Morocco, rocked last year by terrorist bombs, has rapidly shifted gears on its reform programmes both in the economic sphere and in gender equality. As James Badcock reports, the move has begun to pay dividends.
Most of the suicidal perpetrators of the May 16 bombings in Morocco came from the same dirt-poor suburb of Casablanca, Sidi Moumen. The attacks, in which at least 45 people died, were against places in the city frequented by Westerners or with Jewish connections. Many were shocked that Morocco, with its traditions of religious tolerance, would find itself having to fight an enemy within. It could be argued, however, that the real enemy to the country's stability is poverty.
Millions have flocked to shanties like Sidi Moumen as the population increase has outstripped opportunities for employment in rural areas. The official unemployment rate increased in the first half of 2003 to 11.2% against 10.4% in the same period the previous year, but it is widely acknowledged to be far higher, perhaps over 40%.
It is among Morocco's burgeoning youth population that the need for work-creation is most acute. Between the ages of 15 and 34, half the population is out of work. From mid-2002 to mid-2003, 155,000 jobs were created in Morocco, 80% in urban zones, yet each year approximately 250,000 youths enter the job market. It is a level of demand which races ahead of the steady but modest growth in the Moroccan economy.
Recent research into child poverty in Casablanca by the Moroccan Observatory of Children Rights (ONDE) found that over 60% of the maids working for Casablanca families are less than 15 years old, 84% of the girls being illiterate. ONDE also found that 25% of children live with their families in a single room and another 40% live in two-room lodging. This kind of poverty and exploitation can lead to resentment and, ultimately, violence.
Since the elections of September 2002, the direction of the coalition government headed by the unaligned technocrat, Prime Minister Driss Jettou, has been to modernise and liberalise the economy. All sectors are due to be privatised as and when the process is adjudged favourable to the needs of Moroccan society. So far actual sell-offs have been limited to relatively minor concerns, such as that of the state tobacco company. There are signs, however, that the pace of the programme is starting to pick up, with the recently announced privatisation of the nation's ports...