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Morocco’s Divided Youth

A little sociological analysis! Let’s start by dividing Moroccan youth into three groups, and drawing a brief caricature of each.

At the bottom of the social ladder are the excluded, whom I assume to be the vast majority of Moroccan youth. They have few prospects for the future except to scrounge for a living. They have no financial independence, because their families are needier than they are and rely on the few pennies they bring in. Most in this group will never make it through high school, though some have specialized skills that allow them to make money from time to time. They include car mechanics, masons, fishermen, agricultural workers, and apprentices in the trades. They include young people who work with their extended family in groceries or in souqs. They also include drug runners, those who steal cell phones, and those who have nothing whatsoever to do. They live in shantytowns, cold-water tenements, and dirt-poor rural environments. Their hopes for the future are so low that they are desperate to seduce some Spanish girl into marriage, or get in overloaded boats to cross the Gibraltar Strait.

The next group may have issued from the same social class in the beginning, but they have managed to reach university level, and have broader ambitions. Many have supplemented their education with some private-school training, in computers, tourism, or secretarial work. This is the group that thinks most like American youth. They want to help their families and better themselves at the same time. Many work as teachers or in public administration, or on the lower rungs of the still-small corporate sector. These are the youth who work at call centers, or in big-city electronics and furniture showrooms. A few make it as freelance designers, or start small businesses of their own. Some are the first generation in their families to reach this level, while others have parents who are salaried workers themselves, and can give them a small boost. They have computers, a bit of money in their pocket, and the time to read newspapers and discuss with their friends. Their interests are broader, their tastes are more sophisticated, and most secular democrats come from this group.

The third group, the children of the elite, never have to worry where they fit in society, because their place is assured. They can get what they want through the power of connections. Whatever goes wrong for them, daddy will take care of it. They are arrogant, spoiled, and out of touch. They believe they are deserving, because everyone says so. They go to the front of the line, and public servants greet them with a smile. They are allowed to break the law, because no one wants to mess with daddy. They have mostly been educated outside Morocco. They are crudely materialistic, with fancy cars and sharp clothing. They buy expensive things because they are expensive. They start high-profile companies in media or real estate. They flaunt everything that divides them from the ordinary Moroccan, causing resentment in others, but they don’t notice this because they live in a bubble. Perhaps some of them doubt their advantages, but I can’t prove it because I have very little contact with this group.

So for the sake of our crude analysis, we have a social pyramid. Let’s say that the group on the bottom, the excluded, makes up 70% of Moroccan youth. The next group, the aspiring middle class, makes up 28%. The children of the elite are the last 2%. So where does each group stand relative to Morocco’s February 20 movement?

It should be clear that the first group isn’t happy about how things are going in Morocco. In their view, Morocco is run by a bunch of crooks. They’ve never been helped by the state, only harrassed and ripped off. But they’re pretty much out of it as far as constitutional questions are concerned. Their political consciousness is nonexistent, or limited to questions that concern them directly, like their housing conditions or medical care for their family. There is no political party that speaks to them, and they may feel that February 20 is made up of the same kind of slick opportunists. These are the people the king calls “nihilists,” because they don’t think politics is anything more than a con game. They are just as likely to be reactionary and authoritarian as they are democratic — the “baltagiyas” or regime-supporting thugs come from this group. But if February 20 could present a social platform that would improve their lives in concrete ways, it would have room for growth in this consituency.

The second group, the aspiring middle class, is where February 20 draws most of its support. This is a growing demographic that is frustrated by a lack of opportunities to match their capacities. They are educated, self-aware, and competent. They are the real future of Morocco. They want to contribute, and many of them do, through associations, cultural activities, or internet forums. They are aware of what’s wrong and brainstorm solutions. They are growing into their role as citizens, and want to be leaders, but find themselves blocked by a system that favors the well connected. They are a bridge between the excluded and the elites, because they have the grievances of the former and the ambitions of the latter. This is the group that would benefit most from change, because they are capable of much more than they can get in the present system. Critical thinking is necessary to belong to this group, and they apply it to their own case by asking, “Why not me?” A movement like February 20 is natural to this group, an example of their committed spirit. But while this demographic is growing, it is still a minority. The challenge before them is to broaden their appeal.

Finally, the children of the elite have nothing to gain from a reform movement. They have been raised to step into daddy’s shoes, and have received the best of everything in preparation. Their whole world is based on entitlement. They have received a first-class education, while the public school system is left to languish. Their expensive playthings are a consequence of daddy’s favors and kickbacks. Their status above the law would be lost in a democracy. Since they are the people whose privileges are targeted by February 20, what would motivate them to join in? Aside from a few rebels of conscience, their attitude is one of indifference. They will keep on partying right through the revolution, as seen in this video of Qaddafi’s sons, or this recent piece from Syria.

    “Pool parties in the Damascus suburb of Barada are openly promoted on Facebook, inviting patrons to get ‘wet and wild’ every Friday as mosques call the faithful to prayer. […] The fuel behind the fun is not escapism, but indifference. […] Many of the young, fashionable crowd in Damascus and Aleppo — who have varying degrees of association with the regime — drive in fast cars with blacked-out windows and openly smoke marijuana, knowing they are above the law and resenting the ongoing troubles. […] They have too much to lose and virtually nothing to gain and feel irrevocably alienated from their fellow countrymen.”

So what should we take away from all this? First, that the February 20 protesters do not yet represent a majority of Moroccan youth, but they have a chance to change this if they can persuade the marginalized majority that political reform can bring concrete results. The excluded class at the bottom is frustrated and angry, but they are the victim of years of social engineering designed to teach them passivity in the face of oppression. February 20 activists will have their work cut out for them if they want to connect with this group. They will need to go to Morocco’s villages and urban neighborhoods with teach-ins and community organizing. That will take time, but it represents the only potential for February 20 to expand its base and become a majority movement. Meanwhile, February 20 should expect no help from the young privileged elites, who will look out for themselves despite the taste for personal freedom they superficially share.


Comment from Ali
Time: June 27, 2011, 14:00

Great article. I like the term social engineering and I think that it helps understand why this regime is still in place. Time us unfortunately going to play in favor of the makhzen because new type of social engineering can be used to deepen the gap between the protesters and the lowest group. In fact, this can be achieved in the long run by lowering the public education level which will in turn increase the size of the “nihilists”. I am afraid there is no easy way to escape from this circle.

Comment from Ms. Nejmi
Time: October 1, 2011, 10:17

I love your article.
It’ll take a long way to persuade the marginalized majority but it isn’t impossibe
Let’s be hopeful cz the financial difficulties will weaken the regime

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