The Moorish Wanderer

Born with a Foot in his Mouth

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on June 18, 2014

Mr Benkirane’s latest speech betrayed his deep reactionary prejudice, though it certainly is not the first time his own Weltanschauung goes off the rail:

or two years earlier:

While praising gender-based government policies for the past two decades, and reaffirming his government’s commitment de jure in achieving gender equality, particularly on the labour market, the Head of Government touched upon a subject worthy of debate, though his speech was factually wrong. Families do not hurt because women go out for work. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that families are in crisis. It is true on the other hand that they have matured and transformed beyond the comfort zone of reactionaries like Mr. Benkirane.

Active women in Morocco are a minority, both in the workforce and in the total female population: for the past five years, the gender ratio in the workforce was 3:1 in favour of Men. There has been an actual decline in female labour participation in fact, and the graph below shows it is the primary reason behind the drop in overall labour participation:

gender-based analysis of labour participation confirm that women are a minority in the labour force, and rarely recover from a decline.

gender-based analysis of labour participation confirm that women are a minority in the labour force, and rarely recover from a decline.

Since 1998-1999, there has been a sharp decrease in labour participation, particularly so among active female workers, whose levels have not been yet reached. It could be estimated that for every percentage point lost to labour participation, there are two for the female population, and less than one for the male workforce. If anything, female labour participation has fared worse in the past 15 years. As a result, there are more, and not less inactive women. This would mean, in Mr Benkirane’s view, more eligible stay-at-home moms.

There is a cost to this decline however: since 2000, and assuming women maintained their pre-1998 levels of participation, GDP would have benefited from 5 Billion dirhams on average for the past decade. Similar computations put the benefits of a full gender equality on labour participation (around 72%) to a full percentage point in growth, enhancing the 4.76% average of 2000-2011, to 5.55%.

Mr Benkirane’s point about the supposedly adverse effect on family cohesion does not stand scrutiny as well: the percentage of young Moroccan women, from 15 to 24 has actually declined in the past 15 years: in 1999, one young Moroccan woman was active, in 2013, only 1 in three was out on the job market. A remarkable figure that concludes to a decline in the number of this particular cohort: there are fewer working young Moroccan women. This cohort is critical as it coincides with the tail end of the average age at first pregnancy in Morocco. In short, there are more young women, in percentage of total population and absolute numbers, with no work constraints to conceive and raise a family. This fact is at stark odds with Mr Benkirane’s assertion that working women are a threat to family stability.

Year 15-24 Pop 15-24 Female Working Female
1999 5 754 514 3 016 227 1 453 821
2013 6 222 000 3 173 220 1 028 123
% Change 7,81% 5,07% -34,65%

This suggests the causes of any hypothetical family crisis in Morocco are not due to female labour participation. If anything, it makes good economic sense to have as many women out on the job market as possible: first, as many have access to eduction (at least primary) it and given the secular downward trend in female fertility, women should have as many opportunities as possible to go out and get a job, part or full-time; indeed, a rough estimation of market counterpart to household activities suggests educated but inactive women cost an average of 1.32 percentage point of GDP; this means that stay-at-home moms with even a primary education certificate are a gross waste of government resources, even if they decide to have a lot more children, which they don’t.

Second, what Mr Benkirane decries is not a disintegration of families per se, but rather the gradual disappearance of a lionized traditional structure at odds with the changes the Moroccan society continuously undergoes. It also illustrates the irreconcilable trade-off PJD faces on social policies: on the one hand, they cannot renounce official slogans of gender equality, but on the other, their electoral powerhouse is primarily based on the idea of an activist social conservative State.

The setbacks for women’s economic rights are bad enough such as they are: education without an occupation is an economic waste to be sure, but it also subverts the central goal of public education, particularly so for women.

Unfair Rankings? Morocco’s Persecutory Delusion

The latest press statement from the Government’s Spokesperson does not deviate from an established line of argument whenever a global ranking does not square with the official claim of Moroccan progress. The latest of such event was the 2014 Freedom House ranking: Morocco ranked 147 out of 197, in the 75 lower percentile for Freedom of the Press. Without prejudice to Freedom House’s methodology, is there any way to verify the claim Morocco’s progress was understated in this ranking? And if so, where would we be?

Morocco's good regional ranking belies a small decline in its pre-Arab Spring score.

Morocco’s good regional ranking belies a small decline in its pre-Arab Spring score.

A preliminary comparison does not put us in such a bad place after all, in view of the Arab Spring aftermath: Morocco ranks well among MENA countries, although this comes hardly as a good indicator, given the dramatic positive changes in Tunisia and Libya since 2010, and on the other side of the spectrum, Bahrain and UAE did worse.

