Economy being hammered into shape: there are plenty of signs that the authorities in Morocco are pushing ahead with a raft of projects aimed at reducing the country's chronic unemployment. James Badcock has the details.

Author:Badcock, James
Position:Morocco
 
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Since last year's horrific terrorist attacks in Casablanca, there has been a notable increase in the amount of soul-searching by Morocco's political elite as to how the problems of widespread poverty and deprivation in the kingdom can be solved. The significance of the fact that most of the May 16 suicide bombers came from one of the dirt-poor shanty towns on the outskirts of Casablanca--Morocco's economic capital--was hard to avoid. These people had nothing to lose.

Speaking in July, the social development minister, Abderrahim Harouchi, said that the belts of poverty around the country's cities were "wide open country" for the Islamists. He talked of an "urgent" and "parallel" fight against extremism and the conditions that help it to breed.

Despite the fact that official government figures released that month maintained that the poverty rate had dropped to just 14%, the minister admitted that those "in a vulnerable economic situation", which he defined as disposing of less that $500 per year, comprised around a quarter of the population.

Aside from material poverty, the existence of an official 48% rate of illiteracy nationwide must also be included in the causes for alarm among Morocco's political establishment.

If the government's figures are correct, however, things are improving, with 92% of children in primary education--up from 79% since King Mohammed VI came to the throne in 1999.

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An increasing population and a lack of opportunities in the countryside have induced a large proportion of whole generations to move to the cities in search of work.

The proportion of Morocco's 30m-plus inhabitants living in the countryside has fallen to 45% from a figure around 60% a quarter of a century ago.

It is the creation of a mass of disaffected youth in urban areas which is the driving force behind Prime Minister Driss Jettou's plans to modernise the economy in every region, spreading the benefits of increased trade and tourism which are hoped to result from the country's liberalisation drive of recent years.

This international and regional coupling was outlined by Prime Minister Jettou when he urged a reshuffled cabinet to "speed up the pace of reforms and achievements".

The government's spokesperson and communications minister, Nabil Benabdellah, said that Jettou's vision sought to create new "regional economic hubs" in order to secure geographic balances and lasting development by increasing Morocco's "openness within...

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