue: Big infrastructure projects don’t generate immediate returns. In the meantime, if the country does not have a policy of distribution, it will fail. Look at the Feburary 20th protests, which cities encountered violence? Tangiers and Marrakech. These are in fact the two cities that witnessed the highest growth rate. These are also the two cities where the inequality gap is widest. It’s no surprise that the acts of violence happened in these two cities. This is a good indicator to take into account.

A fair distribution of resources, requires pressure.

To reach a fair distribution of resources, the society has to exert pressure. What is democracy founded upon? Power and counter-power: that is the only way to limit power. Otherwise, look at all these countries that experienced uprisings. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya: the presidents treated their country’s wealth as their own, because there were no limits. None held them accountable.

In our societies, we have not yet adopted the culture of evaluation. We need to evaluate all the government projects. Not just monitor the projects, but also evaluate their effectiveness. Monitor what is being done, and evaluate the results. This is nonexistent in our societies. Therefore, as soon as individuals are elected to a position and attain some power, they start acting as if power were a property. They begin to put their families and cronies in key positions. We then find ourselves faced with an economy of rent-seekers.

What is an economy of rent seekers? It’s when you have a revenue that doesn’t generate an added value, an economy that is basically non productive.  We are faced with parasites that live on someone else’s account. In our country, some people don’t work, yet they own a few license agreements that generate a good income (licenses to operate cab and bus companies provided by the king on an arbitrary basis). Some enjoy licenses to fish, others are granted licenses to sell alcohol. Who goes out to work in black markets? The ones who don’t have any of the above. At the end of the day, you find yourself in an economy built around parasites.

What a waste! Production is weak. Consumption is high, and each person is looking to take advantage of another. The economy does not generate wealth that benefits everyone. Those who do generate wealth are faced with high taxes. Entrepreneurs are the only ones who pay taxes, others don’t. People working in the black market don’t pay taxes. The black market constitutes 25% of the Moroccan market….and people in power don’t pay taxes either. So how do we create a coherent society? How do we create a strong and large middle class, a fundamental requirement to build a coherent society? How do we ensure political stability? It is not possible to have political stability without a strong large middle class, more transparency and the end of the economy of rent-seekers. This cannot be achieved through advisory councils. No, these are achieved through an authentic social pressure. The government should be held accountable, and the society should be in charge of monitoring. In a democratic society, everyone is held accountable, which explains why democratic societies harbor the most successful economies.

The position of business:

With regards to the current protests, some businessmen displayed opportunism. Some displayed vision and understood that the political landscape is changing, and that we need to adapt to a new reality. Others have shown courage and voiced their opinions on critical issues. But most importantly, during the last decades, we have lived in a very opaque environment.  We don’t know where some wealth came from. Those who are wealthy are often closely linked to power. Let us not forget that when Mr. Shami, the head of this Organization, voiced his disagreement with the government, he was hit with unprecedented taxation. In the end, they silenced him.

It is true that we may not be living in the “years of lead” anymore. However, we are living through another kind of years: they may let you speak, but they come back and bury you under taxes, fines, until they break you. They did it to the media. They did it to outspoken people like Chami for instance.

Currently, there is one businessman who is very outspoken and courageous: Mr. Chaabi. He is a brave man who went out to participate in the protests. At least, he has shown that some businessmen are still independent from political power. It seems like he really built his wealth, therefore he is not as worried as the others who didn’t support the call for change. But in general, businessmen are closely tied to power, and have profited from this position.

So yes, we have some that are not worried and pretty independent, and others are taking a wait and see position, with the idea that they can still align themselves behind the winners. It is a strategy that the social scientist Jacques Berque largely discussed. But in general, I believe that the Moroccan society should be built upon new reforms that provide the people with the mechanism to monitor and hold the government accountable. For the society to achieve this goal, they have to organize and create institutions and political parties, unlike the parties that we currently have. We need independent political parties with programs and responsible, accountable leadership. We critically need these reforms.

Post Feb20 scenarios:

The first scenario: optimistic. This wave of protests is valued and met with the necessary reforms. So far, the protests were positive and the protestors didn’t call for the toppling of the regime. This is good, especially if the regime also realizes that the time to introduce real reforms has come. Everyone will benefit. The regime will modernize. The people will achieve self-determination. The economy will greatly benefit. Morocco will go through this phase without being confronted to a political storm that could destroy everything in its way. In fact, our country may even prove to be a winner from these uprisings. We would become a regional model that was able to avoid a revolution by introducing the right reforms. We will enhance our regional record of stability and reforms, and our capacity to adapt to changing environments.

