It was on the evening of March 2, 2020 that the Ministry of Public Health announced the registration of the first positive case out of 29 suspected cases. He was a Moroccan resident in Italy who was treated immediately at the Moulay Youssef hospital in Casablanca.
Morocco declared a state of public health emergency and lockdown at 6 p.m. on Friday, March 20, 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19, after the country registered its first positive case on March 2. The government very quickly decided on a series of measures, which were put in place in European countries only at stage 2 or 3 of the pandemic. (1)
Incremental measures to fight the Covid-19
Since Tuesday March 17, 2020 the government started announcing continuously local outbreaks of the coronavirus and the country shifted, instantly, into high a gear in terms of measures to keep it under control. (2)
Actually, the Moroccan government started communicating on the evolution of the pandemic since the end of January 2020. At that time, the authorities announced a battery of measures to limit the risks. Among them was the introduction of health controls at international seaports and airports.
Fears had, also, been raised with the announcement of the repatriation of Moroccan students who were stranded in the province of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the pandemic, due to the quarantine of the city. Indeed, on January 28, 2020, the first plane from Beijing arrived in Casablanca and travelers were greeted under a strict system that was put in place (temperature measurement on arrival, thermal cameras, etc.). The returnees were placed in quarantine, under strict medical surveillance until February 22.
In addition, the first tests among the population were carried out at the beginning of February. The Moroccan health ministry, then, began publishing the figures of contamination on social networks and in the media on a daily basis. The population tested positive rose from 33 people on March 3 to 387 on March 20. The first death was announced on March 12.
On March 13, Morocco announced the closure “until further notice” of air and sea links to France and Spain, as well as its land borders with the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Yet the country is still at stage 1 of the pandemic.
For Geneive Abdo and Anna L. Jacobs from Brookings, Morocco reacted swiftly to the pandemic: (3)
“Morocco took aggressive policy measures early on to battle the spread of the coronavirus, suspending flights and closing various public venues, including restaurants, cafes, sports clubs, hammams, and movie theaters, on March 16. The same day, the Supreme Council of Ulema issued a fatwa to temporarily close mosques. This fatwa was issued in response to a request from King Mohammed VI, in his capacity as the “Commander of the Faithful.” On March 20, the country announced a “state of health emergency” and unleashed security forces to implement the bans against public gatherings. “
A milestone was reached on March 14, when the number of positive cases doubled overnight (March 13: 7 confirmed cases, March 14: 18 cases, and March 16: 37 cases). However, it is very difficult to interpret these figures to date, as only those tested are counted and for that time there were only a few hundred.
In a televised interview, the head of the Moroccan government, Saad-Eddine El Othmani, tried to reassure the population, while pointing out, with much emphasis, the importance of barrier gestures such washing hands, avoiding handshakes and embraces and keeping social distance, in order to avoid catching the virus and, ultimately, clogging the hospitals and outstretching the medical services.
The joint working commission between the Ministry of Health and the association of private clinics met on Wednesday March 18 to discuss the mobilization of resources of private clinics for the benefit of public hospitals.
Until March 17, the Moroccan authorities had favored the voluntary stay-at-home of citizens. Nevertheless, insistent calls were multiplying from the Ministry of Health and health care personnel inviting Moroccans to isolate themselves, in case of contamination, so as not to accelerate the contamination curve. The hashtag #restecheztoi was reproduced in Arabic and French on social networks and TV stations and many public and private radio stations were mobilized to educate the population on how to protect themselves and strictly uphold barrier gestures.
However, the country moved to another level of alert with the announcement, on March 18, of the discovery of outbreaks of local contamination. The appearance of “clusters” generally confirms the passage to stage 2 of the pandemic. Nevertheless, Morocco has until then been in anticipation by taking decisions that fall under stage 2 or 3 when the country was only at stage 1, such as the suspension of air links, for example.
