Opportunism And Opportunity In Today’s Morocco /By Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Morocco is in bad shape. It is definitely not faring well, at all. At the surface it is looking fine, beautiful, happy, stable and developing, but underneath it is simmering with rage and hopelessness and the pressure is forming like in a volcano and someday, soon, it will blow its top and spew magma and lava in the open air. In a word, Morocco is similar to Tunisia’s pre-Arab spring uprising.

The youth is marginalized, forgotten and most importantly emasculated by a tribal/patriarchal system of government. Some take to the street or to cyber space to mouth their protest and indignation. Others drown their hopelessness in wine and spirits or drugs, and the rate of addiction to drugs is rising alarmingly.

The helpless periphery feels forgotten by the opportunist center that indulges in making empty premises every time there is an uprising. Rural development is seen as a joke, in so much as each government talks about it but none is implementing it in the field.

The poor or getting poorer and poorer and no relief is in sight, they survive thanks to the extended family solidarity, no more.

Social Differences: New Social Classes’ Structure

After the independence in 1956 and until 1982, there were three social classes in Morocco.

The Poor: made mostly of people living in the periphery; there was a brief respite for these wretched people from 1948 to 1984 when European nations sought unqualified strong hands to rebuild Europe thanks to the American generosity of the Marshall plan. However, since 1984 Europe closed its legal immigration doors and Moroccan periphery people went back to their ancestral poverty and suffering, in total silence and deafening disinterest from the establishment.

The Middle class: after independence the state employed thousands of people as Moroccan civil servants in a political process referred to in French as: “marocanisation de l’administration,” whereby the administration got rid of all French bureaucrats. As such, until the financial crisis of 1982, the state was the sole employer of all graduates from universities and higher institutes. So, this led to the creation of a middle class of thousands of people with a credible buying power. However, in 1982, following the default of Morocco on its international loan payments, the IMF and the World Bank stepped in to clear the financial mess and one of their first sour pills was immediate stoppage of state employment. Following that the Middle class dwindled and by the end of the second millennium it was gone forever. Nevertheless, its disappearance is problematic in so much as it used to serve as a shock absorber between the rich and the poor and the shock now will be, undoubtedly, dangerous for stability.

The Rich: the rich in Morocco are made from the Andalusian elite that came to Morocco in 1492 after the fall of Grenada and the end of the reconquista. They were made of educated Arabs and skilled Jews and they settled in big cities like Tangier, Tetouan, Fès, Rabat, Mogador, (Essaouira), Because of their knowledge and expertise they started businesses and engaged in politics. The Makhzen (traditional and undemocratic form of governance) relied on the Jews for business, finance, external trade and, also, diplomacy and, thus, became Tujjar Sultan (Sultan’s business people) and the Arab for politics and state affairs. In 1970 most of the Jews left for Israel and only 3000 remain in big cities today. The Arabs succeeded in business and formed the business elite of Morocco, mostly in Fes and became the Fassi bourgeoisie, strongly present in the economy and politics. After independence, they moved to Casablanca, the hub of Moroccan economy, where they control such important businesses like: banking, insurance, international trade and industry.

The class of the rich is made of the Andalusians who served faithfully the Makhzen since 1492. They become the Makhzen families, a pool of technocracy from which most governments are still formed today. Because of their wealth they are able to send their offspring to the best universities in the world to prepare them to take key positions in the government in Morocco.

So basically, most important positions are inherited, the only civil servant that came from the periphery to an important governmental position, the Ministry of Interior, to be precise, was Basri, during the reign of Hassan II. He started his career in the police corps and because of his excellent security services, he was picked up by Hassan II to steer the “Mother of Ministries,” i.e. Ministry of the Interior as it was Known, then, by the opposition, when political opposition existed.

Today, besides the very rich and the very poor classes, that are miles apart, the social gap is gigantic and presages future shocks. If one wants to see the huge social differences in the capital city, one must visit the affluent quarters of Hay Riad, Souissi, Dar Salam, etc., on the one hand, and the very poor dwellings in the various favelas of Takaddoum and Hay Nahda in Rabat or El Karia in Salé, etc.,on the other, and this is reduplicated in every Moroccan city, which proves, beyond doubt, that the Moroccan development approach is a total failure, to say the least.


Since 1982, there appeared a new social class that Moroccan refer to as Beznassa (the word is derived from business). The beznassa are classified into two categories:

Mwalin shkara (men of a given capital): They are people who have a small capital that they try to fructify in business through legal or illegal practices. They will act mostly as intermediaries in various trades and make basically easy money using corruption, forged documents, abuse of power, etc. to move forward and make profit. In many ways, they are the shameful face of Moroccan capitalism.

