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Morocco today

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Morocco today


Political and administrative organisation

In principle, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy by divine right . The king is both the supreme representative of the nation and the “Leader of the faithful”. Towards the end of his reign, in the late 1990s, Hassan II took steps towards democracy and it is hoped this process of liberalisation will continue under Mohammed VI. The new monarch, who was crowned on 23 July 1999 after 38 years of his father’s reign, seems to want to impose a different style of rule to that of his father. Dubbed the “king of the poor”, he is more accessible, active among the outcasts and regularly goes to regions previously neglected by the monarchy. However, the state’s continuing intolerance of opposition parties is evidence that this new openness is limited.

Since 1997, the House of Representatives , which has 333 members, is elected by direct universal suffrage for five years, while the House of Councillors is appointed by regional bodies and professional organisations. Abderrahmane Youssoufi is socialist prime minister of an alternating government.

Morocco is divided into 16 administrative regions called wilayat that are governed by wali. These regions are subdivided into provinces ; there are 41 in total, and correspond roughly to English counties. At a local level, districts and qadawat are found in rural areas, while pashas (originally an Ottoman term meaning “general”) administer the towns.


The population explosion

The Moroccan population grew from around 10 million prior to independence, to 15 million in 1975 and had attained 28 million by 2000. This rampant ­demographic increase is at the root of most of Morocco’s ills: rural exodus, unemployment (around 20 % of the active population), an inadequate education system (the highest illiteracy rate in the Maghreb at 47 %), the housing shortage and illegal emigration.

Although 45 % of the total population live in rural areas, the fertility rate (number of live children born per 1000 inhabitants) in towns has dropped significantly, from 4 per thousand in 1995 to 3.1 per thousand in 2000. It is currently halfway between the European average of 1.8 per thousand and that of most of the other African countries which is between 5 and 7 per thousand. The high annual increase in population (1.7 % compared to 0.6 % in Europe) is the result of the disparity between the still high birth rate and a low mortality rate which is only partially compensated for by emigration. In consequence, half the population is under 20 and life expectancy is relatively high (67 compared to 75 in Europe). The population density is around 63 inhabitants per km2 (not counting the Western Sahara which is virtually uninhabited), but wide disparities exist between the different regions.

The main urban centres are undergoing exponential growth with all its related disadvantages. Casablanca has 4 million inhabitants, Rabat-Salé 1.4 million, Fès 1.1 million. According to certain sources, Tangier and its suburbs have some 1.5 million inhabitants (compared to 190 000 in 1975!). The cities of Agadir, Marrakech, Meknès, Oujda and Safi have between 300 000 and 600 000 inhabitants. The overpopulated rural areas (Rif, High Atlas, Anti-Atlas, etc) send vast contingents of unemployed youths to these towns, where they often fail to find anything other than unstable, poorly-paid jobs and are forced to pile into shanty towns, due to lack of accommodation. The only chance of success apparently lies in emigrating to Europe.


Economic potential

Agriculture and fishing dominate the economic stage

Agriculture remains one of Morocco’s principal activities and nearly half the population lives in rural areas. The extremely diverse climatic conditions have enabled a wide variety of crops to be grown, so much so that the country is almost self-sufficient (with the exception of coffee and tea which are imported). Traditional agriculture is gradually giving way to more modern methods. The state is attempting to improve production and yields by extending irrigation, developing cooperatives, introducing mechanisation and providing bank loans. Certain crops which in the past were essential to the economy such as dates or sugar cane, are declining fast, but others have undergone substantial growth in just half a century. This is particularly the case with fruit and vegetables grown in the Sous region and on the Atlantic coast, partly for export to Europe. Overall, agriculture represents a third of the country’s exports. Nevertheless, in recent decades Moroccan agriculture has been cruelly hit by the capricious climate ; this has had a direct effect on the country’s gross domestic product. Long years of drought were suddenly followed by torrential rainfall causing floods of catastrophic proportions. For example, the drought of 1995 caused a 20 % drop in cereal production compared to the previous year, leading to a 6 % fall in GDP. Large-scale irrigation is thus a necessity and one of Hassan II’s priorities had been to inaugurate a dam every year. However, intensive irrigation is not without negative effects.

Breeding is essentially devoted to sheep and goats (around 18 million head) as opposed to cattle (2.3 million) and camels have lost practically all their former importance.

