The problem is as follows: Economies are not only about production, distribution is just as important. In Tunisia, production was indeed available. However, as far as distribution, Ben Ali and his family controlled all the wealth. Therefore the real issue is specifically an issue of distribution, regardless of your economic policy and production strength.
This happened several times in history. The last time it happened, it was in Iran. Under the Shah, the growth rate in Iran was 10%. They used to say that the Iranian economy would become the second Japan in Asia, yet, it collapsed! And the Islamic revolution took place. Therefore, when economies reach a strong growth rate, we start noticing social inequality. If our production policy is not accompanied by a policy of distribution, the consequences would be disastrous.
What is the main principle in economics? The principle is that our programs and policies are designed around social coherence, which requires that the inequality gap is not dangerously wide. When we speak of big projects, sure we have some great projects, but Morocco faces two main issues:
One, the legacy of Hassan II. When Hassan II passed away, 60% of Moroccans were illiterate, 5% lived on less than 2 dollars a day, 42% lived in extreme conditions. Therefore, the balance was very negative. During the mid-nineties, the campaign to fight poverty started.
In the last ten years, there were some efforts. Rural areas had better access to water and electricity. Under Hassan II only 12% of rural areas had such access. Today, we have reached 75%. Rural areas now have roads and better access to hospitals. Before, rural areas were completely marginalized, which resulted in rural exodus. Urban areas began to resemble rural areas. So, yes, the nineties witnessed a policy of poverty eradication, in addition to the implementation of the National Initiative for Human Development.
From the outset, this was a good initiative. However, the funds invested in this initiative were not very significant: 10 million, a drop of water in a big ocean.
Second issue: Big infrastructure projects don’t generate immediate returns. In the meantime, if the country does not have a policy of distribution, it will fail. Look at the Feburary 20th protests, which cities encountered violence? Tangiers and Marrakech. These are in fact the two cities that witnessed the highest growth rate. These are also the two cities where the inequality gap is widest. It’s no surprise that the acts of violence happened in these two cities. This is a good indicator to take into account.
A fair distribution of resources, requires pressure.
To reach a fair distribution of resources, the society has to exert pressure. What is democracy founded upon? Power and counter-power: that is the only way to limit power. Otherwise, look at all these countries that experienced uprisings. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya: the presidents treated their country’s wealth as their own, because there were no limits. None held them accountable.
In our societies, we have not yet adopted the culture of evaluation. We need to evaluate all the government projects. Not just monitor the projects, but also evaluate their effectiveness. Monitor what is being done, and evaluate the results. This is nonexistent in our societies. Therefore, as soon as individuals are elected to a position and attain some power, they start acting as if power were a property. They begin to put their families and cronies in key positions. We then find ourselves faced with an economy of rent-seekers.
What is an economy of rent seekers? It’s when you have a revenue that doesn’t generate an added value, an economy that is basically non productive. We are faced with parasites that live on someone else’s account. In our country, some people don’t work, yet they own a few license agreements that generate a good income (licenses to operate cab and bus companies provided by the king on an arbitrary basis). Some enjoy licenses to fish, others are granted licenses to sell alcohol. Who goes out to work in black markets? The ones who don’t have any of the above. At the end of the day, you find yourself in an economy built around parasites.
What a waste! Production is weak. Consumption is high, and each person is looking to take advantage of another. The economy does not generate wealth that benefits everyone. Those who do generate wealth are faced with high taxes. Entrepreneurs are the only ones who pay taxes, others don’t. People working in the black market don’t pay taxes. The black market constitutes 25% of the Moroccan market….and people in power don’t pay taxes either. So how do we create a coherent society? How do we create a strong and large middle class, a fundamental requirement to build a coherent society? How do we ensure political stability? It is not possible to have political stability without a strong large middle class, more transparency and the end of the economy of rent-seekers. This cannot be achieved through advisory councils. No, these are achieved through an authentic social pressure. The government should be held accountable, and the society should be in charge of monitoring. In a democratic society, everyone is held accountable, which explains why democratic societies harbor the most successful economies.
The position of business:
With regards to the current protests, some businessmen displayed opportunism. Some displayed vision and understood that the political landscape is changing, and that we need to adapt to a new reality. Others have shown courage and voiced their opinions on critical issues. But most importantly, during the last decades, we have lived in a very opaque environment. We don’t know where some wealth came from. Those who are wealthy are often closely linked to power. Let us not forget that when Mr. Shami, the head of this Organization, voiced his disagreement with the government, he was hit with unprecedented taxation. In the end, they silenced him.
It is true that we may not be living in the “years of lead” anymore. However, we are living through another kind of years: they may let you speak, but they come back and bury you under taxes, fines, until they break you. They did it to the media. They did it to outspoken people like Chami for instance.
Currently, there is one businessman who is very outspoken and courageous: Mr. Chaabi. He is a brave man who went out to participate in the protests. At least, he has shown that some businessmen are still independent from political power. It seems like he really built his wealth, therefore he is not as worried as the others who didn’t support the call for change. But in general, businessmen are closely tied to power, and have profited from this position.
So yes, we have some that are not worried and pretty independent, and others are taking a wait and see position, with the idea that they can still align themselves behind the winners. It is a strategy that the social scientist Jacques Berque largely discussed. But in general, I believe that the Moroccan society should be built upon new reforms that provide the people with the mechanism to monitor and hold the government accountable. For the society to achieve this goal, they have to organize and create institutions and political parties, unlike the parties that we currently have. We need independent political parties with programs and responsible, accountable leadership. We critically need these reforms.
Post Feb20 scenarios:
The first scenario: optimistic. This wave of protests is valued and met with the necessary reforms. So far, the protests were positive and the protestors didn’t call for the toppling of the regime. This is good, especially if the regime also realizes that the time to introduce real reforms has come. Everyone will benefit. The regime will modernize. The people will achieve self-determination. The economy will greatly benefit. Morocco will go through this phase without being confronted to a political storm that could destroy everything in its way. In fact, our country may even prove to be a winner from these uprisings. We would become a regional model that was able to avoid a revolution by introducing the right reforms. We will enhance our regional record of stability and reforms, and our capacity to adapt to changing environments.
The second scenario- and I hope it doesn’t happen- is that none listens to the people, and we remain in the paralysis that’s been affecting us for so many years. This paralysis of course is not sustainable. Let us be aware, whether in the short or long term, reforms are inevitable one way or another. I hope we don’t do it the wrong way, in which case everyone will suffer. Let us not forget that we need reforms, not chaos, because we are still facing the issue of the Sahara. I hope that Morocco will not go through a disastrous political phase. I hope that our move forward is based on real reforms and not on band-aid reforms. “
Tanslated by M4C from Darija (Moroccan Arabic) to English