Mwalin l-Ghabra (owners of powder): They are people who made easy money through selling Moroccan hashish to European intermediaries. During the reign of the late Hassan II they were tolerated and some even managed to get elected to parliament by buying votes. At the time, they contributed the equivalent of US 2 billion to the economy, but as a result, of pressure from Europe, the state cracked down on them. These people, however, still exist today and try to launder their money mostly in the building sector.

Indeed, in Tangier, there are big beautiful building referred to, tongue in cheek, in the local idiom, as “‘imarat na’na’” (the high-rises of mint, mint here is a polite term for hashish.) Their major weapon for survival was and still is corruption money in hard or local currency to influential politicians and security forces to allow them to transport their “merchandise” within the country or from Moroccan shores to Europe by go-fast boats.

Spatial differences:

The social differences are aggravated further by spatial discrepancies. During the French Protectorate period 1912-1956, Morocco was divided into two regions:

Useful Morocco (Maroc Utile): Made of plains of arable land used for agriculture and plateaus for mineral ores, such as the Khouribga phosphate plateau. There rich agricultural areas were exploited by French colons and mines by big French companies. These areas were easy to control by the French army and administration.

Useless Morocco (Maroc Inutile): It was made of mountainous areas and arid plateaus inhabited by fierce Amazigh/Berber people. It took the French 24 years to pacify these areas that were of no economic interest to the colonial power, anyway.

This spatial categorization was a continuum to another one that existed during the sultanic era. Prior to the colonization, Morocco, then, was divided into Bled l-Makhzen (area under government control equivalent to Maroc utile) and Bled s-Siba (land of dissidence equivalent to the Maroc Inutile). The Bled s-Siba refused to acknowledge the temporal authority of the sultan, to avoid paying him taxes, but acknowledged his religions mantle as Commander of the Faithful ‘amir mouminine” and conducted Friday prayer sermons in his name.

Sixty years after independence, this categorization is taking another turn, but along almost similar lines:

Morocco of the Golden Triangle

It is a triangle that starts in Tangier/Tetouan and runs all the way to Laayoune, on a north to south axis and from Laayoune to Fes in a south-center axis. Moroccan wealth and power is concentrated in this area where most of the industries and all job opportunities are. The successive governments, since independence, have done practically little to distribute wealth evenly between regions.

The government crafted, in the last decade, the regionalization process, but, actually, it is just in illusion and is far from being some sort of local government power as it is known in the West.

The Morocco of Despair

It is the Maroc Inutile, for sure, where there is no development, no opportunity, but only government bureaucracy that rackets poor people through corruption and abuse of power. The Morocco of Despair is made of Amazigh/Berber areas and arid plateaus. When immigration was possible, people flocked to Europe to make money and sent remittances back home. Still today, the migrants and their offspring send the equivalent of US$ 7 billion, but when they come back home in the summer they find that none of it has been used to develop their areas: no roads, no schools, no hospitals and no industry. The youth, in these regions, slumbers in drugs and toxic substances with no hope of treatment.

Sick of this situation and the government permanent lies of development, the population took to the streets in Alhoceima, in Jerada and in Zagora to shout their despair and the government, after making the usual empty promises of development, cracked down on these hiraks (uprisings) and put their leaders in prison and they are still there.

Cry My Beloved Country

In 2011, when Moroccans took to the street, in the aftermath of the infamous Arab Spring, the monarchy reacted by revamping the constitution whereby the king gave up some of his large powers to the head of government. The ensuing elections brought the Islamists to power but not incremental democracy or wellbeing to the population.

The Islamists are obsequious to the Makhzen and ineffectual in development because they have no economic program, in the least.

Now Islamism is on the wane but so is democracy and Morocco has, alas, become a land of opportunism where there is no hope for opportunity, at all.

Hoping for the best

Morocco – Bibliography

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Bowles, Paul. Morocco . New York: H. N. Abrams, 1993.

Cook, Weston F. The Hundred Years War for Morocco:Gunpowder and the Military Revolution in the Early Modern Muslim World. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994.

Findlay, A. M. Morocco . Oxford, England: Clio Press, 1995.

Hoisington, William A. Lyauatey and the French Conquest of Morocco . New York: St. Martin’ s Press, 1995.

McDougall, James (ed.). Nation, Society and Culture in North Africa. London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003.

Munson, Henry. Religion and Power in Morocco. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.

Park, Thomas Kerlin. Historical Dictionary of Morocco . Rev. ed.Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Pazzanita, Anthony G. Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara .2nd ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

Pennell, C. R. Morocco Since 1830: A History. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Wagner, Daniel A. Literacy, Culture, and Development:Becoming Literate in Morocco . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.


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