And on Friday March 20, a state of health emergency was declared, which came into force that day at 6 p.m., with exceptional measures taken to limit the movement of the population until April 20, few days before the beginning of Ramadan, the Muslim month-long fast period. Prior to the government stay-at-home order, restaurants, cafés, non-essential businesses and mosques were all closed down to the public.
All in all, Morocco’s lockdown and mitigation measures have been described as a model of responsiveness. Despite the shortage of tests and the non-repatriation of Moroccans from abroad, significant resources were provided to hospitals and emergency funds were made available to support the economy. Military and security forces implemented strict mass quarantine and lockdown policies. However, although infection rates were, at the time, among the highest in Africa, deaths from Covid-19 remained relatively low, a reality for which all Moroccans were grateful.
On this particular point, Mohammed Issam Laaroussi writes in Aljazeera: (4)
“In March, Morocco’s strategy of containing the spread of Coronavirus was praised by certain European political figures and media outlets. During his statement before the National Assembly in Paris, French leftist politician Jean Luc Melenchon considered Morocco’s response as inspirational; and said “Morocco has performed well in its plan to combat Covid-19 by commandeering its textile industry to make protective masks. France should be inspired by it.” In neighboring Spain, the president of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Senate, Antonio Gutierrez Limones, described the Moroccan response as efficient and effective; “Morocco has launched the largest field hospital in Africa, which was completed in two weeks, with a capacity of more than 700 beds, while more than 83 million masks have been produced to date.” “
State of health emergency
On March 20, 2020, Morocco instituted a state of health emergency with compulsory lockdown whereby citizen mobility was subjected to special permits and the wearing of masks was made obligatory, under the close control of law enforcement security forces massively deployed on the ground. “The lockdown measures were taken very early compared to Europe. This anticipation is linked to the fact that hospital supply is less dense than in Europe. There were not enough intensive care places in hospitals, especially since the country was already facing a peak of gastroenteritis and bronchiolitis epidemics, which took up hospital places,” explains Dr. Mohamed-Rida Benissa, (5) a French-Moroccan respiratory system physician and pediatrician, doctor at the Global health institute of the Swiss School of public health. “To limit the extent of the crisis, not only did the country locked down the population very early on, but this was accompanied by a broad public information campaign…prevention messages targeted population groups and were disseminated in Arabic but also in Berber to reach everyone“. (6)
At the same time, the country’s infrastructures have been totally remodeled. “With the end of tourism, many hotels have been transformed into quarantine places for the sick but also into accommodation for health personnel working with people with Covid-19. One way to prevent them from bringing the disease home and transmitting it to their relatives“, says Dr. Benissa. (7) Private hospitals have also been requisitioned to increase the country’s care capacity. Patients were treated there under the same conditions as in the public sector. “Our policy of care implied that we did not send any patient home. Each patient diagnosed with Covid-19 was isolated in hospital, while his or her family and friends were also screened. A way to drastically reduce the contagiousness of the disease from the outset,” explains Chafik Kettani, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy in Casablanca, specializing in intensive care and emergency medicine. In all, more than 340,000 PCR tests have been performed, in the early stages of the pandemic.
Home-made face masks
At the same time, there was the question of the supply of basic materials. In order to cope with the worldwide shortage of masks, some thirty textile companies were reconverted. “Immediately, the country wanted to produce its own masks, seeing that international production would be requisitioned by the great powers,” explains Dr. Mohamed-Rida Benissa. (8) The production has risen to 10 million masks per day, according to figures from the Ministry of Industry. With a selling price of 80 cents per unit (about 7 euro cents), this operation was made possible thanks to subsidies from the special emergency fund abounded by the state and by public donations. Prisoners were, also, involved in the national campaign of pandemic fight. Indeed, about a hundred of them, in 20 prisons, participated with the fabrication of 20,000 masks per day.
“Test! test! test!“, Morocco has taken the World Health Organization (WHO) injunction very seriously in response to the coronavirus crisis. The number of screening tests in Morocco has exceeded 17,500 per day in 24 national laboratories, announced the Minister of Health, Khalid Ait Taleb on June 14, 2020: “We started with 2,000 tests per day in three laboratories. Today, we have exceeded 17,500 tests per day, since we have gone from 3 to 24 national laboratories.”
