Despite its important debates and high calibre guests, the World Policy Conference (WPC) rarely attracts public attention in Morocco. However, it did so when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suddenly condemned Salaheddine Mezouar, head of the General Confederation of Enterprises in Morocco (CGEM), for meddling with the country’s standpoint on foreign developments, especially the current situation in Algeria. In a press release written in French, Mezouar was described as immature and thoughtless for crossing diplomatic red lines.
The WPC is an annual, VIP level event. Organised by the pro-state think tank the Policy Centre for the New South (previously OCP Policy Centre), it hosts around 250 “decision-makers, business leaders and critical thinkers”, added to which are renowned journalists and influential civil society representatives from around the globe. State presidents, especially from Africa, and CEOs of leading transnational companies discuss, in French or English, global strategic changes, their impact on the participants’ states or organisations, and prospects for building sustainable relations thereafter. Yet, participants mainly exchange academic insights rather than official decisions or hands-on solutions.
Addressing such an elite must have required a lot of self-control from Mezouar in order to echo official opinions, which he appears to have betrayed. Attending the WPC for the first time, he used his 15 minute speech to transcend a key, two-point red line for the deep state. He highlighted the rise of China as a global economic power to create a neo-bipolarity with the US. While the two powers compete stiffly, which requires the US to seek compromises, China has been more beneficial to African countries than the Europeans in terms of respect for their sovereignty and the immediacy of results.
In the bipolar race, Mezouar went on, the EU has been more of an observer, shaken by the economic recession and Brexit. Europe is the main economic partner for Africa, but China is providing better offers, which the EU must take into account.
He also indirectly criticised African leaders who see the West as the only politico-economic partner. However, he missed the point that for the Moroccan regime, revisiting strategic alliances is difficult within a region in turmoil and struggling with the crippling impact of the Sahara affair.
In addition, Mezouar described moderate Islamist movements as the most organised political and civil bodies, with some decisive roles in the present and future North Africa that foreign powers and local regimes should respect.
In other words, his message was that North Africa can prosper economically and democratically if local leaders keep clear of traditional partners, prioritise regional interests and respect democracy.
In Morocco, there is still a long way to go, given the complicated networks between the state, economic figures and foreign partners. Nevertheless, impoverished people may not wait for long, within the context of democratising changes that other countries in the region are undergoing these days.
Mezouar was pushed to resign immediately, demonstrating the concentration of power in Morocco. The state is able to manipulate CGEM presidents behind the scenes. As a result, the confederation has, on several occasions, behaved more like a small club annexed to the state than a free bloc of serious economic actors. For instance, it boycotted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Morocco in 2013, blaming the head of the government, Abdelilah Benkiran, for its marginalisation.
With the boycott, Benkiran resorted to a smaller gathering of business people, Amal Enterprises, to meet Turkish business representatives. It is possible that he needed the king’s consent on all the details of Erdoğan’s visit to be granted the CGEM’s support.
Meanwhile, creating a splinter group was an intolerable challenge to the palace in its role as the principle architect of Morocco’s economy and foreign relations. That is why the ex-head of the CGEM, Miriem Bensalah, had frequent skirmishes with Benkiran, and accompanied the king during his lengthy trip across the African continent during the “blockage” period in 2016.
As a result, Mezouar’s freedom of opinion outside of the official box was not tolerated. Despite serving it for ages, indirectly criticising the deep state for total dependence on EU partnerships prompted a hostile response.
Pro-state media focused on Mezouar’s one-minute comment on Algeria to justify his forced resignation. Rumours spread that the head of the CGEM fixed some internal problems with the state by deliberately harming some secret arrangements between Rabat and Algiers to open borders and solve the Sahara affair. Yet no proof of this has emerged, while the friction between the two neighbours continues in the corridors of the UN and the African Union.
Finally, manipulating the CGEM means that the state is responsible not only for the corruption and embezzlement in which many economic moguls are involved, but also, in one way or another, for the soaring prices and poor quality of products and services in Morocco. If the Arab Spring 2.0 erupts in the Kingdom of Morocco, the concentration of power will be among the top targets. That is why it threatens Morocco’s stability.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.