The Moorish Wanderer

Bleeding Marrakesh and The Rise Of Authoritarianism

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on April 28, 2011

These are trying moments. Truly horrifying, not only for the immediate victims, but for coming days and weeks.

According to official sources and newspapers, the explosion in Arghana Café (Marrakesh)  that occurred today at noon (local time) was the result of a criminal bombing. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of victims (about 14 dead and 20 wounded following the latest reports at 0308 local time) may they find comfort for their losses.

If indeed the hypothesis of criminal bombing is verified, this smaller-scale May 16th bombing is going to be a roadblock for the ongoing democracy debate, and might even turn out to be a good argument to actually shut down pro-democracy dissidence. And even though it is too early to say one way or the other, it is too much of a coincidence such operation (in a well-guarded tourist city like Marrakesh) should occur amid the ongoing debate on democracy, the constitution and its balance of powers, and finally the latest release of Islamist prisoners. I wish I did not indulge in conspiracy theory frenzy, but this ring of coincidences is too better to contemplate.

Café Argana, after the explosion (Picture Le Journal Du Dimanche)

These are trying times because out of experience (whether in Morocco or elsewhere) the voices of democracy, the proponents of open society concepts are immediately shut down in favour of a behaviour I like to describe as ‘rally behind the flag’, a behaviour that could sometimes lead to crypto-fascism. I don’t know if the regime has what it takes to be plucky and carry on with the constitutional debate, but I think all pro-democracy protesters can kiss goodbye to this flourishing freedom of speech we have been enjoying these last couple of months. The trade-off between security and liberty -though a fallacious one- becomes more attractive to the many, and more worrying, to the decision-makers.

As a matter of fact, the trade-off is redundant, the choice is already made, and to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin we have already chosen security and we are about to lose both (if not already). We know only too well the security apparatus: they try to make up for their incompetence and start rounding up the usual suspects; Whatever guarantees that ‘everything will be done by the book’ mistakes will be made, and the infamous Temara torture complex will be back to business in no time.

Can I indulge in some fancy conspiracy theory nonetheless? What if a rogue security element in the Makhzen apparatus was behind this? I mean, it’s not like security services have a virgin history of covert operations. It could very well be some manipulated individual who detonated his bombing device. Didn’t the services manipulate the group behind the 1994 Marrakesh bombings? or the assassination of left-wing and trade-union activist Omar Bendjelloun in 1975? Wasn’t a prominent Human Rights lawyer sued for gainsaying the official version of May 16th?

To whom does all this benefit? How is it possible that Marrakesh, perhaps the most secured city in Morocco (both because of its tourism activity and the large residing foreign national community) could be subject to a terrorist attack? Where are the police and security forces?

An official communique asserts that all police and court investigation will be carried out within the law. These signs of good faith could go further and lead to the resignations of Marrakesh Police Chief Mohamed Badda, that of Charki Draiss (head of Police Forces DGSN) and the Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui; They are after all, the top echelon responsible for security, and that bombing, if it turns out to be what they claim it to be, is a rebuttal to their competence. Times like these could be turned around and actually strengthen democracy, and not weaken it.

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Monopolies That do no Good to Morocco

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on April 23, 2011

Moroccan capitalism is quite strange: the rule of law is (usually) ignored, politics matters more than economics, and the invisible hand Adam Smith has been so keen to promote is, in a Moroccan context, holding a sturdy truncheon beating up 80%  of the Moroccan households. And yet, it fails to improve the lives of these 80% the same way it does to the 10-20%. Something is going terribly wrong.

Does it sound extreme? Well, not so much when one considers the economic structure of our private sector: private businesses that contribute most to the economy are not small businesses, nor do they innovate one way or the other. Instead, they are a curious mix of direct inheritance of colonial influence, i.e. large monopolistic companies in vital sectors, and hastily privatized public companies (many of whom were nationalized French property after 1956) abusing their dominant position (and benefiting from close political connections). Let us consider the following numbers to buttress this claim: following each company’s financial statements, the top 10 businesses (following their respective non-consolidated Net Income and EBITDA) in Morocco contribute to 10% of private Gross National Income in 2009. In contrast, they contribute only 3.65% of total private GDP (that is 3.17% of total GDP in 2009).