Some Islamists reject the lockdown
Salafists Abou Naim, Hassan El Kettani and Omar Haddouchi opposed, vehemently, the call for the closure of Moroccan mosques, (9) as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus, issued in a fatwa (religious edict) by the Higher Council of Ulemas in Morocco. (10)
The North Africa Journal writes on this particular reaction:
“The governments’ decision to close mosques in those countries came with heavy resistance from conservatives, in particular from the so-called Salafist movement. In Morocco, known Salafi personalities such as Abu Naim, Hassan El Kettani and Omar Haddouchi have all issued statements opposing the call. This is despite several fatwas, like that of the Superior Council of Muslim Scholars (Ulemas) in Morocco, issuing a favorable opinion. “
In a Facebook video on March 12, Salafist Sheikh Abou Naim invited the Higher Council of Ulemas and the Rabita Mohammedia for Ulemas to “rather focus on issuing such fatwas against the places of games of chance, bars and places debauchery (…) where the deadly diseases spread, instead of focusing on mosques. ” (11)
“It’s a scandal,” he said, considering that “the epidemic has not reached a dangerous level that requires the closure of mosques.” “Closing the mosques is not a necessity and I warn the supervisory ministry and institutions against this measure,” he went on to say. “The country that closes its mosques renounces its religion… Do not despise the mosque or God will punish you,” added emphatically Abou Naim.
Also, on March 15, the Moroccan Salafist Hassan El Kettani challenged calls for the closure of mosques in Morocco as a preventive measure. (12) On his Facebook page, he quoted a fatwa, which he described as “majestic“, from the Kuwaiti Sheikh Hakem al-Mutairi, criticising other ulemas’ opinions on the closure of mosques and the suspension of group prayers for fear of spreading the virus. (13)
The fatwa in question considered these calls as “the effect of the Western, secular and materialistic culture that has made man a commodity that we are afraid to damage.” “The presence of the epidemic does not require diligence or a new fatwa,” added Hakem al-Mutairi. He recalled that “the epidemic and the plague were common in the time of Prophet Muhammad, but he never authorized the closure of mosques or the suspension of group prayer.” “The Prophet Muhammad advised against travelling to or leaving countries affected by the plague and advised avoiding contact (14) with those affected,” the report concluded. (15)
To confirm his position, Hassan El Kettani also quoted a fatwa from the Mauritanian Mohamed Hassan Al Dadew, who said on March 12 that mosques should not be closed, referring to a hadith of the Prophet of Islam authorizing group prayer even if only three people are present.
Surprisingly enough, however Al Adl wal Ihsane, the Islamist unauthorized political party, always bitterly critical of the monarchy, had chosen to support the decisions taken by the El Othmani government to deal with the coronavirus but without naming him by name. (16) Indeed, through the voice of its human rights spokesman, the association “salutes the Moroccan people for their adherence to protection and prevention measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic” and “asks them to continue to engage” on this path, he said in a statement. (17)
Al Adl wal Ihsane took this opportunity to pay a vibrant tribute “to all health professionals, administrative officials and all those who contribute to protect citizens, care for patients, ensure the continuity of economic activity and spread the spirit of unity and solidarity among members of society. “
Al Adl wal Ihsane called, along with human rights organizations in Morocco and Europe, for “the release of all political prisoners and others in the public interest to protect them from the spread of the pandemic in their ranks.“
The publication of this press release came two days after the rallies of some recalcitrant Islamists that took place in some cities of the kingdom in the evening of Saturday, March 21, the day after the official establishment of the state of health emergency, in opposition to the stay-at-home decree and the closing down of mosques throughout the country to stop the progression of the virus.
