By Jean AbiNader(Rabat, Jan. 20, 2012) — I returned to Rabat two months after the election that brought in a moderate Islamic party to lead the new coalition government. Having spent the last three days at a conference in Marrakech, I was astounded by the news of five young graduates who immolated themselves during a protest for jobs. When one contrasts the hopeful expectations of the participants in Marrakech with the great sadness of young people destroying themselves through some mixture of despair and recklessness, it brings into sharp focus the challenges ahead.
It is difficult to follow the news about the damaged young men without wondering how the new government will meet this severe test one day before it was scheduled to unveil its program in Parliament on Thursday. In discussions with government and opposition supporters it becomes clear that many fear there are short fuses for long-term problems such as closing employment and education deficits. The strongest asset for the new government is the mixture of old and new, professionals, technocrats, and politicians who understand that business as usual will not suffice. Even the palace, which has ensured that its representatives are in key ministries, has been taken aback by Wednesday’s dramatic actions, marking a turn from the usually peaceful demonstrations in the capital.
I spoke with former and current members of Parliament, supporters of the new government, and those who are taking a wait-and-see attitude. While there is no consensus on how it will perform, there is agreement that the immolations are a reality check on thinking that they have the time to make hard decisions. The new government seems poised to take up the challenges quickly if one follows its public statements. Having spent so much time negotiating the distribution and structure of the various ministries, there appears to be a commitment to visible results even if it requires shifting priorities away from reducing deficits and government expenditures.
While Morocco has initialed several commecial and investment agreements with Spain, the EU, and several Gulf countries over the past three months, implementation will take time. In addition, it is hard to convince graduates that after attending university they should return to less populated areas where there are jobs, many of which don’t require any kind of degree. How the government manages expectations and its relations with the palace will demonstrate quickly if the intellectual and operational leadership is there to convince Moroccans that their futures are secure and their lives will improve. No public relations campaigns will work–only results.Jean AbiNader is a Senior Advisor at the Moroccan American Center.