Morocco however did not improve its ranking thanks to government policies, as the communique alleges, in fact, there has been a slight degradation with respect to its pre-2010 score, but not enough to affect its ranking. As the saying goes: in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is king.

Taken to the global level, things are not as straightforward: on the one hand,  the decline in Morocco’s score is not large enough to label it a regression in press freedom, on the other hand, global trends around 2010-2011 provide a good estimate for what should have been the trend score and ranking. In any case, Morocco did not do well enough, and probably does not deserve the improvement in its ranking.

The communique states:

Force est de signaler que certains pays qui ont connu des arrestations de  journalistes, saisies de journaux et fermetures de portails web, ainsi que  d’autres qui sont instables, ont toutefois occupé des places meilleures que  celle du Royaume, qui n’a pas enregistré de telles décisions, a relevé M. Khalfi.

Of the 14 countries labelled ‘Not Free’ better ranked than Morocco, some did for some register arrests and/or censorship, but the fact of the matter is that Morocco’s weakness comes from its relatively low political sub-score: the final score is summed over three categories (Legal, Political and Economic) and the determining factor had been the sub-ranking on Political Freedom, where Morocco does comparatively worse. Per Freedom House’s methodology, the various initiatives heralded in Morocco do not meet the standard set by, among others, the Universal Declaration of Rights, and so do not register in favour of Morocco’s political sub-score. In short, the post-2011 reforms were not enough to overtake other countries, on par or slightly better ranked.

All of this does not absolve the Moroccan authorities: at the national level, the trend should have been improving since the mid-1990, which is not the case, and at the sample level, comparative benchmark point to a substantial improvement which did not materialize.

The growing gulf since 2011 is an indication of Morocco's failure to live up to its expectations.

The growing gulf since 2011 is an indication of Morocco’s failure to live up to its expectations.

The graph on the right plots Morocco’s actual versus hypothetical scores between 1993 and 2013. A downward trend means an improvement in freedom status, and that was not the case for Morocco: the hypothetical trend is derived from the average performance of countries with comparable scores in 1993, and those have improved dramatically their score throughout,  even as Morocco recorded a reversal as early as 2001 with no improvement ever since.

The increasing gap between Morocco’s actual and best-case scenario scores describes its failure to push through with the structural reforms carried out during the mid-to-to late 1990s; it also provides a stark reminder the ‘New Era’ of political liberalization started well before 1999, meaning all announcements made since have not translated into reforms strong enough to register as actual improvement in Morocco’s score and rankings.

Score break-down analysis allows to pinpoint the roots of this lacklustre performance, and provide pointers to the Moroccan authorities and the civil society in terms of reform priorities.

Recall overall score is computed on three components, and countries labelled ‘Free’ tend to exhibit a significant effect from the Economic Rights category: Free and Partially Free Countries experience a 24% lower Economic Rights score compared to the rest of the world. This relates directly to the main argument behind Morocco’s, particularly so in light of the established criteria:

 1.  To what extent are media owned or controlled by the government and does this influence their diversity of views? (0–6 points)
2.  Is media ownership transparent, thus allowing consumers to judge the impartiality of the news? (0–3 points)
3.  Is media ownership highly concentrated and does this influence diversity of content? (0–3 points)
4.  Are there restrictions on the means of news production and distribution? (0–4 points)
5.  Are there high costs associated with the establishment and operation of media outlets? (0–4 points)
6.  Do the state or other actors try to control the media through allocation of advertising or subsidies? (0–3 points)
7.  Do journalists, bloggers, or media outlets receive payment from private or public sources whose design is to influence their journalistic content? (0–3 points)
8.  Does the overall economic situation negatively impact media outlets’ financial sustainability? (0–4 points)

These questions only show why the score is comparatively low for freedom of the press from an economic perspective, and those provide a good starting point for genuine reform if the Moroccan authorities were serious about the initiatives they mentioned in the communique.


New Constituency Seats for Parliament

Looking at the returning results from General Elections in the United Kingdom, I was interested in the idea of ‘University Constituencies‘ where seats are not particularly allocated on a geographical basis, and what is more important to my mind, targeting a particularly homogeneous but ultimately illusive electorate.

As numbers stand now, first-time voters are at dangerously low levels, both as a percentage of total registered voters and in their respective cohort. The danger being, short of a profound reform of electoral rolls, an increasing trend in disenfranchising voters, thus subverting the electoral process and the very idea of representative democracy. The fact the ruling party in the current coalition government has seemingly dropped their support for electoral reform has pretty much precluded any push for renewal in the electoral rolls. Recent comments from the Interior Ministry suggest little or no change should be expected on that front.

