The Moorish Wanderer

Makhzen, Bureaucracy and the People

There’s something any liberal/radical political force will have to take into account whenever it has the opportunity to take over ‘real power’ in Morocco (through peaceful and democratic process, I do hope), the whole range of actors party of government (or any governmental-related sector). These actors are not necessarily of hostile intentions, perhaps with different motivations, and ultimately, agendas.

The civil service. It’s quite strange to discuss a piece on our own one. The fact it, Morocco followed an incomplete -and somewhere perhaps, purposely- copy/paste policy of the French civil service scheme(s). And we ended up with all the drawbacks of it, and none -or very little- of their advantages. Yet one way or another, the civil service, even without a policy of their own, that is, with no purpose but to serve the political power in place, can be a powerful tool or a stubborn roadblock for any democratically elected and motivated government. The fact is, all government with radical/ambitious polices -left or right alike- in many parts of the world (say, the U.K under Thatcher , France under Mitterand, Clinton or Obama, etc…) usually face cautious, if not deliberately hostile behaviour from the civil service, that very body designed, paid, trained for one thing and one thing only: to carry out the policies of their political masters. The satirical show ‘Yes (Prime) Minister’ just outlines -in a comical way, though full of hidden meaningful allusions- that when the senior civil servants (and in facts, even the lowly officials) do not agree with the pace of change or with any change at all, they can feature, as Sir Humphrey Appleby calls it : ‘creative inertia’. This is not our main subject, but it is related to how a government should proceed (among a set of designated public policies) to get through their polices and get along with their agenda. They do, after all, represent the will of the people, right?

There’s something that needs to be pointed out regarding the Moroccan context: the Makhzen (as a state of mind as well as an institutional cluster) has a solid grip on civil service. whether you believe or not Makhzen still exists or not (and that’s institution for you) some behaviours or specific procedures survived and are still in effect. It is actually so perverse that some actors, the very ones longing and claiming for change (say, some trade-unionists, or journalists, or politicians) could easily block and repel any change that wouldn’t serve their interest, or endanger their rent-position. Rules of the game it seems.

The civil service reform -a reform that has to be part of any real radically democratic political agenda- has to bear it in their computations.
1/ the left-wing parties: UNFP/USFP and the Radical Left surprisingly agree on the principle of ‘strong’ governmental bureaucracy. Strong in the sense of centralized and rationalized, just as Wallerstein describes it. In facts, the left-wing side takes for granted Morocco cannot be ruled without a strong bureaucracy, for one thing: with no obedient and devoted bureaucracy, no progressive political power can do away with the reactionary, feudal lobbies. The UNFP/USFP vision was perhaps more ‘operational’ (and in facts, with a glimpse of experience in 1958, and in a more limited pattern, in 1998)
The civil service of the immediate following years of 1956 was quite pro-Istiqlal, and later, in some levels, pro-Union Nationale des Forces Populaires. The embryonic service was therefore full of sympathy for the left-wing party (a sympathy ranging from neutral to actively biased) especially in services with daily in touch with the people: education, post office/telegraphs, police (many former ALM soldiers joined the police after 1955 and 1958) and finally, local administration. Until 1969, these sympathies were quite important, and even though they were not put into practise, they would have been of great help for a genuinely powerful UNFP government. The 1970’s saw the Rabat-wing take off and turn Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires, and with it, the Ittihadi influence (formalized through their own trade union CDT)
In facts, this Ittihadi ‘natural hegemony’ (not only in the USFP, but even in its successive spin-offs, such as the Parti d’Avant-garde Démocratique Socialiste, Congrès National Ittihadi, Parti Socialiste and soon to be merged-with Parti Travailliste) justifies itself with the historical heritage the UNFP represents (and that every Ittihad party, symbolically or voluntarily, claims as theirs). In any case, Benbarka did state the theoretical background of it in the founding text, ‘Option Révolutionnaire‘: “l’importance, pour l’avenir de notre pays, de ce 2° congrès de l’UNFP, qui va donner à notre mouvement la possibilité de sortir avec une organisation renouvelée et des perspectives nettement définies et lui permettre ainsi d’être à la hauteur de ses tâches historiques”. Or when discussing the party’s role in economic development: “il faut expliquer que toutes les options économiques du parti révolutionnaire qui sont les points de son programme, ne sont pas par el1es-mêmes le socialisme, mais que simplement elles lui préparent le terrain. La planification par exemple est un moyen rationnel de choisir les points d’impact des investissements, les nationalisations dans les domaines agricole, industriel, commercial et bancaire – quand elles sont possibles et favorables – servent à augmenter les possibilités nationales d’investissement.” That assumes party workers and technicians to supervise the whole planning process.
Then, Bebarka sketches a very intersting plan for the Option Révolutionnaire as a party, as an organization fit for power:”Tout d’abord. il nous faut veiller sur l’instrument seul capable de traduire nos résolutions dans la réalité: c’est notre parti l’UNFP. Nous avons bien dit,. au moment de sa création, qu’il ne s’agissait pas d’un parti comme les autres. Et c’est à juste titre que notre organisation n’a cessé de susciter les espérances populaires dont nous sommes porteurs.(…) Pour ce qui est de la participation de la base, il s’agit de l’inscription dans les statuts d’une disposition qui assure une participation effective de tous les militants à l’élaboration de la ligne de conduite de l’UNFP, ainsi que le contrôle des différents organes centraux et régionaux par la base.(…)” (the whole range of p28-30 is devoted to a thorough description of how the revolutionary party, i.e. UNFP, should be)
In essence, the UNFP-USFP bureaucracy is very much in the spirit of another of Benbarka’s ideas, namely, the ‘militant citizen‘. The bureaucracy is dual: the civil servants, citizens as well, are there to support the party’s project; either by enlisting as party workers (a touch of Leninist theory there) or by providing enthusiastic support for it.