ISIN Company Private GNI Private GDP
MA0000011488 ITISSALAT AL-MAGHRIB 3,79% 1,57%
MA0000011926 ATTIJARIWAFA BANK 2,19% 0,76%
MA0000011512 DOUJA PROM ADDOHA 1,27% 0,13%
MA0000012031 LESIEUR CRISTAL 0,67% 0,05%
MA0000010597 LAFARGE CIMENTS 0,64% 0,31%
MA0000011835 BMCE BANK 0,61% 0,11%
MA0000011058 MANAGEM 0,29% 0,00%
MA0000011884 BCP 0,27% 0,19%
MA0000011850 DELTA HOLDING S.A 0,21% 0,04%
MA0000010969 AUTO HALL 0,06% 0,19%
ONA (Unconsolidated) 0,02% 0,30%

© Moorish Wanderer

This marked discrepancy between generated income and actual contribution to wealth creation is typical in monopolistic economies; even though there is no need to dwell on the sub-optimality of monopolies, it is worth noting that theory and evidence do confirm the salient characteristics of such market structure: monopolist agents enjoy high profits (or higher compared to those they would expect in a more competitive economy) but their own position compromises a number of exchanges, thus destroying value in the long run. This rather simple argument should not be disparaged, as it strikes a blow to the myth surrounding large companies in Morocco: their economic model does not serve the common consumer, nor does the economy benefit from in the way it is being advertised.

In fact, the argument goes beyond the criticism of private monopolies: it also claims that they do no good to the economy – either because their destroy value, or when they do create it, it is rather distributed in dividends to an already wealthy elite rather than invested to the greater (and mutually beneficial) good of the whole economy: short-sightedness, greed, rapaciousness and corruption are, unfortunately, the trademark of Moroccan capitalism. But then again, are we really in a monopolistic economy? Indeed, the top ten companies contribute a relatively substantial amount to the national economy, but that might just be due to their intrinsic structure; They might be, in their respective sectors, the only companies large enough to capture large scores of their markets. But such hypothesis also assume that in their respective markets too, these companies are monopolies, or shall we say, in an mitigated version of colluding oligopolies; Fortunately, there are some interesting tools designed to determine precisely whether these companies, and some of their competitors are indeed monopolies. Once the claim is verified, the second argument, that of the discriminating dividend policy should conclude to the need of breaking up these monopolies, and get competition going on, to the economy’s and the consumers’ benefit.

We shall put aside the Lerner Index, mainly because it is such a precise tool that we cannot put it to use; this index assumes a perfect knowledge of consumer elasticity, an assumption challenged by the multiple pricing these companies have on their respective sets of products, and by the difficulty to convene a clear pricing rule. Subsequently, we shall use another tool -that proved reliable as far as The United States Federal anti-trust authorities like the DoJ and the FTC use it to measure market concentration; the Herfindahl Index is going to be the starting point of our investigation.

The index is relatively simple to build; it basically sums the square of each company’s market share, thus giving additional weight to the larger companies; Consider IAM and its competitors as an example; Following the regulatory body ANRT’s figures, on all IT sub-sectors, the three main operators (or shall we say, the only three operators) have it all: they can price the market by discriminating the low and high types, they charge the highest possible fees (and accordingly, capture all consumer surplus) and their profits and income levels defy all senses of economic rationality. Regarding the landlines segment, this ANRT study says that:

Sur la téléphonie Fixe : Malgré des tarifs en moyenne 50% plus élevés que ceux pratiqués en France, la dépense par salarié au Maroc (2 932DHm/an/salarié) reste comparable à un pays comme la France (2 500DHm/an/salarié).” (p. 15)

To put things in perspective, the European Union’s standards consider the French fee levels in landlines (and more generally speaking, in IT) as too high; The Moroccan consumer (whether business or private) is, in effect, paying 50% more than possibly the most expansive market in the EU or the OECD only shows how strong market power is in the telecommunications sector. As a matter of fact, a group of bloggers did put on-line a collective post denouncing the abusive charged fees in mobile lines and internet access, let alone the mediocre quality of provided services. ANRT even recognizes that, over some segments, there is oligopoly (with very high concentration); where our respective analysis diverge, is that Internet Service Providers market is considered ‘open’ perhaps because of the more diverse set of offers (but seems to overlook the supply concentration nonetheless).