As it stands now, the Moroccan parliamentary system exhibits a two-tiers system in its upper house: 305 members of parliament are elected on the local ballot, while 90 are selected on the basis of national results, 60 seats of which are allocated to female-only lists, and 30 for de facto young (under 40) males. Yet these members do not have a constituency, which is both a blessing and a curse: on the one hand, they are free to pursue whatever cause they fancy with no fear of backlash from their hypothetical voters, but on the other hand, they are beholden to their party leadership, for fear of being deselected, or worse still, put at the bottom of the party list, where there is little hope of taking up a seat.

There is also the apropos argument these elected representatives are not “full” members has they do not have a mandate: a recent opinion handed down by the designate constitutional court, striking down the provision of a Women’s Caucus suggests otherwise, since their argument was based on the fungibility of members of parliament, i.e. they are not subject to community allegiances whatsoever. The same line motivated another opinion on the continuity of government as well.

Members of the Court have honoured the French tradition of their curriculae, since by denying the individual qualities of each of the 395 members of parliament, they assert the idea of a homogeneous nation, whose representatives are no longer bound to the local constituencies that got them there. I fear this view is widely shared across the political spectrum, and does weaken the reformist claim many (including political opinions I am partial to) herald as their own.

Let us go back to the idea of university constituencies: obviously the first order of business in parliamentary reforms is to reduce the number of seats, so as to flatten regional discrepancies: sparsely populated areas tend to be allocated more seats per capita than, say metropolitan regions, which gives undue advantage to some parties and candidates, as well as produce counter-intuitive results, for instance during the 2007 elections, where PJD had a slight advantage over the Istiqlal on the popular vote, but was eventually a good dozen seats behind.

Seat allocation does not seem to obey a specific, let alone transparent rule: on the eve of each general election, the same ballet is performed by the Interior Ministry, in charge of rewriting electoral regulations, and political parties, each with grievances that often translate in patchy compromises the current ballot system does nothing to alleviate: as a result,  there is virtually no chance one party could get hold of an absolute majority and form a government on their own.

Nonetheless, a simple rule can be adopted for all future distributions of seats, the statistical distribution of voter registration allocates seats per province, with a minimal number of two per constituency, historically close to 43.000  per seat. This system has the benefit of reducing the local-ballot seats by 51 seats, distributed as follows:

Region 2011 Seats Reform Uni Seats Net Change
Casablanca 34 28 2 -4
Chaouia 19 15 1 -3
Doukkala 18 10 1 -7
Fez 20 17 2 -1
Gharb 18 17 1 0
Guelmim 10 10   0
Laayoune 5 4   -1
Marrakech 28 24 1 -3
Meknes 17 15 1 -1
Oriental 23 18 1 -4
Ouad Dahab 8 8   0
Rabat-Salé 24 19 2 -3
Souss 28 27 1 0
Tadla 16 12 1 -3
Tanger 25 20 1 -4
Taza 12 10   -2
Total 305 254 15 -36

Densely populated regions lose comparatively fewer seats compared to Southern and rural regions, but the results greatly reduces discrepancies of past elections. Furthermore, in the context of a first-past-the-post system list, the requirement of having at least a female candidate for all competing candidate list ensures a minimum 92-strong female caucus, a 36% female representation, double the current 17%, and in line with female labour participation.

The younger generation also need not be granted a quota: university constituencies can serve the double purpose of expanding the electoral roll, as well as provide voting incentives to an otherwise disaffected population: there are about 600.000 Moroccans registered at universities, vocational/occupational schools,  institutes and other high-education facilities, many of whom far from their home towns. Also, instead of having 30-odd members with no fixed constituency to answer for, the Moroccan youth will have a chance to elected their representatives on their own terms and rights. As a result, Parliament would look radically different:


the number of sitting members would be cut from 395 to 269, with 15 University Seats, and at least 92 Female seats, since nothing precludes female university candidates, or winning lists with more than one female candidate.

Le Grand Bluff?

Qui croit encore que l’Istiqlal restera membre de la coalition gouvernementale? J’en fais partie.

Étrange, n’est ce pas? Et pourtant, tant qu’un remaniement ministériel n’a pas lieu excluant tout membre du PI n’a pas lieu, il est prématuré de conclure à une disparition de la majorité gouvernementale. Il y a bien une crise au sein de celle-ci, mais le passage de l’Istiqlal à l’opposition n’est ni un fait acquis, ni expliqué par les supports médias autrement que par la théorie classique du Makhzen Deus ex-Machina.

