The Moroccan authorities are also struggling to draw up a national strategy to deal with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and its’ very damaging social and economic ramifications.
On 19 May the Minister of Economy, Finance and Administrative Reform, Mohamed Benchaâboun, warned that the lockdown was costing the country US$101 million a day. He warned that the emergency fund — which was established to deal with the crisis and had been allocated US$3.75 billion — was insufficient to meet the costs. Benchaâboun also stated that ‘the economic recession is expected to cause a shortfall in Morocco’s treasury revenues of approximately MAD500 million (US$50.5 million) per day during the quarantine period.’
Despite this bleak picture there is currently a lot of talk about how the crisis could present a chance for Morocco to remake its economy. The Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment & Digital Economy, Moulay Hafid Elalamy said that the post-COVID situation will provide the Moroccan economy with ‘unimaginable opportunities.’ Economic expert, Amine Laghidi, echoed these sentiments, explaining that the Kingdom could become a hub for the transformation of African agricultural and industrial exports.
However, such optimism does not wash with many Moroccans who complain that their leaders have no real vision or plans for the country’s future. Another economic expert, Arabi Jaidi, told the media this month that he doubted the ‘solidity’ of the economic and political plans that are being talked about and noted, ‘We don’t have answers for after the crisis because we cannot measure the post-coronavirus consequences.’ Locally there is a real sense that the state has no clear vision about how to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic.
Meanwhile the Economic Monitoring Committee launched a series of new measures this month to help kick-start the economy after the crisis. These include a state-financed loan guarantee initiative for both public and private sector companies. Any business that has been damaged by the pandemic is eligible to apply for a loan with a maximum interest rate of 4%, repayments spread over seven years, and a grace period of two years. Under the scheme, the state will guarantee 95% of loan values granted to micro-businesses such as small shops and craftsmen, and between 80%-90% of loans granted to businesses that have a turnover of more than US$1 million.
The Economic Monitoring Committee is also developing a series of recovery plans for different sectors including health, education and renewable energy. These plans are being drawn up in collaboration with the Confederation Generale des Entreprises du Maroc (CGEM). Although these measures will go some way to help alleviate the economic crisis, it is clear that Morocco is in for a very rough ride and that there will be a heavy cloud weighing over the Kingdom for several years to come. The fear within the political establishment is that the resultant economic hardship will translate into increased social anger that will manifest itself through protests and strikes.
In recent years the country has been blighted by waves of protests across various sectors including education and health, as well as the protests in the impoverished Rif Mountain region. Public anger against the government and state institutions has been high for a long time because promised reforms have not been implemented and/or have not made life palpably better for the majority of Moroccans.
Although there has been some admiration for the state’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the underlying core social problems that are afflicting the country are only going to deteriorate once the immediate crisis has passed.
The situation is likely to be more challenging because there is a considerable lack of trust in the country’s political elite and in its institutions. In particular the ruling Parti de la justice et du dévéloppement (PJD) has squandered the popular capital that it once had. Its willingness to bend to the will of King Mohammed VI and its failure to deliver its promises has severely tarnished its reputation. Consequently, it is now deemed to be part of the establishment and, by extension, part of the problem and is therefore unable to absorb public anger and frustration.
Yet this frustration goes beyond the ruling party. There is a general sense that the country has been seriously let down by its political leaders and technocrats who, while talking a lot about reform, have been unsuccessful in enacting change. There is therefore widespread contempt for the country’s political class. Although the monarchy will continue to guarantee a degree of stability, the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to bring further and more sustained challenges for the Moroccan state. Whether it will be able to manage these challenges has yet to be seen. This month Abdellatif Ouahbi — the general secretary of the Parti de l’Authenticité et de la Modernité’s (PAM) which is the country’s largest opposition party — commented that the government’s handling of the crisis demonstrates that ‘it is unable to manage and provide answers to the problems suffered by so many marginalised groups. This is threatening the social peace.’