The student breakaway of the early 1970’s that led to ’23 Mars’ movement was even more ‘conceptual’ about it. These young militants, alongside their Ilal-Amam’s opposite number shared a deep understanding of Leninist theory of ‘Party-State’ and Maoïst experience. The radical left went even further in their public-policy strategy: Whatever has been said or speculated upon, Ben Barka remained true to the idea of a constitutional monarchy: a symbolic and purely honorific King, while the party political is dealt with by politicians, presumably elected and therefore of diverse political opinions, but that is quite blur in Ben Barka’s writings. The radical left adopted the Leninist theory of Party-state as theirs. Lenin did write in 1905: “…First of all, we are discussing party literature and its subordination to party control. Everyone is free to write and say whatever he likes, without any restrictions. But every voluntary association (including the party) is also free to expel members who use the name of the party to advocate anti-party views. Freedom of speech and the press must be complete. But then freedom of association must be complete too. I am bound to accord you, in the name of free speech, the full right to shout, lie and write to your heart’s content. But you are bound to grant me, in the name of freedom of association, the right to enter into, or withdraw from, association with people advocating this or that view. The party is a voluntary association, which would inevitably break up, first ideologically and then physically, if it did not cleanse itself of people advocating anti-party views.” and that was just about party literature; Lenin had this incredible insight for detail organization (which made him such a great leader, or horrible butcher, depending on your political views) and produced a tremendous sum on that matter; In “What Is To Be Done” (much more classier in French: “Que Faire?“), the paragraph 4 essentially: “The workers’ organisations for the economic struggle should be trade union organisations. (…) It is certainly not in our interest to demand that only Social-Democrats should be eligible for membership in the “trade” unions, since that would only narrow the scope of our influence upon the masses. Let every worker who understands the need to unite for the struggle against the employers and the government join the trade unions. The very aim of the trade unions would be impossible of achievement, if they did not unite all who have attained at least this elementary degree of understanding, if they were not very broad organisations. The broader these organisations, the broader will be our influence over them — an influence due, not only to the “spontaneous” development of the economic struggle, but to the direct and conscious effort of the socialist trade union members to influence their comrades. But a broad organisation cannot apply methods of strict secrecy (since this demands far greater training than is required for the economic struggle). How is the contradiction between the need for a large membership and the need for strictly secret methods to be reconciled? How are we to make the trade unions as public as possible? Generally speaking, there can be only two ways to this end: either the trade unions become legalised (in some countries this preceded the legalisation of the socialist and political unions), or the organisation is kept secret, but so “free” (…) that the need for secret methods becomes almost negligible as far as the bulk of the members is concerned (…) I could go on analysing the Rules, but I think that what has been said will suffice. A small, compact core of the most reliable, experienced, and hardened workers, with responsible representatives in the principal districts and connected by all the rules of strict secrecy with the organisation of revolutionaries, can, with the widest support of the masses and without any formal organisation, perform all the functions of a trade union organisation”. And that was tried to be applied. The radicals being students or high-school pupils, the students’ union (UNEM) was the perfect trade-union’ organization-like for the party-state to flourish. The party-state, after the revolution, takes over political government (as the organized tool of proletariat dictatorship as it were) and carries out the socialist period until the communist state is achieve, thus leading to the dissolution of both the party, the dictatorship and the classes. As on can see, there’s little difference in the left-leaning political side but in details of implementation.

2/the Makhzen bureaucracy: There must be at least someone in the inner circle that would have enough education to realize how powerful the Makhzen is now, compared to 1956, and even more powerful compared to the pre-1912 Morocco. It must be pointed out that Laroui considered the Makhzen as the first attempt to create a modern bureaucracy in Morocco. Theoretically at least, all the essential symbols of civil service were there: taxes and armed forces. Very rustic, very primitive of course, but with an intrinsic logic and set of functions that did prompt Laroui to consider it as ‘Modern’. The Makhzen bureaucracy had but one crucial weakness: rationalization, or rather, institutionalization. Even though Makhzen apparatus had centuries of existence, tribes always tried either to take advantage of it, or to free themselves from it. Moroccan political administration was a constant reaffirmation of central power (and failed in achieving it completely). In facts, Makhzen power was function of the sultan’s personnality: Sultan Rashid, being ruthless and very active, managed to tame the tribes and maintain a centralized, Makhzen-obedient Morocco. Sultan Abdelaziz, being weak and under his Vizir’s influence, had little grip on power and therefore ruled a rebellious Morocco with ‘Blad Makhzen’ going as far as Fes and major imperial cities, with the rural areas living in Siba, or autonomous home rule (and especially not anarchist state, as the Makhzenian hagiographers tend to write)