Je voudrais donc proposer un cadre théorique plus affiné que celui offert dans un post précédent, et à capacité de prédiction dans la lignée d’un autre post; l’idée est de démontrer en utilisant des concepts assez simple en théorie des jeux que les comportements respectifs de Chabat et Benkirane comme chefs de formations politiques obéissent à une logique rationnelle qu’il suffit de formaliser.

Commençons d’abord par la question la plus évidente: le PJD a-t-il besoin de l’Istiqlal pour maintenir sa majorité gouvernementale? Oui: bien que les récentes élections spéciales aient changé le nombre de sièges répartis entre membres de la coalition, la sortie de l’Istiqlal oblige le PJD à chercher quelques 39 sièges pour maintenir une majorité absolue à la Chambre des Représentants, soit 198 sièges. Ceci nous ramène à un autre exercice plus intéressant, qui s’énonce comme suit: quel est le score moyen des partis ayant au moins un siège élu sur la liste nationale (Femmes + Jeunes) dans les différentes combinaisons produisant une majorité absolue?

Le jeu ici consiste à créer une coalition victorieuse, c’est-à-dire ayant une majorité de sièges. On restreint l’exercice aux partis ayant obtenu plus de 6% des voix pour des raisons évidentes, puisque seuls ceux-ci composent une coalition, en tout cas depuis 1997. L’idée est de construire un tableau qui reprendrait leur effort de réduction de l’écart entre la taille du groupe parlementaire PJD (qui est d’office inclus dans toutes les coalitions victorieuses) et la majorité absolue. Cet effort de réduction dépend ainsi de l’ordre d’arrivée dans cette coalition:

PJD 108 60 52 48 38 33 24 18
PI 60 30 0 0 0 0 6 12
RNI 52 0 38 38 38 38 32 26
PAM 48 0 0 42 4 4 10 16
USFP 38 0 0 0 52 48 42 36
MP 33 0 0 0 0 57 15 21
UC 24 6 0 0 0 0 66 45
PPS 18 12 0 0 0 0 0 72
Shapley 5,7% 4,5% 9,5% 11,2% 17,5% 20,4% 27,1%

L’indice Shapley (d’après l’une des contributions les plus importantes de ce prix Nobel 2012 d’Economie) mesure ainsi l’importance d’un parti dans la construction de la majorité parlementaire. On remarque tout de suite que l’UC et le PPS ont des indices largement plus importants que ceux des autres partis, et pour juste raison: ils sont plus susceptibles d’être cruciaux pour une coalition quelque soit leur ordre d’arrivée dans la formation de la majorité. A contrario, la contribution du RNI par exemple, lorsque ce dernier se classe dans une coalition hypothétique PJD-PI-PAM en dernière position,  est nulle, car la majorité absolue est déjà acquise avec une somme de 216 sièges. Par définition, la somme des indices Shapley est égale à 1. Le tableau ci-dessus ne prend pas en compte des combinaisons triviales du type “gouvernement d’union nationale”.

Ce résultat est un premier argument en faveur de la théorie selon laquelle l’Istiqlal bluffe en publiant le communiqué de démission de ses ministres: avec une valeur paradoxalement petite – donc relativement remplaçable dans les coalitions hypothétiques – le PJD peut forcer la confrontation et donc faire face avec succès à la décision Istiqlalie. Un raisonnement par induction inverse confirmera la nature du bluff – une menace non crédible.

Le second argument se positionne du côté des motifs de M. Chabat: malgré les différentes sorties médiatiques farfelues, il serait dangereux de sous-estimer la rationalité de décisions à priori relevant du tragi-comique. M. Chabat a ainsi un(e) gain/pénalité de la position actuelle de son parti au sein de la coalition notée U_{PI}, que l’on peut formaliser comme suit:

U_{PI}=(1-\pi)u(s) + \pi\left[\beta u(b) - \nu(s,b)\right]

\pi est la probabilité attachée à la sortie d’un gouvernement (une mesure de la crédibilité de la décision de ne plus faire partie de la coalition majoritaire) qui pondère le gain anticipé d’une telle décision, soit un gain brut futur u(b) actualisé à un facteur \beta < 1 et un coût actuel \nu(s,b). Une explication plus littéraire serait de considérer les déterminants de la stratégie de M. Chabat à travers les bénéfices futurs qu’il attend de sa décision de retrait, et des coûts qui s’en suivent (perte de présidence du Parlement, de certaines commissions parlementaires, de postes ministériels et postes dérivés, etc.) et qu’il sous-pèse face aux gains actuels dans la coalition, notés u(s).