On the reaction of the Islamists to the pandemic in the Muslim world, Andrew Hanna writes in the Wilson Center: (18)
“Islamic governments, parties, militias and religious leaders reacted in disparate ways to the eruption of the COVID-19 coronavirus across the Middle East and North Africa. ISIS instructed its followers not to travel to Europe, an epicenter of the disease. Conservative Sunni clerics cited conspiracy theories that blamed Shiites and atheists for triggering the worldwide pandemic. Some clerics in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco even debated whether the outbreak was divine punishment against nonbelievers. Moderate Islamist parties collaborated with governments and offered followers practical advice on how to avoid contracting the virus. “
As to what concerns Prince Moulay Hicham, cousin of the king, nicknamed by the press “The Red Prince“ (19) because of his intermittent criticism of the political management of the monarchy, he has, duly, expressed satisfaction to the measures taken to face the pandemic in Morocco. However, he pointed out, in an article published in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir that, probably, it is high time the establishment considered reducing social inequalities in the country to better counter the current health crisis and future possible ones: (20)
“Why is this troubling? Because scientific projections predict a second wave of pandemic this winter, but also because in the future we will see more and more existential threats of this type. Climate change will further accentuate these dangers. It is to be expected that entire sectors of the Moroccan economy will remain in crisis in the near future. A large part of the country’s labor force works in the informal sector, a consequence of unfettered neoliberalism, which has produced no ripple effects because of the weak rule of law. Without a significant reduction in inequalities, effective treatment against Covid-19 will thus be of no help to the majority of the population. As Moroccans, we need only look at the situation in the Rif – in this region, accumulated deficiencies have led to social revolt – to see the dangers that lie ahead. “
For him the current official handling of the health crisis is not enough, instead, he suggests the following approach: (21)
“Recently, King Mohammed VI declared that the current economic development paradigm has failed. We now have an opportunity to address this failure, following the Chinese proverb that says that with every crisis comes opportunity. We need to prepare for new challenges following the pandemic that will be long-lasting. To cite just a few examples, remittances from abroad, long a vital economic resource, will decline as Moroccans abroad are likely to keep their money with them. The tourism sector will take many years to recover. But Morocco can also take advantage of disruptions in the global supply chain to open up to new modes of production. Self-sufficiency and social spending must become priorities. “
Severe economic impact
The economic impact of Covid-19 on Morocco can be considerable. Nevertheless, the government’s response to contain the expected effects has been swift. In a note on the economic impacts of Covid-19 in Morocco attributed to the trade section of the European Union delegation, the latter combed through all the measures taken by the state. It, also, shows that the impact of Covid-19 varies by sector. (22)
The note dated March 26, 2020, specifies that as an economy based on consumption, trade and tourism, Morocco could experience significant losses in 2020. So far, the main sectors affected are tourism, automobiles and textiles. As the transport and transit of goods is operating normally, the impact of Covid-19 on trade seems to have been curbed for the time being. It also notes that being highly dependent on the European economy, Morocco’s economic activity will inevitably be impacted by the decline in European growth. Indeed, the EU accounts for more than 58% of Moroccan exports, 59% of the FDI stock, 70% of tourism receipts and 69% of transfers from Moroccans Residing Abroad (MRE), the document points out: (23)
“The economic activity of the Kingdom will undoubtedly be impacted by the downturn in the European economy knowing that the EU accounts for more than 58% of Moroccan exports, 59% of the stock of FDI, 70% of tourism receipts and 69 of transfers of Moroccans Residing Abroad (MRE). “
(“ L’activité économique du Royaume sera incontestablement impactée par le repli de l’économie européenne sachant que l’UE représente plus de 58% des exportations marocaines, 59% du stock d’IDE, 70% des recettes touristiques et 69 des transferts des Marocains Résidant à l’Etranger (MRE). “)
One of the sectors that is feeling the full impact of the spread of Covid-19 is tourism. As such, the National Tourism Confederation (Confédération nationale du tourisme -CNT-) has evaluated the impact of the Covid-19 crisis at MAD 34.1 billion loss in terms of tourism turnover in 2020 and MAD 14 billion loss in terms of turnover for the hotel industry, for an overall drop of nearly 6 million tourists (-98%), which will cause a total loss of 11,6 million overnight stays, recalls the document of this specialized institution, pointing out that no less than 500,000 jobs and 8,500 businesses would be at risk, including classified tourist accommodation businesses, tourist catering businesses, travel agencies, tourist transport companies and car rental companies. (24)
The transport sector is also suffering heavily from Covid-19. In this sense, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) explains that the pandemic could lead to losses in Morocco in the order of 4.9 million fewer passengers and a shortfall of USD 728 million. (25) “The disruption of air traffic could also put more than 225,000 jobs at risk,” the document says. Road and rail transport are also expected to be affected by the crisis following the general ban on passenger vehicle traffic from March 24, 2020.