Theoretically, Makhzen governement is very structured: there was a top-level civil service with official titles (Grand Vizir, Grand âalaff, Khlifas or deputies in regions, etc…) the hierarchy is well established and rigidly codified (not a very good thing of course, but it just shows Makhzen bureaucracy got at least the drawbacks of modern civil service) Laroui, in his ‘Origines culturelles et sociales du Nationalisme Marocain‘ relates how this bureaucracy meddles even in choosing the sultan: “(…)Nous voyons que le sultan est bien choisi par une minorité qui représente le Palais au sens large, c’est-à-dire la famille sultanienne, les serviteurs et les grands commis; Toutefois, cette minorité même ne jouit pas d’une liberté illimitée; son choix est souvent circonscrit à deux frères, et même dans ce cas, les préférences marquées par le sultan défunt (…)” (p81)
Then Laroui proceeds in enumerating the various departments the official Makhzen consists of, all of which are part of the semi-modern the pre-1912 bureaucracy Morocco had:
– the Army: according to J. Erckmann, the Army couldn’t field more than a standard regular division (10.000 troops that is) called ‘guish‘ الجيش. However, and because the outfit is not enough to set up expeditions or face exterior threats, the Makhzen also draft irregulars from the tribes: Guish of course, but also Cheraga, Oulad Jamîi, and Udaya (which were deported and forced into Imperial service). While in western countries the military cast was shun from political involvement (even the Prussian court privileged professional, apolitical officers, save for Bismarck, that is) the tribal army was waist deep in political intrigues and court plots. In facts, the guish, mainly slaves descendent of the Bukhara army, maintained a tight political control over high offices (the well-known example of Grand Vizir Ba Hmad for instance.)
The main feature of Makhzenian army is that of its purpose; It is not fit for war against foreign powers (as Isly Battle will tragically point out) but to collect taxes and suppress dissent whenever it grows too important and too popular. “En réalité (…) il s’agit d’un service militaire permanent qui dépend des besoins et de la situation du Trésor” (footnote 39, p82)
– the Civil Service: unlike the army, the civil srvice changed overtime; For instance, about the Amin (deputy representative of a specific corporation, i.e. Artisans, Butchers, Blacksmiths, Grocers,… )” n’en reste pas pas moins vrai (qu’ils) ont intrduit une certaine rationalisation dans l’administration fiscale, l’intendance des palais sultaniens, l’exploitation des azibs (domaines fonciers), l’organisation de la douane, des droits des portes et marchés, de la poste chérifienne, etc…; Les livres de comptes qui remplissent les archives du temps de Mohamed IV ou Hassan Ier leur sont dus (…)” (p84) The odd thing is, Laroui didn’t mention justice (left to the Cadi, which is not technically speaking a civil service, for his reward and payroll comes from the ‘gifts’/bribes he gets on the cases before him.) or local administration. In facts, Makhzen civil service is above all, and perhaps, solely, about money. It’s purpose is to pump money out of the Moroccans to pay for the army and the sultan’s expanses.
The Makhzen scheme, while proved working for a couple of centuries, lacks the essential feature a good bureaucracy should have, namely efficiency.

3/ the Islamist scheme: a return to the golden age
The odd thing about what is now the popular ideology among Moroccans (and the MENA region I should think), Islamism, is its total lack of bureaucratic vision. Which is even odd, regarding the huge sympathy it draws from social categories such as engineers, doctors, lawyers and so on. Speaking for Al-Adl, their paper on political reforms, while being as radical as Annahj’s stand, doesn’t say much on the bureaucratic front: how civil servants should be trained, how they should act on behalf of their government, all in all, how to run a country.
Besides their heavy reliance on Shariaa and Hadith corpus, the Islamists (the most able ones of course, the PJD is out of course) position is, with all due respect, shallow. Their ideological articles, while very structured and quite bright, do not deviate from the classic scheme of the Islamic Umma. an activist writes on that matter: “لا يفوت المطالع لأي من كتابات الأستاذ المرشد عبد السلام ياسين، بناءها على أساس اليقين بوعد الله تعالى، فيحدّث عن الخلافة الثانية ودولة القرآن كأنه يراها رأي العين، هذا اليقين العظيم الذي أوصى بتعلمه رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، مصدره ما سماه الأستاذ المرشد حفظه الله “الشهادة التاريخية” “المتمثلة في السيرة النبوية وفي الخلافة الرشيدة، ثم بعد في ومضات تاريخية هنا وهناك، بأن القرآن قابل للتطبيق، وبأن دولة القرآن ليست مثالا حالما تمخضت عنه الفلسفة الأرضية كما تمخضت عن المذاهب الفكر“. The classical islamic institutions (khilafa, bayt al mal, etc…) are deemed to be still effective (a surprisingly ignorance of the modern world complexity makes me wonder about one particular subject: how are Adl militants-civil servants are going to monitor banks on the sensitive issue of interest rates? Or is Bayt Al Mal director will deal with it all right in religious zeal as well?)

In facts, the Islamist civil service project is very simplistic. It bears the same features as the Makhzen circa 1912, with a stronger ideological content of course but no real interest in actual local and central government. Faith does not lead a country into prosperity, neither moral values enforcement. One doesn’t live on pray and religious observance of rites…

What’s a good bureaucracy then? Max Weber provided the theoretical background to it; “ Weber sets out an ‘ideal type’ (see last lecture) for bureaucracy, characterised by an elaborate hierarchical division of labour directed by explicit rules impersonally applied, staffed by full-time, life-time, professionals, who do not in any sense own the ‘means of administration’, or their jobs, or the sources of their funds, and live off a salary, not from income derived directly from the performance of their job. These are all features found in the public service, in the offices of private firms, in universities, and so on.