Une transformation de l’expression du score de gain/pénalité en fonction du coût de retrait et des probabilités assignés à cette stratégie donne donc:

\dfrac{1-\pi}{\pi}u_s(s)-\beta u_s(b)=\nu_s(s,b)

Cela signifie que moins la menace de retrait est crédible, plus le coût de celle-ci est important, une logique que l’on peut traduire en politique comme étant la pénalité en termes d’image médiatique, et de détérioration de la confiance que placent les membres de l’Istiqlal dans les décisions de leur chef, ainsi que l’affaiblissement de sa position si le menace ne donne pas les résultats escomptés, et se retrouve obligé à renégocier des portefeuilles ministériels moins nombreux et/ou moins prestigieux. Suivant son aversion au risque entraîné par cette incertitude, M. Chabat pourra ou non choisir de mettre à exécution sa menace.


Il s’avère ainsi, comme le montre le graphe ci dessus, que plus M. Chabat est averse à cette confrontation, plus il est paradoxalement incité à participer d’une stratégie d’escalade, simplement parce que ses pertes seront mitigées lorsque ses menaces sont crédibles (ce que les médias semblent relayer allègrement) Le même comportement peut être attendu si M. Chabat cherche explicitement une confrontation, auquel cas la crédibilité de la menace n’est plus à démontrer. Les deux cas divergent cependant sur la vitesse à laquelle la crédibilité de la stratégie de retrait se mesure en réduction de pénalité en cas de réalisation.

Et c’est là la conclusion du second argument qui me pousse à croire que l’Istiqlal n’est pas foncièrement crédible dans ses velléités de retrait du gouvernement: à moins de supposer un degré infini d’impatience, la sortie du gouvernement dès 2013 signifie un minimum de 3 ans en opposition, où M. Chabat sera pauvre en prébendes qu’il accorderait à ses alliés et rivaux pour asseoir sa suprématie. Dans ce contexte, la seule option viable serait de tabler sur une défaite importante du PJD en 2016 – ce qui est sans compter sur l’écart important en voix que l’on peut recenser.

Labour Market Engineering

Very short post about the peculiarities of Moroccan labour market: the active population has never been so low: the latest figures from HCP show a declining trend with fewer than 50% of the total population made up of the active population. Since fertility rates have been going down for quite a while, it means many potentially active individuals prefer (or are made) to stay out of the labour market: students with longer academic curricula, stay-at-home housewives, retirees and ultimately the unemployed.

I was looking at the data and comparing it to my own models because there is a frightening story to tell here. Demographics in Morocco tend to be similar in many aspects to the ageing societies of Western Europe, with a falling youthful population (individuals aged 17 and less have reached their absolute peak in 1994) whereas the elderly are increasing their numbers substantially – 24% of the population by 2050 according to HCP projections. In essence, the present demographics allow at best for a total workforce of 4.5 Million individuals, less than 14.4% of the total population.

Elederly population is expected to make up 1/5 of the population by the mid-century, with no active population to match.

Elderly population is expected to make up 1/5 of the population by the mid-century, with no active population to match.

And there is an even smaller fraction of these: women make up for almost half of the 15-59 population, yet their occupation rate does not rise above 30%. I mean, the 70% are supposed to be dutiful housewives, yet they do not procreate enough. The traditional family model has collapsed a long time ago. Thanks to structural changes in gender-based division of labour as well as harsh economic realities, there are coexisting benchmarks for women to choose from. Yet even if the mainstream outcome remains that of stay-at-home mum, fertility has not follow suit. Perhaps it is time to switch gears and go for massive arrivals on the labour market, let these women leave their homes to earn a living too.
In absolute and relative terms, Moroccan families will procreate less and less: in 2039, there will be less than a Million newborns, and the young Moroccans (14 and less) by 2050 will make up less than 17% of the total population. I would argue the only viable pro-traditional (or even nuclear) family discourse is a higher fertility rate. Clearly it is not the case, so in order to improve our immediate and medium term economic position, there is a need of flooding the labour market with all these women, some educated, others not so much, but at least total productivity would increase.

Some predictions about this: as a general rule, structural shocks (changes in the economy that are not due to physical capital stock) tend to have a positive impact on wages, especially skilled labour wages, and only a marginal effect on total hours worked; the latter is due to the very inflexible Moroccan labour market: every 1% ‘positive shock’ increases wages immediately by an annual 6.1%, and generates a net annual social benefit of 2.3%. These massive arrivals on the labour market are likely to increase unemployment dramatically, but there is a need of increasing rapidly female occupation rates, or growth will be structurally sluggish in the next decades.