We observe the following market structure for all 4 main telecommunications sector: 3G, land-line, mobile line and internet. We retain the number of subscribers so as to measure the impact of concentration on consumers’ welfare:

ITSPs 3G Mobile Land Internet
IAM

44%

50%

34%

57%

Meditel

21%

33%

5%

16%

Wana/Inwi

34%

17%

66%

26%

 HHI Index    0.359            0.388      0.547       0.426  

 © Moorish Wanderer

(March 2011 Figures) We note the unusually high concentration in the HHI index (a 0.25 is usually considered a fairly high concentration index level) and that is not mainly due to the number of providers (indeed, with three competitors, the lowest HHI level would be 0.33, and all sub-sectors are way above that threshold. This also contradicts even the ANRT claim about ISP market to be fairly competitive. Before I conclude on that particular sector, let us consider the kind of concentration each sector embodies: land and internet sectors are even more concentrated than 3G and Mobile; Save for infrastructure issues, the main reason for this peculiarity is the concentration of low-types consumers. I should perhaps delineate this distinction between Low types and High types; it has to do with each consumer’s valuation; A Moroccan consumer subscribing to a mobile service is usually a high-valuation type, while pre-paid users place a lower valuation (due to a lower income effect) on the same service; I suspect marketing departments at IAM or Meditel (or even Wana/Inwi) understood that, and so charge high fees to the low types (thus the weird and discriminating fee structures)

I posted some months ago on the market structure of banking sector too; Again, the claim can be re-verified: though Banking HHI is lower (0.23) compared to the IT sector, it is still too high for a real competitive market (even more so on some banking segments, specifically the real-estate loans and their returns) and enable us to draw similar conclusions on the banking market structure: too concentrated, an oligopoly where each company prices like a monopolist.

The trouble with this oligopolistic structure (and both examples apply with similar outcomes to the retail distribution and consumption sectors) is that is sucks up nearly all consumer surplus to the monopolies’ own benefits (typically, this surplus transfer is simply a high price, high enough to dwarf any consumer feeling that any utility from consuming that good. The official argument -regarding this economic structure- is that these companies need to accumulate profit. They need to save cash, maximize their profit, expand and grow, so as to invest their cash and income in new plants, new infrastructure, expand their productive capacities, and thus, create jobs and expand, in turns, the consumers’ revenues. This tickle-down theory does not apply in our case. Let us consider the level of dividend distributed to the shareholders, and more importantly, the concentration and characteristics of these shareholders. The results are the last bullet argument that monopolies, in Morocco transfer value from the working people to a few, effete elite.

Between 2004 and 2010, Ittisalat Al Maghrib distributed about 91.66% of its net income to its shareholders. Indeed, the Moroccan government owns 30% shares – which allows for a MAD 3.1 Billion revenue in 2010, but also allows Vivendi to take back a dividend of MAD 4.6 Billion, and a needless drain on Morocco’s foreign reserves. The bottom line is that the remaining shareholders owning 17% have little to say over management decision or future investment (The Moroccan government is most likely to be in the same position in their relationship with Vivendi group or indeed the top-management officers).

Addoha, the behemoth real estate developer has an even more concentrated shareholding: tycoon Anas Sefrioui owns 56% of the firm, while the company itself distributes 40% of its net income. The real estate sector is quite special when compared to IT or banking, especially with respect to the booming industry in Morocco (a boom that might, if not already so, develop into a bubble) that explains how Addoha manages to create and 25.41% operational return on sales (20.43% including inventory turnover)

Revenue distribution in Morocco rather confirms the earlier theory about wealth concentration: in 1985, 10% wealthiest households owned 31.77% of GNI. In 2007, 33% of the corresponding GNI, even though GNI grew 4 times, 5 times when adjusted for inflation between 1985 and 2007; The top 10% outranges the lowest 10% revenues by a factor of 1 to 25. This concentration goes even higher when percentiles are computed; Even with the conservative estimate of a uniform distribution over the 10% wealthiest, the revenue gap is too high, and clearly does not explain how the total wealth creation contributed to more concentration in revenues (and not, as the story goes, bridge the income gap).

