mid the upheaval that swept across the Middle East and North Africa since the dramatic December 2010 suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor, ignited long pent-up frustration with the regimes across the region, Morocco has stood out as an exception. Not only has the kingdom avoided both revolutionary tumult and violent repression, but while their neighbors were still struggling to come to terms with the so-called “Arab Spring,” Moroccans adopted a new constitution and elected a new government (albeit one led for the first time in the country’s history by an Islamist party). The question now is whether this extraordinarily peaceful transformation is sustainable, and, if it is, what the implications might be for the region as a whole.
Ahead of the game
Given the material reasons its people might have for grievance, Morocco was—at least superficially—a likelier candidate for revolutionary upheaval than its North African neighbors. In fact, on certain indices, Moroccans were indeed worse off than the citizens of any other country in the Maghreb. At the beginning of 2011, GDP per capita (purchasing power parity) in the kingdom was, respectively, just under half of what it was in Tunisia, three-fourths of what it was in Egypt, one-third of what it was in Libya, and two-thirds of what it was in Algeria. While the literacy rate in Morocco has been improving substantially in recent years, it still hovers at just above 50 percent, with women making up an overwhelming majority of those unable to read or write. Overall, the average Moroccan woman can expect to have six fewer years of schooling than her Tunisian sister and two years less than her Egyptian sister. Additionally, Morocco has a higher infant mortality rate and a lower life expectancy than any of the other four North African states.1
So why didn’t Moroccans revolt against a system that has so clearly left them behind their neighbors? It was not that they were unaware of the protests: satellite dishes are ubiquitous even in the poorest areas, virtually every Moroccan adult has a mobile phone, and the country has one of the most technologically advanced Internet services, both cable and wireless, in Africa. Rather, other factors were at play.This is a preview only. To read the full article click on the links below to purchase this issue or subscribe:
J. Peter Pham is director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. He also serves as vice president of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) and editor-in-chief of its refereed Journal of the Middle East and Africa. He thanks Kristen Smith for her research assistance.