For the daily newspaper Assabah, the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic will last for many years and have so many implications on a number of sectors: (26)
“The repercussions of the pandemic will not be limited to the current year, but will extend to the coming years due to the severe economic and financial damages caused by the preventive measures adopted by the government to limit the spread of the epidemic, similar to the decision to close restaurants, which was recently approved, and it is not excluded that it will lead to bankruptcy of a number of Institutions concerned with it. “
The socio-economic impact of the crisis will undoubtedly be felt first and hardest by workers in the informal sector, who represent a large majority of working Moroccans and foreign populations (migrants and refugees), and who are generally employed in sectors particularly vulnerable to the crisis, such as tourism, transport sector, retail, or the “gig economy ” (27) but, also, by all those whose work cannot be done remotely. (28)
Economic growth affected heavily leading to recession
Morocco’s economy is already affected by the global economic meltdown, which affects Europe, its main trading partner. lockdown measures to deal with the spread of the pandemic are, also, showing rapid negative effects on the economy. These circumstances pose unprecedented challenges for the country, which was already facing an agricultural year marked by drought, and suggest that Morocco’s economy is expected to suffer greatly from the negative impact of the pandemic.
According to the High Commission for Planning (Haut-Commissariat au Plan -HCP-), (29) economic growth did not exceed 0.1 percent in the first quarter of the year 2020. This weak growth is attributable to a further decline in agricultural value added to -5% and a slowdown in industry and market services.
In the second quarter of 2020, the Moroccan economy, under strict population lockdown for 13 weeks, faced a decline in domestic demand. Household consumption, in volume terms, is estimated to have declined by 6.7 percent. This decline would have affected, in particular, household spending on manufactured goods, especially clothing and equipment, as well as on transportation, restaurants, and recreation.
External demand would also have been weakened, leading to a 25.1% drop in the volume of exports. Imports, for their part, would have fallen by 26.7%, impacted by the decline in purchases of capital goods, energy products, consumer goods, raw materials and semi-finished products. Under these conditions, the decline in GDP would have reached -13.8% compared to the same period in 2019. (30)
For the industry, the decline in added value would have been -6.1% in the second quarter of 2020. The tertiary sector, the main driver of economic growth, would have declined by 11.5%, suffering from the contraction of commercial, transport, accommodation and catering activities. In the secondary sector, added value in construction, electricity, textiles, and electrical and mechanical industries would have decreased significantly. This situation would have particularly penalized the activities of very small and medium enterprises. According to the first-pass survey conducted by the HCP, in April 2020 among companies, 72% and 26% respectively of the production units temporarily or permanently shut down in April 2020 were very small companies (VSEs) and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
On the other hand, companies operating in the mining, food and chemical industries would have been more resilient to the effects of the pandemic. Non-market services would also have been dynamic, thus partially cushioning the decline in other activities.
In the third quarter of 2020, the decline in activity would gradually ease to -4.1%, instead of -13.8% in the second quarter. This movement would be mainly due to the recovery in trade, transport and manufacturing activities. In July 2020, the second survey conducted by the HCP among companies revealed that 86% of those that stopped their activities during lockdown resumed their activities totally and/or partially after. The resumption of activity at the normal rate concerned 40% of large companies, 35% of SMEs and 31% of VSEs.