The modern bureaucrat is a full-time, life-time professional; this requires a sufficient salary and job security, because otherwise people will not stay in the job full time for life. Unless they do, the organization will not be efficient. It takes time and experience to learn the job, not so much because it is difficult to perform the particular task, but because it all has to be coordinated. An elaborate division of labour requires stability of staff. Because of the nature of bureaucratic work, and also perhaps because of the importance of training and coordination in the job, the bureaucracy wants educated recruits. Their education will be attested by some certificate (partly just to prove they have been educated, but also perhaps because a bureaucracy likes to work with clear impersonal criteria). Weber speaks of ‘credentialism’, the preoccupation evident in modern societies with formal educational qualifications. All these things – credentials, fixed salary, tenure, stability of staffing, Weber incorporates into his ideal type. They are all required, he believes, for the efficient functioning of an administrative machine.”

Even though Weber recognized his ideal type will not fit the real bureaucracy, his predicament of the bureaucratic model as a universal standard came true. Now, bearing in mind those features, what could a genuine democratic government do? Not much of course, as setting up an entirely new civil service takes time (and in facts, a lot of time)

Perhaps we’ve been looking the other way round; Perhaps the civil service is not that essential after all. I am not stating a government can run a country without civil services, but the citizens can, by means of regular check, make sure the civil service doesn’t run the country by itself. The idea of citizen committees at local levels (I’d say, at borough level, 500 or so household would hold the local administration accountable), a bottom-up sort of political legitimization process. I did discuss in an earlier post some proposals for regionalization (or a Federal Moroccan monarchy that is). It could be a very good idea: by means of local and federal administration, the civil service loses its ‘political’ grip on home affairs; Civil servants tend to be more efficient when their are under credible and dissuasive control (on corruption as well as on productivity). It could be so that no political body gets involved in the process: the citizens at local levels could inquire on both their elected members as well as on their administrative staff. Of course, this cannot be achieved if citizens are not interested in politics or public management. However, there should be a way in linking their zeal over control, and their own personal interests: everyone knows how difficult it is to get an administrative paper at the local office; For the sake of argument, regardless of civic pre-conditions, how could an household agent get the incentive to devote some of their time to control and check what the state agent is doing?

I am through. There’s a lot to be discussed about how good a civil service should be in running a contry while being transaprent and accountable to the people’s will. I do however have some ideas I could toss in; perhaps for another article: strict transparency for budget allowance (in opposition of a sacred principle within the civil service, ‘principe de non affectation‘) civic control over tax breakdown, ‘civic pay’ for occasional checks…

Politics Away, Bring the Burlesque

I don’t feel like discussing politics today.

I sometimes wonder: are the Moroccan leftS built for democracy? Or rather, are our left-wing politicians party to leave behind their personal griefs and over-sized prides (as well as shamless u-turns for the governmental of them…), and build the Unified Left (no less). Not one party, you understand, that would be too difficult and I for one, wouldn’t be at ease with it (that’s the sectarian part of me, I can’t rid of it, sorry…).

Let’s talk about something superficial, or something too elaborate in its superficiality perhaps. Let us leave aside the average populace to their regular uproars; Although these times, new records were set it seems. Naciri junior went a bit berserk on his way home, he seemingly did beat up some random guy for a minor car friction. Other than that, I didn’t find Naciri father very convincing in explaining himself: I did lap it up though; the “on my honour” part. Very dignified, very much indeed. It just happened he has a turbulent son that needs protection (with a justified record of bad behaviour I am told)

Then there’s the Elton John outcry: Attajdid lost the initiative it seems, and wanted to gain it back, you know, call up the primary islamic/islamist instincts of their public to get a grip on their (average) readers.The facts Elton John being gay and performed a concert in Israel are just irrelevant. No parallel intended,  but I didn’t recall Attajdid chums protesting much against the concert the Red Army Choir presented before HRH Prince Rashid for the FAR’s 50th anniversary in 2006. And they, the Red Army Choir, did too perform in Israel, and moreover, the Russian army is killing Chechen Muslim brothers. Attajdid, and the PJD too, it seems, are just trying to re-attract attention to them after the blow related to the surreal fatwas. They eventually caved, as Elton John did come to Morocco, and he did perform a wonderful piece last night.

What worries me more is the AMDH business. Leaving aside political loyalties, I am very fond of Annahj -although I am not a member, and it so happens I disagree with some of their stands- but the fact they had the majority at the last conference should not prompt their “comrades” in the PADS and the PSU to deafened us with their plaintive cries: “but look, they’ve got everything and they are party to turn the NGO into their own boutique !”. What upsets me more is how delighted the Makhzen left was, to this. I can hear them already: “hey, you can’t even get together on this”, plus you know, there’s still a look-down attitude towards the radical left; Because parties like the USFP and the PPS gambled, lost their bet and are in the process in loosing some more, while trying to sank promising projects with them. And it’s not like the “little” ones are fond of pursing their own project. No, they are under the despicable illusion they still can do some good in ‘discussing’ with the other side. Politics-fiction is nothing compared to Moroccan politics, we’ve just got cross another layer of surreal politics.

I drifted a bit, sorry. I was about to discuss something interesting (to those of us who have any interest in it).

