Morocco Proves Adept at Peacefully Managing Social Unrest

By Jackie Niba

November 18, 2016

The video in October of fisherman Mouhcine Fikri being crushed to death by a garbage truck compactor provoked deep outrage and spurred demonstrations across Morocco. Fikri was a self-made man who struggled to pull himself out of poverty to help his family by building a fish trade business. His death drew comparisons to the death of Mohamed Bouazizi in January 2011 that sparked the Arab Spring in Tunisia and beyond. Like Bouazizi, Fikri became a symbol of the Hogra, a sentiment of humiliation, contempt, and injustice felt by those at the bottom of the social ladder. Many feared Fikri’s death would ignite a second Arab Spring.

Instead, Moroccan authorities moved swiftly to prevent the protests from escalating. Unlike Tunisia’s lackluster response to the fruit vendor’s suicide in 2011, the Moroccan government condemned the actions of the police officers, did not confront protestors, promised to investigate the case, visited Fikri’s family, and arrested 11 suspects only four days after Fikri’s death. The Moroccan Prime Minister, Abdelilah Benkirane, also called for calm to allow the authorities to investigate the incident. The government created an environment for Moroccans to vent peacefully and feel confident justice would be served. This swift response mirrored King Mohammad VI’s reaction to the Arab spring, where only two weeks after the start of the February 2011 protests he convened a commission to prepare constitutional reforms curbing royal prerogatives and enhancing the powers of government and parliament. Now as then, Morocco’s measured response is a template for regimes in the region to respond constructively to social unrest.

By guaranteeing public order and public safety, Moroccan authorities minimized negative consequences for businesses operating in the country. Since the Arab Spring, Morocco has staked its future on greater global economic integration. Thus, procedures for conducting business have been streamlined, investors’ rights have been strengthened, pro-investment tax regimes have been enacted, state enterprises have been privatized, and FDIs are welcome in most sectors of the economy. These positive changes led international companies such as Renault and Bombardier to build factories in Morocco. In 2015, Morocco received $3.4 billion in Foreign Direct Investment, becoming one of the top 5 recipients of FDI in Africa.

By taking control of the protests, the government ensured Morocco maintains its reputation for political stability that is vital to attracting investors.