In these circumstances, any serious policy claiming to deal with poverty or income dispersion has to proceed by double tap: first by putting together a direct intervention in revenue distribution by means of progressive fiscal policy, and second by taking on the monopoly powers, thus insuring a fairer distribution of, and an increased size of the pie.

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Wandering Thoughts, Vol.13

Word is out, Mennouni & Co are looking for a few good (wo)men to contribute to their task; After all, those with relevant opinions, the Feb -20 movement and stalwart real opposition parties and NGOs did refuse to meet with them. Let us therefore try and show some good will, and meet them half way, shall we? Of course, they will have to show a proof of good faith beforehand, won’t they?

When the long arm of the law wrestles lawmaking away from the judiciary and the legislative branches

First, Mennouni and his minions need to go back to the palace, and present the King with their collective resignation: if any serious constitutional reforms are to be undertaken, it is not through such a gross mismanagement of such assembly of scholarly notabilities, they are not, after all, properly equipped to dream up a whole new constitution… They are technicians trained to prepare the legal argument for broad principles, not politicians that cannot clutter their thinking with the former, but are able to embody the latter.

I am aware the commission is not very bright; not from an academic point of view of course, but when it comes to new ideas, lawmakers, especially in Morocco, are not, in their large majority, firebrand mavericks, but rather cosy scholars with well-established credentials, intrinsic conservatism and patent hostility towards novelty: when lawmakers like the late Driss Basri preside over the legislative output for more than three decades, the sky’s the limit kind of thinking is not what one would expect from our eminent panellists. And so, the decent thing, if we ever are to have a real democratic constitution, is for these people to resign and let others to design a new constitution, then, if they are asked to do so, give assistance of their judicial expertise over what is essentially a political matter, and when their job is done, retreat peacefully back to their books and wait till a younger, more open-minded and more ambitious generation of lawyers takes over and reform radically the whole set-up. Basri’s influence has a far deeper reach and exceeds the sole legislative paradigm our scholars evolve within; institutionalised corruption and political transhumance are but a few of his masterly works.

He dresses with style, but he is hardly going to get his name in the history books...

Omar Azzimane, for instance, might have been respectable enough in the early 1990’s to  the late King Hassan II‘s transitory reforms, but his ministerial tenure, age and constant compromise for office over principles make him such a poor choice as a panellist. His boss is no better.

But that is not what the regime wants. In fact, for all the stunts pulled these last days, and even though presentational skills have been improved, the very heart of governmental power, those prerogatives related to power-sharing, remain untouched, just as as proximity to power still protects the crooked and corrupt lackeys. On that subject I wonder whether some infighting within the rarefied circles of power has tickled down and fuel attacks on Minister Belkhayat… Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see this smug businessman turned politician out of office, but the intense criticism he is subject to seems to me a prelude to a sacking (either by a demotion of his master or a demise of the said puppet)

I shouldn’t wonder, as even the hyper-mediatized democratic societies resort to such tactics in order to rout out some rival -though when public scrutiny steps in, the culprit, when indeed found, leads the guilty politician to take the humiliating, albeit self-purifying, decision to step down; if the culprit is indeed of a serious criminal nature, then the scapegoat is duly sacrificed to the greater good of the smeared public office the unfortunate politician was holding.

Babyface: "Your money is mine. My Familys and my bosss, anyway."

