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As Morocco Economy Slows, Jobless Are Getting Restive

Unemployed youth protesting in the north of the country.Unemployed youth protesting in the north of the country.

For over a year, fishermen, miners and jobless graduates in northern Morocco have demanded more help from the government. To be fair, the government is acutely aware of the need to create more jobs. Even as the protests rage, workers are putting the finishing touches on Marchica, the first of seven eco-resorts planned for the northern coast under the king’s 10-year plan to increase tourism.

 “We can’t just build hospitals and schools,” says Sami Bouhmidi, one of Marchica’s managers. “We need to lay the foundations for investment and regeneration,” Economist reported.

Morocco’s development has been impressive. A growing manufacturing sector, investment by European and Chinese firms, and stronger links with sub-Saharan Africa have boosted the economy.

Since 2000, GDP per person has increased by 70% in real terms. Tax breaks have drawn a splurge of foreign investors, including 110 aerospace firms and 150 automotive companies, to the north. Progress can be seen in new roads that cut through the mountains and a high-speed train that is set to hurtle down the coast by year’s end. Tourists are already flocking to the country in record numbers.

Poverty has dropped over the past decade. Still, many people feel left behind. Tolls on the new roads mean that most Moroccans remain on clogged and dangerous carriageways. The high-speed train may please tourists, but it will be a luxury for the average family. As many as two-thirds of Moroccans entering the labor market fail to find work.

The situation has grown dire in parts of the country. In much of the north, the youth unemployment rate is 40%, over twice the national average. A charity distributing food in Sidi Boulaalam, 200 miles south of Casablanca, was swamped with applicants last November, leading to a stampede that killed 15 people. Tens of thousands of Moroccans cross the Strait of Gibraltar each year on unreliable dinghies, hoping to find work in Europe. Relatives back home rely on their remittances.

Protests, sometimes violent, have pricked the conscience of King Muhammad VI. He warns of “a political earthquake” and scolds his government for failing to “reduce disparities between segments of the population, correct inter-regional imbalances or achieve social justice”. He gripes that only a sliver of his five-year development plan for the north has been implemented. Several ministers have been sacked.

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