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  • Author: Edward M. Gabriel
  • Publication Date: 03-2018
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: The Ambassador's Review
  • Institution: Council of American Ambassadors
  • Abstract: Twenty years ago, I arrived in Morocco as the new U.S. Ambassador. It was the beginning of a close-up view of the changes going on in Morocco for the next two decades. During my first meeting with King Hassan II, shortly after my arrival, he wasted no time in addressing Morocco’s agenda with the United States, challenging me on our nation’s positions, especially in regard to his Kingdom’s existential issue regarding sovereignty over the Sahara. This unexpected candid and warm exchange set the tone for regular meetings throughout my tenure during which concerns and grievances were voiced in private, rather than aired publicly. King Mohammed VI would continue this practice with me after his father’s death. My first few months in the country also coincided with the beginning of the first government of Alternance, led by opposition leader Abderrahmane El Youssoufi—a watershed moment for Morocco that many political analysts mark as the beginning of significant democratic reform and economic liberalization in Morocco after years of a strong-armed approach to governing and limited civil rights. Abderrahmane El Youssoufi, whose political activities had previously resulted in two years in jail and then 15 years of exile, became Prime Minister after his party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), won the most seats in the November 1997 elections. Since then, the international community has confirmed Moroccan elections as occurring in a fair and transparent manner. In 1998, the unemployment rate in the country was 17 percent and growing, with youths making up a disproportionate percentage of the population. Women lacked equal rights with men. The percentage of the population living at or below the poverty line for lower middle-income countries was around 28 percent, and more than half of the entire adult population was illiterate, with rates among rural women much higher. Electricity in the country reached only around 60 percent of the population, and almost a quarter did not have access to potable water. Infant mortality rates were 23 percent higher than the regional average, and maternal mortality ratios were nearly double the regional average. Overall, the micro-economic picture was in dire shape. The economy was too dependent on agriculture, accounting for 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and heavily reliant on rainfall. Infrastructure was lacking throughout the country, and environmental degradation was widely apparent throughout the cities and the countryside, presenting a challenge to the growth of tourism. Of particular note, the northern part of Morocco was completely neglected after a series of militant actions created an irreparable rift between King Hassan and his citizens there. In contrast to the micro-economic indicators, by 1998 King Hassan had established a strong macro-economic climate: a low ratio of debt to GDP, a low budget deficit and an open, competitive economic system. He adopted International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank reforms that, had Morocco been a member of the European Union, would have qualified it for inclusion in the Monetary Union. Upon his death in 1999, King Hassan left the country unified, with a very strong nationalistic belief in country and King, a reasonably performing economy and, most important, with a solid commitment in its support for U.S. objectives regarding counterterrorism and economic openness, and in promoting peace in the Middle East. Twenty years later, where is Morocco today? Where is it headed tomorrow?
  • Topic: Agriculture, Development, Diplomacy, Education, Democracy, Decentralization , IMF
  • Political Geography: Africa, United States, North Africa, Morocco