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As social mobilisation increases, will it burn the Moroccan government?

January 15, 2016 at 11:05 am

The pre-2015 local election atmosphere is back in Morocco. A year-long campaign of criticism targeted the PJD-led government in stiff electoral competition in the run up to the 4 September poll. Political, economic, cultural and media arsenals were orchestrated to undermine government popularity and demonstrate that that it is unable to build on the slogans of 2011. Nevertheless, when the election results were released, almost all had gone well for the government.

Yet, the landslide win in local and regional elections did not guarantee a calm ending for the coalition parties. With the opposition weakness aggravated by internal disputes, and the failure of deep-state proxies to break the government from within, the PJD’s coalition has had to face direct advocacy from public protests. Different grassroots movements have taken to the streets, mostly for socio-economic reasons.

Three key spots have marked social mobility in this political year. The first was a popular sit-in in the northern city of Tangier protesting against soaring electricity bills. The second was the mass protest movement that medical students led against a draft law imposing a two-year period of civil service in remote areas after graduation. Both moves by civil society have caused government decisions to be axed. The third, and apparently strongest, has been the strike by trainee teachers since November.

Despite being aware of the new measures before enrolment, the trainees are protesting against two government decrees. The first reduces monthly grants from 2,500 Moroccan Dirhams (MAD, around $250) to MAD 1,200 (around $120). The second separates training from recruitment. Securing a post in public schools now requires a post-graduation test to be taken. Out of the current 10,000 trainees, 3,000 will have to search for jobs elsewhere.

Both laws need rectification, however. Dismissing the grant-cutting decree has enough justification in other higher education plans to aid students. The government prides itself on increasing university student grants in amount and number. Around 280,000 university students will benefit from compulsory health insurance, as approved recently. Abdelilah Benkiran, the Head of the Government, has also approved around 420,000 grants to vocational training undergraduates. This unprecedented move will be implemented at the start of the next academic year.

Reducing trainee teacher grants makes government decisions self-contradictory. Unlike university students, many trainee teachers live on their own, away from parents, and cannot access public campuses. Some even have families and children and have left unstable jobs in the quest for better conditions in the education sector. Thus, the reduction of their grant will simply complicate their situation and hamper their studies.

The second decree can be modified. Recruitment can depend on the year-end exams. That will make the training period more competitive. Those who so choose — as a result of separating training from recruitment — can fill a void in the private sector. With the current changes, this sector – which depends heavily on public school teachers — has to improve working conditions by offering full-time jobs with adequate salaries and insurance cover. Alternatively, graduates can be encouraged to start up their own educational enterprises.

Observers and politicians expect social mobilisation to increase as election time approaches. Heat from the street, no matter who lies behind it, can help the government rectify decisions and regain power with the forthcoming elections in mind.

On the other hand, what can eclipse government achievements and strengthen popular anger are mistakes from within, especially when resulting from an external monopoly. In October, it was discovered that the MAD 55 billion Rural Development Programme (RDP) was assigned to the minister of agriculture, not the head of the government. The RDP aims to implement development projects in 24,000 remote villages between 2016 and 2022. Since the September elections evidenced the weakness of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) in urban provinces, putting the programme in the hands of the ministry of agriculture was understood to be a nod to the deep state. The minister of agriculture rejected the conspiracy theory while the head of the government grudgingly consented, given that the programme is likely to outlive the current cabinet.

In November, the ministry of education rather unexpectedly circulated a note to academies ordering the immediate teaching of technology-content subjects in French. The head of the government dismissed the controversial note, openly blaming the minister for his lack of coordination. Benkiran insisted that he is the Head of the Government appointed by the king, not the minister of education or anyone else. The remark was interpreted by observers as a message to deep-state proxies who try to affect government cohesion via the language policy.

Furthermore, trainee teachers were on the receiving end of police brutality in retaliation for boycotting the two infamous decrees. The attack triggered another disagreement within the government. It is not yet clear who ordered the violent police intervention against peaceful protesters. Benkiran says that he was not consulted on the crackdown that coincided with the government’s weekly meeting, while the minister of interior claims that it was coordinated with the government head. Did, though, the two officials coordinate on the use of violence or simply on maintaining the rule of law without violating it?

Different stakeholders in Morocco need more time to figure out the landslide PJD win in September’s elections. Within this political transformation, more wisdom is necessary. Expectations from the government are to show cabinet cohesion, maintain respect for democracy, avoid inciting the public and speak out about its achievements. Expecting socio-political escalations without taking precautions is naive and suggests that lessons from across the region have not been learnt.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.