Let us talk about Neo-burlesque. First off, do we need it to be construed as demeaning to Women ? As a matter of fact, it is indeed. It boils down to stripping but with an elaborate choregraphy, with music, all elegantly of course a real change from “regular” stripping, though it must be pointed out, that all this takes place in a very 1940’s-1950’s mood: the clothes (or what’s left of them, that is), the performer’s features (haircut, makeup, etc…), as if the “new sexy” (and I am not referring to the Lady Gaga sort of sexy, or what the teenage girls want to look like) is to bring back the gorgeous Pin-ups so much fantasized about for many decades.

Dita Von Teese, Neo-Burlesque star show, draws a lot from the 1950's pin-up presentation.

When I was doing my research about it, I found this book, “The Happy Stripper: pleasures and politics of new burlesque” on the matter; Very interesting indeed. Jacki Willson went to see a performance -a stripping presented as artistic-. After the show, she felt a mix of confusion, anger and pleasure. The author is definitely a feminist, but she didn’t know what to make out of the performance: was Ursula Martinez (the stripper, but then again she is a little more than that…) a dis-empowered worker, or was she shining indeed in all its provocative sexiness? Is it fine to sell stripping as art, while the public is in a voyeuristic state? All of these questions prompted J. Willson to write the present book we are discussing. Right from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s, the feminists struggled to make women more minds than bodies; To redefine all the essential parameters of femininity in order to overcome, as Willson puts it, ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ state. As it was rightfully pointed out, normative clothes and behaviour were -and to a certain extent, still are- designed function to the male gaze/pleasure. Think about it in our own societies: why does a young woman put the veil? the very quick, simple and completely acceptable motivation (within the society’s normative set of references) is that of protecting the lady’s virtue from male temptation. Is it not that the veil, the burqa, the niqab, or any piece of clothing considered to be of shari’a origin are for protecting and shading women from men’s temptation?

Western feminists wanted too -in their whole heterogeneous lot- to bring intelligence and wittiness in women’s personalities. Away the ‘dumb blonde’ or ‘hot redhead’ stereotypes, women can too have witty repartee, biting intelligence and holding senior offices at work. What Willson just saw in the cabaret joint was a shock: there she was -the stripper/artist I mean- getting rid in the sexiest way possible of her incredibly sexy clothes, but in the same time, with a majesty, a self-confidence and afterwards, with a wit and humour that indeed, it must be troubling for the feminist the author is to sort it out.

She then goes on: “ We are in the thick of a new wave of burlesque. This formidable display of flesh seductively draws us back to a time of the eroticized pin-up. It propels us back into that era of hard glamour where such cinematic characters as Marlene Dietrich or Elizabeth Taylor reigned supreme. This provocative sexuality bubbles breathlessly from the fashion pages of glossy magazines and lures up from pop music videos and film. Does this forthright display of sexualized women take us right back to a pre(-)feminist 1950’s state, or does it communicate something much more pressing about our present post-feminist condition?

Though not a 1950's Pin-up, Greta Garbo was of first class in her own.

The more interesting part of course, is when Willson finds sociological ties to the whole business of burlesque. As an American, she drew mainly from the late 19th century (when Burlesque was first introduced in the US) to the Neo-Burlesque of late 1990’s, when iconic performers, like Dita Von Teese brought back the sexy pin-ups then so much revered in the post-WW2 period. In facts, she found that in times of economic crisis -such as the current one-, times of uncertainty and confusion, all unsettling, the burlesque, the theatrical representation of sexuality was brought back. She does however points out that as time goes by, and with the steady middle-class shaping of US society, these representations, tend to be of, as she puts it, of “bourgeoisification” of burlesque: the French Can-Can has little to do with the current shows, much more elaborate, sophisticated, very 1950’s like (which is not a coincidence, the 1950’s/1960’s where the âge d’or of US bourgeois middle-class society, as well as the fore running signs of sexual liberation)

So, is there any link between (post)feminism and burlesque? It is true the 1950’s pin-ups have something of a sex-appeal, and in facts, some of them indirectly provided role model for sexual-liberty aspiring young women. After all, Marlene Dietrich and, to some extent, Greta Garbo are iconic within the lesbian -and more widely, for GBT as well- community. Not only because of their sexual orientations, but because of how at ease they seemed and acted with their personal choices. Dita Von Teese might as well be a model for aspiring post-modern, post-industrial young women: witty, openly sexual with a great taste (I am sorry, but Men and Women alike dressed in a much better fashion in the 1950’s than they do now. Arguably, clothes were of far inferior material, but the cuts and looks were much better, as far as I am concerned).

Marlene Dietrich in a Boyish oufit. One of the Hollywood stars with an assumed bisexual identity. The cold sexual allure of her "blonde mystery" was Dietrich's trademark.

Why would the male gentry feel threatened by this horde of sexually aggressive Femina? Or is it just because the old paradigm of the predator male is actually outdated? It looks as though some would be happy to watch Dita in her giant Martini glass, but would be too afraid to have something like her at home, or at bed. Too much intimidating perhaps?


The Case Against Monopolies

Posted in Dismal Economics, Moroccan Politics & Economics by Zouhair ABH on April 26, 2010
I speculated earlier on the need for a hypothetical government to nationalize private monopolies in order to crush any ‘financial coup d’état’, under the condition that theses trusts should be re-privatized in smaller bits, in order to get the competition going (I thought something of 4-5 years is a good reference) However, I failed to prove my point (rigorously I mean) And indeed, how do we assess the previous hypothesis? How do we prove that 

a). these companies enjoy private monopoly over some, not if all, vital consumption goods

b). these goods are quite important to Moroccan households, who are very price-sensitive to any changes.

