Over the past couple weeks, my Arabic school, the Qalam Center, hosted a series of fascinating lectures – in Arabic, of course.
First, journalist Mohamed Laghrouss spoke to students about press freedom in Morocco in light of the new constitution. Mr. Laghrouss presented Freedom House rankings to demonstrate a rollback in freedom of expression in the country in the past few years. On the other hand, he noted, the new constitution is a step forward because it expresses support for this freedom, compared to the old one which included 20 punishments for “crimes” of journalists, including for nebulous “bad intentions.” Mr. Laghrousse stated that while there is a degree of optimism amongst journalists about the recent legal changes, they are still waiting to see how these will be applied in practice. He highlighted the case of Rachid Niny who has been languishing in Moroccan prison for several months for publishing an article that dared to criticize high officials. Niny had been the author of a column called, “Shuf Shuf (Look, Look)” for the “Al-Masa (The Evening)” newspaper, focused on exposing corruption in Moroccan politics.
Second, Professor and MP of the leading Justice and Development Party Dr. Idriss Makly Adawi, spoke about the relationship between politics and economics in Morocco. He praised Morocco’s economic progress in recent years, pointing to statistics which showed sizable declines in the poverty rate and unemployment over the past decade, as well as a steady growth rate of above 4% between 2007 and 2010. At the same time, he noted the country’s main challenges, such as an illiteracy rate of 30%, substantial trade deficit, youth unemployment, and concentration of production in a limited number of sectors. He suggested that economic improvement in Morocco coincides with and depends on the country’s political liberalization. In this regard, he saluted the new constitution and the recent elections. At the end of his presentation, he gave a couple suggestions for economic improvement in Morocco, including enhancing civil society participation in decision-making, furthering good governance, investing in riches/ resources, and enhancing competitiveness in the economy. In the question and answer session, I asked whether there is real economic competition in Morocco or whether privilege and monopolization distort the situation. Dr. Adawi responded by noting that it was only over the past couple decades that Morocco began a process of privatization of state-owned monopolies, and that since then there has been increasing movement towards opening up a variety of sectors to economic competition.