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Morocco: Anger rises with prices

IPS - 21 Feb 2008

MOROCCO: Anger Rises With Prices

By Abderrahim El Ouali

CASABLANCA, Feb 21 (IPS) - The move to embrace a free trade economy has brought a sharp increase in the price of basic goods across Morocco. This is causing hardship, and threatening social stability.

Anger has erupted already. In September last year, large numbers of residents fought police in bloody clashes in Sefrou town to the east of Casablanca in a protest against rising prices. Many government buildings were set on fire, and local facilities were damaged.

Since then prices have risen, and the situation worsened.

"There is nothing cheap left for the poorest and limited income families," freelance photographer Abdellah Bourahi told IPS. "Everything has become expensive."

"The state wants to recover what it loses in customs income by imposing higher taxes on fundamental consumption," Abdessalam Adib, economist and member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) told IPS. "This leads straight to an increase of prices."

Free trade agreements with the EU and the U.S. have certainly contributed to an increase in prices. Morocco has a free trade agreement with the EU, and a free trade agreement was ratified with the U.S. in 2006. Further liberalisation is due by 2010.

The agreements with both oblige the Moroccan state to deregulate prices, "which means increasing them to the same level as international prices, even though internal circumstances do not allow such measures," Adib said.

"They should not forget that the monthly minimum wage for workers is only 1800 dirhams (about 163 euros), and that a great majority of citizens live under the poverty line," local journalist Loubna Goual told IPS.

According to official figures, more than six million Moroccans live under the poverty line. The country has a population of 32 million.

Prices of basic foods have risen continuously since 2005. Sugar has risen to 6.5 dirhams (0.59 euro) a kilo from 5 dirhams then. Beef is 65 dirhams a kilo (5.90 euro), up from 50 dirhams (about 4.50 euro) two years back.

Scattered protests are picking up, led by groups referred to as ’coordinations’.

"It is the population suffering from the high cost of living who are protesting," Adib said. "’Coordinations’ just supervise the different forms of protest."

The new government, formed after elections Sep.7 that drew little participation from a disillusioned people, has not offered any significant solutions. The government is seen as lacking legitimacy because the majority of people boycotted the last election. Only 27 percent of the electorate voted.

Political parties have failed to take up the issue. Only human rights NGOs have been raising their voice against the increase in prices. "But rights action cannot replace political action, and vice-versa," Adib said.

"The Moroccan political scene has become furnished with political parties whose fundamental concern is to serve the state," Adib said. "The economic and social policy that has been followed in our country for decades now serves just the interests of imperialism and local high classes, and is widely impoverishing the middle and lower classes."

The economy itself may suffer because "increasing prices without following any preventive measures leads to inflation, and this means the currency loses its value," Adib said. (END/2008)

 source: IPS