By Jean AbiNader (Rabat, Jan. 20, 2012) — I spent much of my day talking with taxi drivers, business leaders, friends, and waiters about two topics that are unfortunately related: the self-immolation by five graduates over lack of jobs and reactions to the programs being announced by the new government.
Disbelief and discomfort seem to permeate everyone’s remarks about the immolations, particularly “nothing like this has ever happened in Morocco.” Older middle-class Moroccans were shocked and blamed the unrealistic expectations of the young men for government jobs. This was repeated later by young professionals who were angry that the only interest of these protestors is to secure public sector employment — jobs for life that are among the least productive in the country according to these sources. Those in the lower economic strata said that it was “haram” — forbidden — and it proved that these people were not good Muslims. However another, a taxi driver, moaned the loss of those young men, now depriving their families of much needed support. I didn’t hear anyone mention “martyr,” but that will be turning up on some websites/social media soon.
It is a quandary. Without oil and gas and huge foreign reserves, Morocco is unable and unwilling to broaden public sector employment beyond the largesse of jobs added last year in response to the demonstrations. On the other hand, everyone believes that something must be done but there are few solutions that aren’t tied to longer term reforms of the economy and educational system. Although some claim that promoting entrepreneurship among the demonstrators would generate jobs, it contradicts the demands of the crowd for subsidies rather than the calculated risks of going into business.
The new government is very sensitive to the challenges that they have inherited. Jobs, transparency, equality before the law, and social development are top priorities and there is talk of increased pressure/incentives for the private sector to ratchet up their hiring. Labor laws, however, are an impediment to some since regulations on labor mobility and terminating employees are still not well advanced. In addition, the continued deterioration of Morocco’s main partners in Europe: Spain, France, and Italy, are compounding the slowdown in trade and investment. The debate in Parliament over the government’s program should be instructive regarding the willingness of its members to face their own future unemployment by a half-hearted agenda to provide opportunities that can make the young, believers.
The hope of Marrakech and the frustration of Rabat are captured well in Isobel Coleman’s blog from the PNB-NAPEO conference at: http://blogs.cfr.org/coleman/2012/01/19/education-and-employment-in-north-africa/
Jean AbiNader is a Senior Advisor at the Moroccan American Center