In our case, not only Minister Belkhayat acts as the middle man for a higher -and much more powerful- politician/businessman/palace favourite/royal minion (Mounir Majidi) he is engaged in some very questionable business dealings, all of which, if he is indeed the new-model politician he boasts to be, should compel him to resign his post and request a full independent inquiry on the subject. Oh, sorry, I have forgotten, we are in Morocco, and ministers do not resign, they get the (Royal, not parliamentary) boot; And this holds especially when the minister has things to answer for. It’s a long way to the top, Minister, but it is reassuring to see that you are not sparing effort to climb the greasy pole. عقبى للوزارة الأولى يا سعادة الوزير but wait: which party will Minister Belkhayat lead to electoral victory? Istiqlal? RNI? sorry, I am a bit confused…

Last item on the agenda, the scare campaign begins only now. The beardy fellow is barely out of jail, and already anathema and excommunication are flying around on the heads of those who happen to disagree with the dogmatic Salafist. And there dividing lines start to make things turn sour: on the extreme end of political islam spectrum, Salafists like Mr Fizazi (and, to  will no rest until they impose on the Moroccan society an Islamic (Islamist) straitjacket that is vry unlikely to improve ‘the morals of our decadent society’ without leading to a totalitarian state, and on the other end (but excluding house-trained PJD), the dissolved party ‘البديل الحضاري‘ progressive islamists (I personally find any synthesis between religion and progressivism very hard to understand) that do not gainsay, in their universal definition, the basics of democracy, and even engaged in an alliance with secular left-wing parties. Incidentally, Al Badil party boss Mustapha Moatassim was portrayed by the prosecution as a dangerous terrorist, which compels us to ask the following questions: if he was indeed so dangerous, why was he released? On the other hand, since he was released, that means the charges against him were fictitious, so someone screwed up (but will never answer for it, unfortunately) In between, Al Adl fluctuates with no definite agenda (has it to do with their self-professed ‘التقية’ ?).

The victims of blind Makhzenian repression (and the idiots utiles malgré eux) are those innocent victims like EMI (Ecole Mohamedia des Ingénieurs) engineer-graduate Mehdi Meliani or apolitical Mehdi Boukillou both illegally arrested and charged under false counts. Makhzen stupidity, far from shielding Morocco from the Islamist threat, only increases it either by radicalising young people, or makes it harder to speed up the necessary secularisation of Moroccan minds.

Political Campaigning in Morocco – Vol.1

What can we do to improve political campaigning in Morocco? Obviously, the question is over-ambitious, simply because one cannot write-off about half a century of electoral campaigning techniques and, most importantly, the state of mind evolving from the campaign format. Still, we need a radical overhaul – so as to match the Moroccan people’s expectations.

First off, and contrary to the ambient opinion, we need to look closely at the very first campaign ever contested in independent Morocco, the 1963 Elections. These elections, and the subsequent consultations, have a critical impact on the way candidates, political parties and the administration behave and think; it is therefore not only right, but essential to understand the mechanisms that preside over the very early elections, because these are very similar, if not the same, to those put to use, say during the 2007 general and 2009 local elections.

The very first elections contested in Morocco date back to May, 17th 1963. these followed a heated referendum campaign -on which evidences of fraud and administrative meddling did not invalidate a 97% surreal score of  “Yes”. The 1962 Constitution, with its inherent flaws, at least managed to provide some workable legislative framework for the opposition parties, UNFP and Istiqlal. Nonetheless, the time lag between the official announcement for and the election kick off was suspiciously short (a month after His Majesty’s speech, on April 17th, 1963) but that did not prevent existing political parties to prepare for election: Istiqlal and UNFP, though still suspicious of each other’s motive, formed a de facto alliance against the FDIC, an  ad hoc group hurriedly put together by a confident of Hassan II, with the Mouvement Populaire, Ahmed Guédira’s Parti Socialiste Démocratique and, more bizarrely, the Choura and Istiqlal Party, all together in the Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles (FDIC).

Here, size and strength were valuable assets, indeed, Istiqlal was more prepared compared to UNFP (something that might have to do with the increasing repression from the regime) and as early as April 13th,  and made the double safe choice to endorse candidates unlikely to cause problems to almost-brother-in-arms UNFP as well as traditional notabilities. Ben Barka‘s party reciprocated in a more discreet fashion, while excluding pro-UMT union from the candidates’ short-lists. Because both parties have good experience in partisan organization, FDIC campaign seems unsure of itself and there was a confusion between spontaneous local candidacies and the official endorsement from on top, all of which did not help reassure the electorate about how serious a new coalition of parties is in its claim to be the natural coalition of government (as it was already the case under the Premiership of king Hassan II).

