A virtual protest launched on Twitter suggests that the VOiP ban lift is just Morocco’s government trying to shift attention away from anything that could suggest the Kingdom isn’t democratic in the eyes of COP-goers.

Morocco has been able to attract foreign investment and progress ahead of its neighbors due to its political stability. And so inklings of political instability could change the story of Morocco being a “green power” and complicate the monochromatic image the Kingdom intends to project.

The UN estimates that the Arab Spring resulted in over $600 billion in losses due to the stifling of growth throughout the Middle East, but Morocco and its economy largely managed to sidestep the effects of political instability. Economic growth is still slow, but according to the World Bank, has been stronger than it is in neighboring countries. Foreign investment is up, and tourism hasn’t gone down as it has elsewhere in the region.

Underneath all that investment and resulting green success is a darker reality: the country still suffers from high unemployment (20.6%), especially among youth (39.9%). Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst and north Africa specialist with the Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy firm, says finding good jobs in Morocco is particularly challenging for the young and university-educated. Corruption within the corridors of power remains a problem. Moroccans are disillusioned. They hear those in power repeatedly brand the Kingdom as an “exception” but don’t see the benefits of economic development, as it has been far from inclusive.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco (L) shakes hand with President of Senegal Macky Sall at COP22
King Mohammed VI of Morocco (L) shakes hand with President of Senegal Macky Sall at COP22
Image: Reuters/Youssef Boudlal

“There is an obsession in Morocco with attracting foreign investment [into renewable energy], an obsession with mega-projects,” says Fabiani. But most actual Moroccans see none of that investment. “It’s like talking about two separate economies,” he says. There is “no distribution of the benefits of this foreign investment to the rest of the economy.”

This disaffection bubbling underneath the shiny green image Morocco portrays of itself came to a head in the recent demonstrations following the death of Mouhcine Fikri.

On October 28, Fikri, a fishmonger in the northern city of al Hoceima, bought $11,000-worth of Mediterranean swordfish from a fisherman. But before he could sell his goods, police confiscated the fish—for reasons of environmental conservation, it is illegal to catch swordfish during the months of October and November in al Hoceima. Afterwards, Fikri jumped into the trash compactor to attempt to retrieve the confiscated catch and while inside, the machinery was turned on and he was ground to death. In the aftermath, rumors circulated that the police ordered the machinery to be activated and, in turn, many Moroccans have interpreted Fikri’s death as an act of state brutality and demanded investigation.

Fikri’s story is symbolic of broader Moroccan grievances against “hogra”—a dialect term, loosely translated as control and manipulation, that has become a rallying cry in demonstrations throughout Morocco. On October 30, a protestor in Rabat held a sign addressed to COP-goers that read: “Welcome to COP22, We Grind People Here.” According to regional paper RifNow, protests in al Hoceima have continued as of last Friday, coinciding with the COP Conference.

Fabiani interprets all of this—the tremendous green development, the mixed messages about open access social media, and the protests around state brutality—to be of a piece. “The authorities are obsessed with what foreigners think and what foreigners see and they are willing to do anything they can so that they can polish the image of the country,” he says.

Nevertheless, the protests don’t seem to be tarnishing Morocco’s image; this past Monday during the conference, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy announced it has procured funding to finance additional solar projects near the city of Midelt.

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