The second scenario- and I hope it doesn’t happen- is that none listens to the people, and we remain in the paralysis that’s been affecting us for so many years. This paralysis of course is not sustainable. Let us be aware, whether in the short or long term, reforms are inevitable one way or another. I hope we don’t do it the wrong way, in which case everyone will suffer. Let us not forget that we need reforms, not chaos, because we are still facing the issue of the Sahara. I hope that Morocco will not go through a disastrous political phase. I hope that our move forward is based on real reforms and not on band-aid reforms. 

Tanslated by M4C from Darija (Moroccan Arabic) to English



15 thoughts on “Professor Driss Ben Ali on Morocco and #Feb20 – English Transcript

  1. Democratic nations do not occupy neighbours. As long as the military occupation of Western Sahara is maintained Morocco can not become democratic. The Western Sahara is the main issue, like it or not. Any diagnosis that keeps silent about the fierce repression in the Western Sahara is of very little use.

    Posted by van kaas | March 5, 2011, 10:45 pm
    • The Sahara is Moroccan territory; the current presence of the military there is in order to maintain law and order (which is logical considering that the claim that tries to invalidate Morocco’s ownership is still alive on life-support, still casting its shadow on our nation) in addition to preserving the Kingdom’s geographical integrity, which are the responsibilities of a responsible state not to mention the virtues of any organised civilisation. The Polisario and their tutors in Algiers stand for nothing but criminality, oppression and the blood-letting of the dissenter (what else are they known for). Democracy cannot be claimed by these two wicked, and inshallah soon-to-be-vanished gangs of rats, this will be certain fact once the inevitable Arab Revolution hits these sons of bitches in the back of their necks in severance. Those that deny that the Sahara has been a constituent of the historic Moroccan World in the first place, have been paid to be imaginative as such, or are people of levity.

      Posted by haq | April 28, 2011, 5:04 pm
      • It is a pity to see how people use emotional wordings and in doing so block proper communication.

        My question for you: If the Sahara is Moroccan, if Saharawi’s are Moroccan – how come you show no respect at all for your fellow countryman? It is obvious you do not like Saharawi’s. You just claim their territory. That’s all.
        Now I have some news for you: according to international law the occupation of the former Spanish Sahara by Morocco is not a liberation but an illegal occupation. No country in the world, not even France supports your claim.

        Posted by van kaas | April 29, 2011, 3:56 am
  2. Western Sahara is a construction of Algeria. Read your history books, and check out the real borders of Morocco. Tell me this: if Western Sahara is a country, why does it not strech across all the Sahara, that is including South Algeria? Get your facts straight, Shame on the Algerian and polisario tryans for sequestrating families in Tindouf and for their human rights abuses! Would Algeria call Tindouf the new capital of Western Sahara, just call it Sahara while you are at it.

    Posted by Moroccan | March 7, 2011, 8:22 am
  3. My dear Moroccan, Western Sahara is not an Algerian construction, but first and for all a construction of European colonialism. It was the Spanish Sahara and since Spain left we call it Western Sahara. The borders are recognized by the world, except by Morocco. Another fact: the capital of Western Sahara is El Ayun. Tindouf is an Algerian city although the Morocco tried to occupy it in the Sand War. In Tindouf the international community cares for the Saharawi refugees who fled the Moroccan terror.

    The story is clear and simple: Morocco invaded the Western Sahara and should leave. For Moroccans it is not a simple affair but a very very complicated one because of the censorship and the propaganda which constructs animosity with Algerians.
    One question for Moroccan: if you want democracy for yourself, why would you not grant the Saharawi the democratic right to choose their own future in a referendum ?

    Posted by van kaas | March 7, 2011, 11:02 pm
    • Please go further back into history to begin your argument. Spain was the invader, it stole the Sahara from Morocco during colonisation. Once Spain left the land, Morocco recovered this lost territory. Remember the reality of the Green March; did that effort really constitute an avaricious, trespassing force?
      The real borders–the borders of dominion–are right now as they should be.

      Posted by haq | April 28, 2011, 5:20 pm
  4. I know where Tindouf is: It was a sarcastic suggestion! Western Sahara is not recognized internationally: That is pure propaganda. During independences, the communist bloc mainly Cuba and Algeria worked together to lobby other communist aspiring African nations to support the polisario. Algeria is investing millions of dollars to sustain their product: polisario. Sahraouis in Tindouf has asked to come back to Morocco: they are in fact prisoners of Algeria not refugees. Oh and by the way, Western Sahara is not recognized as a country by the United Nations, nor is it recognized as a country by the United States. In fact, the polisario was recently slammed at the UNSC for their barbaric attacks on civilians in Southern Morocco. Oh and, the prisoners in Tindouf are uprising too, asking to be freed from their Algerian torturers. Spain left our South. We claimed it back. The plan of autonomy proposed by Morocco is acceptable to the UN, and key members of the UN security council. But Algeria doesn’t like it…you know why. I don’t have to explain this detail to you.