690 candidates competed for 144 seats, and the campaign kicked off officially on May, 2nd. Overall the tone was quite violent (although more verbally so in newspapers than it was during public meetings) and arguments can qualify, in modern campaigning jargon, as ‘negative campaigning’: Istiqlal and its media spokesperson, Al Alam, maintained sustain criticism of the perceived potential power abuse:

Elle le somme de se démettre de ses fonctions de Directeur général du Cabinet royal et de Ministre de l’Intérieur pour ne pas compromettre le Souverain dans les luttes politiques et ne pas influencer le déroulement des élections. Cette tactique permet de ne pas mettre directement le Roi en cause tout en le mettant en garde contre les dangers de la situation présente. [L’élection de la chambre des représentants au Maroc, Octave Marais – Annuaire d’Afrique du Nord 1963]

Overall, public meetings are the preferred way to get in touch with the electorate, especially in large cities like Casablanca; In smaller cities or rural regions, all parties try their best to attract local notabilities, as the only efficient mean to attract the largest possible count of voters, though FDIC candidates have the benefit of biased neutrality in their favour from local authorities (Moqadem, Cheikh, Khalifa, etc…) a support Istiqlal and UNFP desperately denounce as the hand of the administration meddling in political elections.

Mehdi Benbarka during an electoral meeting, 1963

On the media side, each party rely on their own newspaper to influence voters, though such mean quickly reaches its limitation in view of the high illiteracy rates, and the effect of the media remain confined to urban centres: UNFP has ‘المحرر’ Istiqlal ‘العلم’, while FDIC, thanks to its limitless resources, fielded more than one newspaper, and many of those were French-speaking: ‘Les Phares’ ‘La Clarté’ and ‘وطنك’; the FDIC propaganda, while engaging in the same negative campaigning the opposition got stuck with, also entertained a certain confusion in its message: it denigrated Istiqlal leader Allal El Fassi, and at the same time orchestrated a large-scale cult of personality to the benefit of Hassan II, so as to induce voters to think of FDIC as ‘the King’s party’ (and conversely, of UNFP and Istiqlal as subversive bodies).Parallel to the media campaign, FDIC relies on repetition of colours and symbols -rather than words and content- to capture the voters’ attention (and memory)

“Les affiches et les tracts sont moins faits pour être lus que pour être vus et pour imposer par leur répétition la couleur des bulletins du parti et la photographie des candidats”.

The impression observers had on this election was puzzling: candidates looked very much active (even activist) during campaigning, as well as fully aware of the issues involved. The electorate, however, seemed far from understanding what the elections was about. Save perhaps for UNFP, whose campaign in large coastal cities (Rabat, Agadir, Casablanca to name a few) managed to yield comfortable majorities to the candidates (soon members of parliament)  Subsequently, the political message or any kind of manifesto item were skipped in favour of presentational stunts:

“Durant la campagne, certains candidats, appartenant à tous les partis […] s’efforcent d’acquérir la sympathie de leurs concitoyens en restaurant les anciennes coutumes d’hospitalité ostentatoire. Ils tiennent table ouverte en permanence, accueillant les fqih et les tolbas, secourent les nécessiteux…”

This gives the big picture, a very brief summary of the campaign (and there were important similarities between the local and legislative elections in 1963) Now, what about the techniques? what was written in the leaflets for instance? Or what kind of speech was made when meetings were organized? How party activists were indeed organized to convey their party’s message?

In Rural areas, private meetings with local notabilities were more efficient, especially when there was only one candidate ‘in town’ – these notabilities in turn directed their fellow neighbours to vote for the candidate of their choice. These local leaders had good chance to obtain votes, either because of their social status within the local tribe, or because of their charisma (equivalently, a local teacher can have about the same reach as a local fqih for instance) This heavy reliance on local intermediaries partially made up for the weak partisan structure: both Istiqlal and UNFP had no extensive branches in rural areas (the largest electoral population) and FDIC parties, especially MP, had but these local notabilities to relay their manifesto.