Before that, I will just develop some basic microeconomics theory on Monopoly. The starting point is about how a company charges the ‘market price’, if it has any grip on it. We do assume that prices are exogenous to any market player; it seems that price-taking process, the core structure of market economics, is ignored by the companies, though they cling to the very idea of open markets. That’s a contradiction in terms, since a true market economy is not rent-providing, or even profit-providing in market equilibrium.
Coming back to pricing process: in an ideal world, the firm adapts itself to the market price by adjusting to its marginal cost (i.e; with reasonable extrapolation, the marginal productivity of its inputs). Second year economic students do know about that graph I believe:

As long as market price is above the marginal cost, the firm will produce till it reaches the optimal* quantity (which, in comparison to other market situation, is the highest) for a social equilibrium.

You know what? This has never existed, though many economic and financial models base their assumptions on a near-perfect market structure (after all, Hedge funds were once described as ‘market clearing mechanism’, enabling security pricing to be more efficient). Nonetheless, in a true market-competitive structure, a single company has a very small margin on prices and quantities, so they do take price market as a given or rather, in their majority, follow a ‘signal’ (another subject to be discussed in another post perhaps)
The Moroccan economic structure for the described goods is closer to what A. Marshall described as a rent economics. He had some interesting thoughts on the matter: “It has never been supposed that the monopolist in seeking his own advantage is naturally guided in that course which is most conducive to the well-being of society regarded as a whole, he himself being reckoned as of no more importance than any other member of it. The doctrine of Maximum Satisfaction has never been applied to the demand for and supply of monopolized commodities.” He then goes on: “The prime facie interest of the owner of a monopoly is clearly to adjust the supply to the demand, not in such a way that the price at which he can sell his commodity shall just cover its expenses of production, but in such a way as to afford him the greatest possible total net revenue.”

Clearly, the academic definition of a monopoly is quite revealing: there’s nothing beneficial for a society from a monopoly –save perhaps for the monopolist themselves-, in that sense that they capture the consumers’ surplus (the premium between the market price and their maximum reserve price), the captured surplus is therefore a rent, which is in turn spent as dividend –rather than investments as we are ld to believe in our ‘national’ economic model- to the wealthy.

There’s of course a fine line between a ‘Marshallian’ pure economics and the actual and factual economics we are dealing with. In facts, absolute/pure monopolies do not exist. However, in a more refined economic theory, duopoly and strong-form oligopolies do replicate the same pricing methods, but in a two-times model. I am of course referring to the Cournot/Stackelberg models, for which we need to understand the academics underlying before we can go further: indeed, aggressive moves on prices at a particular market does not necessarily mean competition (and therefore, outcomes to the benefit of consumers) since the tides could change to a much less price-friendly market structure. Basically, the Cournot model starts with the ‘best response’ strategy each company draws up against their competitors, they end up producing with monopoly quantities (because of their respective strategies) each firm enjoys a captured portion of total demand, but cannot charge it with the full marginal revenue, so they end up charging the pure competition market price, namely their marginal cost.

The general assumption is that all competitors enjoy similar cost structures, and subsequently, the same marginal cost (save for the fixed cost) otherwise; the one with the lowest cost takes it all. Despite its simplistic assumptions, the model could, for the available data, provide interesting insights on how particular markets are doing, and how some companies are taking advantage of it.

The Stackelberg model is even more accurate; the dynamic dimension is more important, and in our case, suits perfectly the edible-oil market: there’s a leader that has a first-move advantage, and can subsequently use an advantage it has –in it’s cost structure that would be discussed later on- to fix a certain amount of production that would, in the long run, simply oust any serious competitor, and leave little of market shares to the smaller followers.
Let us just have a look at two sets of the main consumption goods for a Moroccan household, Edible oil and Milk derivatives.

* Oil derivatives:

I’ve always wondered: how many firms are there in the Oil derivatives market in Morocco? Yes, we know Lesieur-Cristal, a notable subsidiary of the well-known SNI-ONA Holding, and according to their website (you’ve got to give them credit for that) they own the following products;

– in edible oil sub-sector : Huilor Graine d’Or Lesieur Plus Oméga 3 Lesieur FritureSafia Cristal Oméga 3 Cristal Friture Cristal Maïs Oléor

– in olive oil sub-sector : Jawhara Cristal Olive MabroukaSalamZitouna

That’s a lot of products, and anyhow, no competitor in the market is strong enough to field the same product portfolio, so it’s a lost cause for any challenger… (And, If I may, you sell oil if you want to, Lesieur’s not for leaving.. I know, my puns are terrible…) The Oil market is notorious for the fierce rows that sprung between the incumbent monopoly (i.e. Lesieur-Cristal) and any strong-hearted competitor trying to get in, most notoriously Savola; Unfortunately, our good friends the medias (the newspapers of course) consider it to be the very image of a healthy competition, or, in simple terms, a competition. Of course, I can understand that a journalist has a weak grasp of proper academic definitions (I mean, the Journalists’ school doesn’t graduate specialists) though I feel they are mixing market competition and Cournot-like competition. Let us for a moment assume their primary market is the consumers’ basket of goods (namely, 8.6% of the national average consumption as defined by the HCP) the Median told us that overall edible-oil market is roughly divided up between three main firms. It evolves around something like 80% of the Market for Lesieur, Savola & Huiles du Souss… I know, I couldn’t hold of proper data so I had to make some very extensible extrapolations). These companies have none but the price to attract the consumers. And seemingly the price range is wide enough (8 to 12 MAD/Lt) to create specific niches for each competitor;