    Posted by Moroccan | March 7, 2011, 8:58 pm
    • The borders of Western Sahara, odd as all borders may be in the desert, are internationally recognized but the Western Sahara is not recognized as an independent state. This is different with, for instance, the borders of Mauritania; these also found international recognition but Mauritania was rapidly recognized as an independent state. Mauritanians declared themselves independent from France as did the Saharawis from Spain. The difference? I do not know, do you?
      The independent Mauritanians occupied the south of Western Sahara in 1975 without recognizing the Saharawi independence. The result was violence and problems. Mauritanians realized they had made a mistake pretty quickly, compared to others, and withdrew.

      Dear Moroccan, the Saharwi people in the Tindouf camps are not prisoners, they do not live in a prison but in refugee camps which are well maintained with the help of the international community and the host nation Algeria. Probably it is not your intention but your statement that the refugees “are in fact prisoners” is an insult to the international community. But if you insist that you are right you should demand that somebody sends a human rights monitoring team to the camps. And, by the way, don’t you think it could be useful if that team also would look into human rights issues in the whole of Western Sahara?

      You are right about the uprising in the camps for democratic reform and against corruption. I read about it at Afrol.

      Posted by van kaas | March 9, 2011, 5:42 am
  5. It’s really sad to hear our Algerian brother talking this way about the Moroccan people and calling us oppressive and racist. However, he forgot to mention that we the Moroccan people are the one that helped the Algerians get their independence from France. Although we obtained our independence first, we refused to be greedy and try to split the pie to our advantage.

    Posted by reda mansouri | April 10, 2011, 5:00 pm
    • Did your Algerian brother really call the Moroccan people oppressive and racist? When and where? Everybody can hear the Moroccan people talk about the regime in Morocco as oppressive and racist.

      Posted by van kaas | April 12, 2011, 7:18 am
  6. You the Algerians if don’t even have an internal democracy, how you going to talk about other countries democratic system. You have been under the control of your army generals and its emergency law, since your long struggling independence, that you couldn’t do it yourselves.
    So get your independence from your own army government first, then talk about the west Sahara liberation from Morocco

    Posted by reda mansouri | April 10, 2011, 5:10 pm
  7. Van Kaas, nobody has hatred for the Sahrawi people except the Polisario, that is the only party ignoring their hostages’ humanity, restricting their movement–on pain of torture! and death!–to a portion of North Africa that is the most unfriendly to human biology and spirit(Tindouf). As for the Saharawi that is safely within Morocco, they live as any Moroccan–in the north and the south. They are our brothers, outwardly and inwardly.
    If we can deligitamize/bring to full light the Polisario claim–and we can do precisely that with no effort–then, there is nobody that can seriously and legitimately contest the Moroccaness of the Sahara. So we should then focus on the Polisario organisation’s level of moral authority along with the extent to which they reflect the Saharawi people. No one on the other side wants to do that because they know best that the Polisario, in practice, does not concern itself with democracy nor does its chief supporter–both in fact have a worse record than Morocco! Honestly people, this self-determination noise is all just a con, clothed in Enlightenment and humanitarian values. Morocco and Algeria are wasting huge amounts of money and effort over this issue–who benefits? Let the accountants establish where all that money is going (for the “expert help”, the weapons, the bribes ect). Look at Algeria! It has the potential to lead North Africa with its natural resources and courageous people. By God, this whole effort is beneath our regions dignity.

    Posted by haq | April 29, 2011, 11:49 am
    • Haq, I think you are right to consider dignity as an important matter in this case.
      But I do not think Algeria is losing as much money as Morocco does on the dispute, or the Saharawi who of course are the real losers for a long time now. I think Morocco will benefit tremendously economically from a military withdrawal out the territory. Imagine what kind of relief that will be.

      The Frente Polisario is a Saharawi organisation acting as representative of the Saharan people wherever RASD is not recognized. You can say they are not democratic but it is upon the Saharan people to decide about that just as Moroccans have to deal with the level of democracy of the Moroccan court/government.

      Your claim about the ‘Moroccaness of the Sahara’ is not correct. The International Court of Justice has decided about that.

      I am glad you feel no hatred against Saharawi people. They are good folks and have a legitimate claim. Their president asks your king for the release of prisoners and to be informed about the whereabouts of missing people. This is a respectful request and should be answered in my opinion. See: http://www.spsrasd.info/en/detail.php?id=17428

      Posted by van kaas | April 29, 2011, 6:03 pm


  1. Pingback: #Feb20 Timeline – What Next Morocco? « Moroccans For Change - March 26, 2011

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