An example of this weak partisan grasp over local matter can be found in the delay of a week Istiqlal had to endure before a top-down assignment can be communicated to the local branches – during the 1963 local elections, the alleged UNFP “July 1963 plot” broke up the fragile alliance between both parties, and some Istiqlal moderate started to defect to FDIC, even as central Istiqlal organs wanted to show solidarity with UNFP. In Urban areas however, the scheme was common to all parties: leaflets and posters with distinctive colours and pictures of candidates, large public meetings trying to attract as many citizens as possible, though the most efficient mean was again to get in touch with intermediaries, small gatherings of less than 15 persons. the message matters little; but that might have to do more with the narrow target of educated voters.

In any case, these basic electoral tactics -the reliance on local leaders rather than reaching for a larger audience, as far as the duo Istiqlal-UNFP is concerned, were dictated under the circumstances of dire resources (a deposit of MAD 1,000 per candidate was required, not to mention expenses for printing leaflets and posters, newspapers edition and related cost for meetings, diners, invitations of notabilities, etc. All these expenses were necessary for the opposition parties because other means, more powerful (like the radio) were not available to them; UNFP campaigned in a crisis mode (as many candidates were either arrested or beaten during the campaign); that explains why party activists did poorly in linking to the electorate, or why traditional means of conveying their respective parties’ message.

Wandering Thoughts, Vol.12

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Tiny bit of Politics, Wandering Thoughts by Zouhair ABH on April 17, 2011

A couple of pieces of news worth commenting this week (or shall we say, the last 10 days)

The sideshow definitely settled in; at such serious times as these, the row just sprung on whether we should keep the Mawazine festival. Normally this anti-festival frenzy catches up only during the silly season -a pleonasm when it comes to Moroccan politics, but even more so during summer. This year, and under these quasi-historic circumstances, the frenzy started up earlier, and, there was a new element in the protesting crowd: it is no longer the socially-conservative, liberally-challenged crypto-islamist crowd that calls for scrapping the whole festival scheme, it’s also many of the pro-February 20th people, those with more progressive views, that is.

The row over Mawazine is not about the festival (although I suspect some have strong feelings about what they referred to as ‘orgies of debauchery’) but the symbolism it carries: when it started off, a decade ago, it was elitist (with, if I may say so, a much better musical offer) and it was directly attached to the Royal business. For a couple of years, Mawazine director was Mr. Abdeljalil Hjoumri, the very Collège Royal ‘s own headmaster. And step by step, perhaps due to a change in management, the festival turned more popular, more in line with other Summer festivals. As it is, Mawazine quickly turned to be very popular, a Rabat grander version of L’Boulevard  -sometimes victim of its own success with the death of many attendants due to stampede to in 2009.

Mawazine: the shallow argument

Now, Mawazine is identified with another sort of Palace insider (although I suspect the capital of Royal trust took a beating these days in his case) Mohamed Mounir -“M3”- Majidi is, up to now, the festival boss, so it is quite understandable Feb-20 protesters identify the Festival with its master and call for their removal; both. The conservative wing lept on the occasion; Some of them were humiliated last year with the Elton John case (allegedly because of his homosexuality and a concert he gave in Israel) and that could be a chance get back at the festival. I don’t position myself on this issue, because it suspiciously sounds very like a crafty counter-spin to avoid further popular attention (and pressure) on the constitutional reform. It happens sometimes: idle issues to act like smokescreen to much important ones.

As a matter of principle, I’m all for organizing festivals, as a temporary plug for a culture policy we need yet to define; I am however not in favour of organizing gigantic celebrations with the taxpayers’ money, especially when it involves a lot of foreign stars and the subsequent drain on our foreign reserves. At best, a privately-funded Mawazine without prejudice to the public finances is fine by me. The trouble is, it is not the case right now: indeed, the overall budget is MAD 27 Million, out of which public companies like CDG, OCP, Royal Air Maroc, ONE and Maroc Télécom are on the government balance sheet, either as integrated entities (thus usual beneficiaries of public subsidies) or as part of the government portfolio shareholding. Overall, there is about MAD 12.7 Million of (direct or indirect) public funding that needs to be scrutinized.