However, these prices come to a cost, not really the marginal cost, but on the total –or sunk- costs: Lesieur-Cristal has a tremendous advantage, for their incumbent status allow them to keep fixed costs quite low; their balance sheet does show up a relatively low (their intangible fixed-asset ratio is around 71% for 2009 figures) and therefore, can afford to go further down their theoretical marginal cost. The Cournot model does assume the equilibrium price eventually settles at the lowest marginal cost. However, the main competitors are going in for a dumping, making the fixed cost –or, in Savola’s case, the entry cost- the ultimate efficiency criterion. Savola could cope with dumping, but certainly not for long, and I wouldn’t be surprised Savola would quit (which it did, eventually) All in all, Lesieur-Cristal is now in a near-monopoly situation, with a huge rent-situation, that is not invested –as we might hope- but rather spent in dividend-distribution policy. Because no substantial investment was made, they managed to increase the total distributed dividends to 187Million MAD, something like 44.68% over the year. Actually, they could have distributed twice the amount as they settled for an overall self-working capital of 300M MAD which can be virtually wholly distributed (save for the legal compulsory reserve), that’s a nice rent the Moroccan people are paying for… to give you an idea of what we might do with it, the 2009 Budget devoted a similar amount to the Wildlife & Forests departments (145 Million MAD investment allowance) or to the Families & Social affaires department (195 Million MAD) or even the jails and prisons office (264 Million MAD)

– Milk derivatives/eggs

Let us just focus on the Milk derivatives (it so happens egg-production is relatively out of line here) I can still remember the cooperative Jaouda struggling successfully against the other SNI/ONA-subsidy (come to thing of that, SNI/ONA are everywhere, quite disturbing !) How do we make up for this one? Is the market really ‘competitive’? First off, Jaouda (or shall we say, the Copag) is a cooperative, it works with a different economic paradigm (they do try to maximize their profit, but their cost structure has an additional term that changes that changes somewhat the classic optimization scheme, anyway, I think this article is quite interesting to read) the fact is, Copag is treating the local farmers with a win-win co-partnership, which allows for a steadier rate of profits, though at any rate Copag is posing a serious threat to Centrale Laitière.

Of course, they are taking away market share bits, but it does certainly not affect Centrale Laitière profits as we can draw up from their financial statements (2009): They managed to get 1Billion MAD in terms of cash result, which enabled them to distribute dividends for a total amount 461 Million MAD (2009). [Again, that could provide money for 5 regional departments for the Education ministry investment’ allowance] The idea of dismantling Central Laitière and selling it by bits to local cooperatives is, I believe the right move for a government to ensure a lower market price and a fairer distribution of wealth, instead of spending it all on dividends to the wealthy.I shall devote another piece on the oligopolistic structure of the Moroccan economy –or at least, for some of the essential goods- and the need for a genuine democratic government to crack down radically this intolerable rent-seeking economics. I would be quite interested to write something on the ‘grima’ system; it looks as though the whole economic structure moves in a bizarre and rather unhealthy paradigm, namely the permanent quest of comfortable and effortless rents, just like ‘grima’ seekers.

Basically, these firms that supposedly proud themselves to be leading the Moroccan growth are just following the same old scheme of rent-seeking, of course with much modern management techniques, but the fact of the matter remains what it is: Moroccan capitalism follows ‘grima’ scheme. It became so much of a norm that even the Cour des Comptes acknowledges the fact in many parts of their 2008 Report:

Il a été relevé que l’octroi de l’agrément ne repose pas sur des règles précises” or “En terme d’agréments octroyés, l’évolution du nombre des agréments octroyés permet de constater que […]1749 agréments ont été accordés en cinq ans, soit en moyenne 350 agréments par an. En dépit de l’amélioration constatée dans l’évolution annuelle du nombre des agréments d’une année à l’autre, il convient de souligner que les 4445 déclarations d’intention de création exprimées entre 2003 et 2007 se répartissent comme suit:

• 1829 déclarations seulement ont été suivies par des demandes d’autorisation, soit un taux de désistement inquiétant de près de 60% de la part des déclarants;

• 1749 agréments seulement ont été accordés, soit un taux d’agrément de 39%. Ce taux modeste trouve son explication, en partie, dans la lourdeur remarquable de la procédure […]

All in all, temporary nationalization is not the pristine and flawless strategy we might think of. It is only the governmental move to deal with private monopolies and oligopolies. The ‘grima-seeking’ mentality, on the other hand, cannot and will not be done away only by abolishing these rents: to abolish oligopolies means also to abolish the licenses-approval system as well.

The Underdog

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccan History & Sociology by Zouhair ABH on February 16, 2010

I don’t know if you are familiar with the 1960’s cartoon (I am not particularly fond of it, though I find it somehow nice to spend an evening watching classic cartoons); Underdog is a superhero kind of dog, that swoops in the nick of time to save the city –and its sweetheart- from the evil plots of the villain. Underdog, on the other hand, is also a nickname for what is called in Game Theory, a weak or dominated strategy player; in other terms, the loser.

