Political ‘earthquake’ in Morocco as king dismisses cabinet members

Sunday 29/10/2017
Deep dissatisfaction. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI (R), Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani and members of the cabinet at the Royal Palace in Rabat, last May. (Reuters)

Casablanca- Moroccan King Mo­hammed VI’s un­precedented dis­missal of several ministers and top officials for failing to improve the economy in the long-neglected Rif region was described as a political “earthquake.”

The king sacked the ministers of education, planning and housing and health and reprimanded five former ministers following consul­tations with Moroccan Prime Min­ister Saad Eddine El Othmani.

The moves came after Driss Jet­tou, president of the National Court of Auditors, submitted a report outlining “serious dysfunc­tions” in the implementation of a development programme in the northern region of Al Hoceima. The project, begun in October 2015, was intended to develop various sectors, including health care and education, in the restive northern city.

“At the level of implementation of the programmed projects, there has been a significant delay in the launch of projects and the vast majority of them have not been launched at all, with the absence of concrete initiatives by some of the actors involved in their actual launch,” the cabinet said in a state­ment.

Political analyst Salah El Ouadie called the king’s moves “an earth­quake.” “After shaking the walls of ministries and departments, every­one is waiting for replicas to reach prison walls,” he said. “The era of staying in ministerial positions until a government changeover is over. It is a new dawn for Moroccan people who lost faith in politics.”

The Rif region has been a scene of regular protests against corrup­tion and marginalisation since the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri, who was crushed inside a rubbish truck October 28, 2016, in Al-Hoceima as he apparently tried to protest the seizure and destruc­tion of hundreds of kilograms of swordfish. It is illegal for swordfish to be caught in autumn.

Fikri’s death sparked the emer­gence of a grass-roots movement called Al-Hirak al-Shaabi or “Popu­lar Movement” demanding social justice, jobs and health care.

Ouadie said the king’s action was an important step towards follow-up on and better accountability of politicians and civil servants.

“This is a new approach that has been done on the basis of a thor­ough investigation led by Jettou, unlike in the past when some poli­ticians were arbitrarily dismissed or judged during late King Hassan II’s rule,” he said.

Mohammed Ennaji, a professor of economics at Mohammed V Uni­versity in Rabat, however, said the changes mean little.

“The dismissals have largely af­fected only the interchangeable, substitutable parts for the power, which have no political signifi­cance but whose dismissal makes noise as such,” Ennaji wrote on his Facebook page.

Political analyst Mohammed Afry said some provisions of the 2011 constitution have been put into practice for the first time. “The king used Article 47 in the constitu­tion, which allows him to dismiss government officials to protect his people’s interests,” said Afry, “but did we have to wait for Al-Hirak al- Shaabi to happen to trigger a politi­cal earthquake? Were leaders of Al- Hirak al-Shaabi right?”

The king’s moves were the same day protest leader Nasser Zefzafi and 29 others accused of organis­ing demonstrations in the northern region went on trial in Casablanca. They face charges ranging from conspiring against the state to pro­testing without authorisation.

Supporters of Al-Hirak al-Shaabi staged a noisy rally outside the court ahead of the trial to demand their release.