I have just got that book Ignace Dalle wrote on Hassan II. The first thing you need to know about Dalle is that he is a serious journalist; I am sure Gilles Perrault or Jean-Pierre Tuquoi are good journalists too, but the cardinal difference that makes Dalle’s books is the impressive bibliography references and the effort in keeping up with a dispassionate tone. Though contrary to the earliest “Les Trois Rois“, this “Hassan II: entre Tradition et Absolutisme is more of a psychological portrait; The book does not bring to light breaking news, I mean for any sensible observer, Hassan II set a standard of his own in absolutism, corruption and tyranny. Sure, circumstances were not in his favour, but then again, the anti-monarchy ‘mob’ were compelled to radicalise precisely because of his obnoxious behaviour.

One discovers some little-known anecdotes about him; I would be interested to read -or hear- about his groupies. Yes, there are still people -regrettably, young people- who believe we were blessed with his reign, a bulwark against the forces of anarchy, atheism and whatever doesn’t square with our ‘values’. Hopefully, when I finished reading the book, I immediately started re-reading the other one, the very book the late king wrote (or had written) in 1976 : “Le Défi”. And do let me tell you something: there lies the essential structure of our present propaganda, a basic clef-en-main module for Makhzenian argumentation.I personally enjoyed the way the late king exculpated Sultan Abdelhafid from his responsibility in signing the protectorate treaty:

[…] C’est dans ces conditions que le Maroc, contraint et forcé, dut céder à une double pression étrangère, qui s’exerçait de l’extérieur et de l’intérieur. Ainsi [fut signé] le Traité de Fès instituant le protectorat.

citing Moulay Hafid’s protest, […] Je représente un peuple qui n’a jamais été une colonie et qui n’a jamais été soumis ni asservi.

Funny, coming from someone who signed the treaty and got away with 40,000 pounds, a splendid villa in Tangier and a handsome pension from the French Résidence.

Yes, some consider him to be very stylish.

Even more interesting, the way independence was wrestled from France and Spain has been revisited to be in accordance with his taste; Then there’s the piece about agriculture, even though he fails to explain why agricultural output did not keep up with demographic growth – he prides himself with the 1966 Agrarian reform, and yet fails to explain why Habus, Guich and Makhzen estate have a lower return, nor does he explain why he did not take on these dubious status quo the way he did on French colonial farmers. He lists all the dams he had had built over the period, and yet fails to explain why the overall agricultural GDP still relies (even more so in the mid-1970) on raining season.

Education has been extensively discussed, with grand numbers that did not hide the truth; worse still, he prides himself on creating Arabic literature and Islamic sciences department in universities (perhaps to make up for the lack of achievement in core and social sciences, illiteracy and test results) Le Défi is definitely fun to read.

Overall the book (Dalle’s, not the king’s) reveals perhaps the more human side of Hassan II; by human (and not humane) I refer to how insecure the late monarch was about himself, his leadership, which might explain why he was at ease surrounding himself with spineless minions. It also shows that he was even prepared to go all the way, for the sake of his grip on power, to forgo corruption among his circle and within government. At times, I was even surprised how things were managed with a monarch set on enjoying himself and at the same time concentrating all powers. Overall, the book is really worth reading; I wonder whether it will not be censored in Morocco… I understand “Les Trois Rois” was no officially censored, but importers had very little incentive to order it (If they ever dare, what would happen to the importing license for instance?)

Can anyone remember an old TV Series “Fall Of Eagles” ? The story of three European imperial families: the Rumanovs, Habsburgs and Hohenzollern. absolutist rulers all of them, who eventually crumbled with the Great War, but never deemed necessary to reform in order to survive; Though it is a dramatized account of history, the blindness to disaster emperors and kings in Europe showed before 1914 came to the price of their thrones.

The parrallell is not, in my opinion too extreme: throughout the last half a century, the monarchy preferred to either temporize (Mohamed V) or to counter-react violently (Hassan II) or to alternate insidious arrests and generous largesses (Mohamed VI) but on all these instances, no one considers it a fruitful strategy to reform in order to remain in power.