Sometimes being an Underdog is dignifying. No one likes to lose, of course, but in the Moroccan context, especially in Politics, being at contre-courant is a real bliss. A few days ago, I was supporting the idea that the Moroccan non-governmental left should stick to its ‘radical’ adjective. The media –especially the newspapers- have various titles for it: rebellious, radical, democratic, extra-governmental, far-left, you name it. But –as I will perhaps write about it- Moroccan journalists, in their huge majority, are amateurs, the very term of Radical is misused, and even though the correct or should I say, official- title is the ‘democratic left’, I would like to shade some light on how and why, besides being democratic, the new left is also radical.

First, I would like to give the historical, uncontested definition of radicalism. I like to use the world-system analysis Wallerstein developed in an attempt to understand the world surrounding us in a sensible fashion;

According to Wallerstein, political movements can be broadly gathered up in three main sides: Radicals, Liberals and Conservatives. 1968 shook violently a safe century-long consensus:

[…] Now what happened in the world revolution of 1968 is that […] centrist liberalism was shattered and we returned to a world [of] true conservatism, true radicalism, and the third is centrist liberalism which of course is still there […]

Now when you talk about ‘liberal capitalism’ you are referring to what is often called ‘neoliberalism,’ which is not at all the centrist liberalism that had dominated the world before. It is rather a form of conservatism. It has been pursuing a standard attempt to reverse the three trends that are negative from the view of world capital: the rising cost of personnel, the rising cost of inputs, and the rising cost of taxes.

I think the day of neoliberalism is absolutely at an end; its effectiveness is quite over. And globalization as a term and as a concept will be forgotten ten years from now because it no longer has the impact it was meant to have, which is to persuade everyone to believe Mrs. Thatcher’s preaching: ‘There is no alternative’. (Theory Talks)

Furthermore, Wallerstein says:”The radicals were appalled by the timidity of the liberals, and deeply suspicious of the motives and intentions of the specialists. They insisted therefore on the importance of popular control of the administration of change. They argued further that only rapid transformation could stem the underlying popular pressure to destabilize social life and make possible the recreation of a harmonious social reality”.

So for the half-witted that dumbly associates radicalism and revolutionary violence, here’s a tip, we are not interested in warring Morocco, but we strongly stand on sweeping the country clean of makhzenian institutions for a democratic and constitutional monarchy. Our means are radical, but not violent, for it we truly believe things cannot be changed step by step, Morocco already lost 50 years.

Now, why would I refer to the Radical/Democratic Moroccan left as ‘Underdog’?

Did it lost every issue it engaged in? To be fair, most of the comrades’ hopes are gone with the wind: in the 1960’s and 1970’s, some of them tried to take up arms against the monarchy, but failed in the process (whether it considered to actually overthrow Hassan II is still subject to debate) and later on, where sometimes heavily criticized for this.

The late 1990’s brought another batch of disillusion; El Youssoufi was appointed Primer Minister, in order to implement the ‘Alternance Consensuelle’ (what a contradiction in terms !)

2007 and 2009 are perhaps the last straw for these battle-hardened militants. Save for Annahj (the hard-line committed communists of them all), there was a sort of deep disappointment when they couldn’t get the necessary seats. Does it mean they had the sole purpose of getting into parliament? Certainly not, for their vast majority anyway.

The Radical/Democratic left encounters the same problem its political brethrens around the world are experiencing since the early 90’s: lack of funding, lack of professionalism in political communication, weak grasp of new technologies.

Crude generalization is quite easy, but the point is, the comrades are growing old, and the new generation seems a little too much in its dreams of Guevara and the related stuff. Either ways, Do note that I am not rubbishing the radical left; they are doing a pretty good job through the joint committees (demonstrating against the degrading public services and the rising consumer prices), another myth about how the leftists are usually cut off the people’s issue. And it’s not like they use abstract and abscond speech to attract the Moroccan citizens, some of them do have treasures of communication skills; But the matter is, it is so deep in the minds that the ‘radical left is disconnected, even with novel tactics, stereotypes are so stubborn and hard to dismiss.

Is the radical left condemned to play it underdog forever? Of course not, provided that not only they need a major shift in the ideological paradigm as well as in communication strategy.

About the change in the ideological paradigm, I want beforehand to discuss what ‘ideological paradigm’ means; There is an unhealthy obsession journalists throughout the world spread about the word ‘ideology’. The philosophical concept is far broader than the connotation used in the mainstream-popular medias, namely : ideology is […] a pervasive set of dynamic conditions suffusing the institutional apparatus of the state and shaping not just the idea of the person as subject, but more importantly for theorists to follow, clarifying in structural terms the idea of a subject position, wherein political and psychological forces converge to define possibilities of action and forces of constraint and repression. (Althusser) or, to put it in simpler ways,a set of aims and ideas that directs one’s goals, expectations, and actions. Do I advocate for a change in the radical left ideological paradigm ? yes, to the extent of how they view themselves. I suspect some of them are still longing to the glorious-ear of the UNFP (Union Nationale des Forces Populaires), the leading leftist party in the opposition to Hassan II’s regime. The problem with the Moroccan left –save perhaps for the PPS former orthodox communists is of mythology, the obsession of reviving the UNFP. That could work of its modern split (USFP), but not for the radical left.

Now, to sum up my intolerable digression on the matter : in order to avoid being the underdog, the radical left has to pick itself up, ditch the UNFP dreams and build up a broad radical left (the Alliance, plus Annahj), setting aside their little differences, just like Die Linke in Germany. Come on comrades, let’s make radicalism sexy again in Morocco !