Sunday, January 30, 2011

Morocco Takes Measures Against the Tunisian (and now Egpytian) Influence

Here is an article about the reaction of Moroccan authorities to the events in Tunisia (and now Egypt) which might seem to threaten the country's stability.

Morocco takes measures against Tunisian contagion

By Sinikka Tarvainen and Mohsin el-Hassouni Jan 28, 2011, 20:57 GMT

Rabat - While the unrest in Tunisia has been spreading to other Arab countries, nearby Morocco has remained remarkably calm.

Four cases of people setting themselves ablaze have been reported recently, but they were believed to have been motivated by non-political reasons such mental health, economic or family problems, according to local media.

Morocco does not lack problems, which could spark political trouble. Rural poverty unleashed an exodus into city slums where massive unemployment and lack of perspective has increased the popularity of Islamic fundamentalists.

The country has a long tradition of 'bread riots,' and groups such as university graduates - nearly 30 per cent of whom are unemployed - also stage demonstrations that sometimes turn violent.

There is resentment against the country's privileged elite, which includes people such as King Mohammed VI's influential friend Fouad Ali el-Himma.

If Himma's Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) - a rising force on the country's political scene - continues to 'interfere' with other parties, that could lead to Tunisian-style unrest, the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) warned.

Moroccans do not, however, question the legitimacy of the king, criticism of whom can land journalists in prison.

'There has never been a demonstration against the king, who is seen as guaranteeing stability,' according to observers in Rabat.

Mohammed VI's position is reinforced by the fact that he is the official leader of Moroccan Muslims, a factor which has slowed the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.

Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi's government, however, is aware that Morocco is not immune to contagion from Tunisia, and is taking preventative measures against it.

Police dealing with demonstrators have been advised to avoid violence. The authorities have also announced new subsidies for basic products such as sugar, oil, wheat, gas and petrol.

The government - which already spent more than 2 billion dollars on subsidies in 2010 - wants to keep prices down, even at the cost of endangering budget stability, observers said.

Government spokesman Khalid Naciri denied that the subsidies were linked to the events in Tunisia. Morocco 'does not act in function of events in other countries,' he said.

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