The Moorish Wanderer

Wandering Thoughts Vol. 5

Posted in Flash News, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on January 13, 2011

Do allow me to try something different here. Less tiresome, and a bit more entertaining. On second thoughts, let’s make entirely irrelevant.

Boredom. Humanity's worst enemy

I would like to talk about Tunisia and Algeria, but then I refrained from it. I mean, they deserve every bit of my sympathy, and I feel I should be showing more solidarity, which would not exceed re-tweeting videos, articles and comments followed by the hashtag #sidibouzid. I feel contrite because deep down, I grew insensitive of sufferings our neighbours are going through, and even to the effects of creeping authoritarianism in Morocco. When events over take the cloistered intellectual, the ivory tower, as it were, looks cosier than ever. I’m elaborating on that later on.

I don’t know if it’s the weather, or my latest readings that got me in such mood. Or both. In any case, I have little to write about (not really, I am taking my time in posting), so it’s going to be the regular “Review for 2010”. I mean, we’re still in the first quarter of January, so there’s no harm in keeping up with the new year’s eve spirit. A couple of events I found interesting:

Early January, I remember I did something rather unusual, namely trying to hear the King’s speech on the radio. I usually watch it on the telly (when I am in the presence of one, that is) or I would just wait for the next day, and I can get the transcript and exhaustive, lauding comments. But January, 3rd was special. As it turned out, it wasn’t quite so. But the veneer of ‘mystery communication’ around it (His Majesty usually delivers speeches on National holidays) managed to capture an additional auditorium. January 2010 was therefore the kicking start of a nation-wide discussion about local government in Morocco. It seems the official in charge of the commission is about to publish his findings (and sum up what political parties and the civil societies have communicated themselves) What kind of  de-centralization are we up to? Sure, there was the Local Government bill in 1997, but it had the adverse effect of strengthening the Interior department’s grip. And it is virtually impossible to forecast anything beyond a redrawing of administrative borders. To be followed (and announced)

March was a bit of a surprise to me: as it happened, I was working on the Bloomberg screen, and for those who hadn’t the opportunity to use it, there’s a kind of a telex with flash info, among which Standard & Poor’s was upgrading Morocco’s sovereign debt to Investment Grade. It was good news, in the sense that our country risk profile was improving, and at a time when money is short. Later on, it turned out the upgrade had a positive effect on the bond issue on June. In financial terms, the upgrade was good news. But like all news, there’s a blessing but also a curse looming by. In terms of macroeconomic variables, Morocco got through painful adjustment policies. The macro-economic variables that are referred to here are mainly of public policy: the sustained trend in reducing public debt and the efforts in keeping under control, as well as the low levels of inflation achieved (among others, by freezing wages). These policies were carried out over two decades (adjustment program plus the alternance government since 1997)

Late May, our Communications Minister had to bear the shameful behaviour of his son in public space, at a time our Radoteur en Chef was busy leading the charge against the independent press, or indeed doggedly promoting the official line of ‘Morocco: an isle of stability and democracy’. Now, the child’s misbehaviour should not reflect on his capacity as a father. Politics is about higher matters. The trouble with Prof. Naciri is his dirty mouth: he  is only too willing to do the regime’s bidding in disparaging the press. When newspapers like Al Massae got hold of the story, that was tit for tat, web-citizens were very resentful as well and when the story broke out, there were some pretty acrimonious comments about our valiant minister.In a nutshell, Naciri Junior had a driving dispute with a regular citizen, and assaulted him with a baseball bat near Parliament Avenue. The trouble is, a video was snatched. I assume that was him carrying back his son who was handcuffed to the Parliament fence. Regular citizens obligingly walked them back to the car…


June, the effect of S&P upgrade got us money. Big money at good terms, considering how volatile the capital markets were at the time. € 1.bn at 4.5% is a good deal – even Greece or Portugal couldn’t levy such amount at such interest rate. Now, it appears the government has not started preparing schemes for spending the money, and instead, the Office des Changes is passing liberal legislation that would just allow for more hard currency to get out of the country. As if Bank Al Maghrib had unlimited foreign reserves, or did not have to sustain pegs against Euro. Ultimately, there’s a chance this money would be squandered into non-productive spendings (I had information the government is experiencing cash difficulties at the time)

November was hot in the Sahara. It started as a peaceful, apolitical protest against abysmal economic conditions, endemic corruption and the like -just like elsewhere in Morocco- but amateurism on behalf of the officials ensured the protest to turn political and provide ammunition for the Polisario. If I may, security officials are as guilty as those who killed -quite gruesomely- elements of the security forces. On the communications front, once more media coverage proved that it’s high time some high-minded PR professionals are needed to advance Morocco’s claim. On my book, things look like a game of chassé-croisé: every year, one of the two sides pulls a trick, scores some points, but ultimately no one further their claim, and a durable peace settlement seem more than ever, unlikely.

So, let’s get back to the Tunisian case. If there was a country in the MENA region that was unlikely to host a popular uprising, it was Tunisia. a Police state that made extensive use of the small area and denizens. A totalitarian state, in the sense that repression was micro-managed, where spaces of free expression are so tightly squared, and occasionally squashed when they dare expand. And a month ago, the myth of the ‘Tunisian model’ as it were, came tumbling down. That’s good news, because it might prompt other neighbouring people to chance a revolt. Not that it does not entail costs (among other, 20 to 50 dead following sources) and risks of reprisals. But then again, Tunisians reached that tipping point, beyond which it matters little if the truncheon blow was painful or not. In many ways, the uprising just shows people are not entirely submissive in the MENA region.

Tunisian Army APC in Gafsa. (Picture: nawaat.org)

That said, I still have doubts about the outcome. There are reports the army is moving in, and even rumours of the Ben Ali household preparing exit strategy. Until there are occurrences of Army and Police mutiny and fraternisation with demonstrators, the whole thing would be at best a change in leadership but not in the regime, at worse, God forbids, a bloodbath.

While they deserve every bit of sympathy, I don’t necessarily relate to them. Partly because I am far away in a cosy place, but also because one cannot help but try analogies about Morocco, the great: “what if ?” as it were. And that’s the trouble: there’s considerable resentment among the Moroccan people; no need for forensic analysis there, one just need to enumerate the number of protests, sit-ins, demonstrations and so on. What happened in Tunisia could also happen in Morocco. The trouble is, our country is larger, and from past history, large-scale riots always end up with the army cleaning up the lot. Perhaps soldiers would be less willing to shoot fellow Moroccans, but still. The prospect of a revolt in Morocco  is not at all engaging.

On the other hand, we cannot go on like this. Someone, or something has to lance the boil: Morocco is growing richer, but there’s a widening gap in income distribution, growing resentment against social injustice, institutionalized corruption, endemic cronyism and so on. Because the outcome is too violent to bear, I get to the craven decision to retire back to my ivory tower (talking about the West Wing or Georges Smiley for instance) because the world does not make sense, or if I try to figure it out, at the end of the line, the unknown is mixed with chaos. I am defaulting on my role as a would-be organic intellectual, but sorry, I’ve got better things to get to.  Proving that there’s a subgame perfect equilibrium in determining monetary policy, for instance.

Oh, I’ve just received ‘Zombie Economics‘ by J.  Quiggin, PhD. My tutor recommended it as a good reading. I should post something about it once I’ve finished it.

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