There are vast forests throughout the country but only the eucalyptus is used industrially (manufacture of cellulose in the Rharb). Cedar wood and thuja are only employed in the craft industry.

Fishing is another core industry (850 000 tons in 1995, 80 % sardines), and canning factories employ 400 000 people and represent 15 % of exports. Agadir (the world’s leading sardine port), Safi, Tan-Tan and Essaouira are, in order of importance, the four main fishing ports.

A subsoil rich in phosphates

Morocco’s mining tradition dates back to as early as the Middle Ages. Under the protectorate, the French actively embarked on geological prospecting missions and opened mines in some of the most remote parts of the country. Since then, the internationalisation of world markets has meant that many are not profitable enough and they have been closed. The main minerals still extracted today are lead (8th biggest world producer with 2.6 % of production), silver (12th world producer with 2.4 %), zinc, cobalt and antimony.

Morocco’s phosphate production is far more important to its economy. Over 23 million tons were produced in 1997, placing Morocco second in the world after the United States and just ahead of China. Morocco is the leading exporter of phosphates and more importantly, possesses 75 % of worldwide reserves. Phosphates are supplied as raw materials to the chemical industry plants at Safi and Jorf-Lasfar (near to El-Jadida), along two railways built to transport material from the deposits at Youssoufia.

However, Morocco’s almost total lack of fossil fuels is a handicap, exposing the country to the erratic leaps and bounds of the international markets. To penalise the population as little as possible, the government has elected to absorb any increases in price, which is extremely costly. Nevertheless, recent explorations at Talsint, between Midelt and Figuig, seem promising.

The production of electricity (some 12 billion kWh in 1996) in relation to the population, is far below that of the other countries of the Maghreb. Only 10 % comes from hydroelectric power plants following droughts which emptied the country’s reservoirs.

A budding industry

With the exception of the heavy chemical industry related to phosphates and the iron and steel industry at Nador, Morocco possesses primarily processing industries whose purpose is to satisfy a fast expanding domestic market (for example, household appliances). However, the relocation policy of European industry has led to the construction of factories, primarily for export, in particular for the textile and clothing industries. The food industry (canning, fruit juices, and so on) is also heavily geared towards exports. On the other hand, high-tech ­products are mostly imported.

The nationalised sector formerly amounted to a relatively high proportion of Moroccan industry, but over recent years, encouraged by the IMF, the state has begun to privatise. Finally, it is worthwhile underlining the considerable importance of the so-called grey economy , unregulated business activities, notably in the service and craft sectors.

Tourism and crafts: major assets

The tourist industry is vitally important to Morocco’s economy, generating between 10 to 20 times more income than foreign investment. Morocco’s proximity to Europe, its pleasant climate, exceptional natural and cultural heritage and well-established hotel infrastructure are all helping to make it potentially one of the world’s major tourist destinations . Yet despite this, Morocco’s tourist industry did suffer some knocks in the early 1990s, primarily because of instability in the Middle East.

Recently, however, major marketing campaigns have sought to attract tourists back to the country. In 1999, 2.4 million foreign visitors came to Morocco, a considerable increase on former years. Agadir, Marrakech and Ouarzazate are the most popular destinations. In addition to traditional tourist activities, the country also offers a wide range of sporting activities, like trekking and mountain biking.

To a far greater extent than its neighbours, Morocco has retained a thriving craft industry . These highly diversified activities employ a significant proportion of the working population, both in terms of production and sales (in the bazaars). The development of tourism and the growing demand for high-quality goods for export to Europe have further reinforced the country’s already well-established craft sector.

The future

With a GNP of $1 250 per inhabitant and with 4 million Moroccans living below the poverty line, Morocco will have to implement strict economic reforms in order to prepare its economy for free trade with the European Union, planned for 2010.

Not all the statistics paint such a black picture though: inflation is well under control (0.8 % in 1999), and in 25 years the Dirham, convertible since 1993, has only lost 30 % compared with hard currencies. The budget deficit (2.3 % of GDP) and the external debt (51 % of GDP) are both at very reasonable levels, foreign currency reserves are relatively high and the country’s infrastructure and communication facilities have improved dramatically. Furthermore, the foreign currency sent home by emigrant workers and brought into the country by tourists helps to compensate for the lack of foreign investment.

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