For the year 2020 as a whole, the Moroccan economy is expected to experience a recession, the first in more than two decades, under the combined effect of drought and the pandemic. Indeed, according to the annual forecasts of the HCP, GDP is expected to contract by 5.8 percent, accompanied by a widening of the budget deficit to 7.4 percent of GDP. The current account deficit is also expected to worsen to 6.9% of GDP.
The return of growth to its growth path would take place gradually from 2021 onwards, with a projected increase in GDP of 4.4% over 2020. Non-agricultural activities would recover, posting an increase of 3.6%, in line with the recovery of domestic and external demand, while the return of seasonal weather conditions would promote an increase in agricultural value added.
The various forecasts of international financial organizations, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are broadly in line with the HCP projections. The Moroccan economy would suffer the double impact of internal and external economic shocks.
For the World Bank, the Moroccan economy is in for a sharp decline: (31)
“On the economic front, the COVID-19 shock has pushed the Moroccan economy abruptly into a severe recession—the first recession since 1995. Economic output contracted by 13.8% in the second quarter, primarily as a result of the lockdown but also because of a sharp reduction in exports caused by the disruption of global value chains, collapse of tourism receipts, and a fall in remittances. The shocks to supply and demand triggered by the pandemic have been compounded by the underperformance of the agricultural sector as a result of an unusually dry winter. In this context, in H1-2020 the unemployment rate increased from 8.1% to 12.3%. The Moroccan authorities have adopted a number of measures to mitigate the impact of these shocks on households and companies, including: direct transfers to formal and informal workers; issuing partial guarantees to banks for loans granted to firms; a reduction in the Central Bank’s benchmark interest rate by 75 basis points (to a historically low 1.5%); and direct injections of liquidity into the financial system. “
Severe social repercussions
More than 32 billion dirhams disbursed to thwart the Covid-19 epidemic in all its dimensions gives an idea of the bitter struggle that Morocco is waging to limit the economic, social and political consequences in the wake of this health crisis that darkens the beginning of the 21st century. It must be said that the hour is really serious. It is necessary to support the companies and their employees who are now technically unemployed as far as the formal sector is concerned, but, also, the workers of the informal sector who have been forced to close shop and cease activity.
When the state declared a state of health emergency and lockdown in March 2020. Most companies opted for teleworking or unpaid leave. Neighborhood shops were no longer allowed to stay open beyond 6 p.m. By 7 p.m., Moroccan streets were frequented only by law enforcement officers who set up roadblocks everywhere. After a few days, citizens began to complain and demand compensation. While some have enough to live on despite this poor health and economic situation, others were under pressure and were eager to receive unemployment benefits or financial assistance offered by Morocco’s Economic Intelligence Committee (Comité de Veille Economique -CVE-). (32)
In the meantime, many sectors are suffering and paying a heavy price for Covid-19 restrictions. This is the case for tourism, transportation and automotive manufacturing. The closure of Morocco’s air borders has led to the closure of several hotels in the country, turning the 12.93 million tourists who visited the kingdom in 2019 into ghosts haunting the memories of Moroccans.
The figures speak for themselves: “34.1 billion dirhams of loss of tourist turnover in 2020, including 14 billion for the hotel industry. An overall decline of nearly 6 million tourists, a total loss of 11.6 million overnight stays,” according to the National Confederation of Tourism (Confédération nationale du tourisme -CNT-). (33) And this cataclysm threatened at least 500,000 jobs and 8,500 businesses directly or indirectly linked to the country’s hotel business. “I’m a receptionist in a hotel,” says Narjiss, with tears in her eyes. “My salary allowed me to pay my rent here in Tangier, do my monthly shopping and not beg for money to make ends meet. Now my employer just told me to leave… but where does he want me to go, seriously? “
This technical unemployment has a dramatic impact on the life of Narjiss and thousands of people working in the same sector as her. “I can’t afford to pay my rent for April. My landlord gave me an ultimatum: either I pay by the 10th or I leave his house. I have no one to lodge me here and going back to my parents in Meknes is impossible with the ban on travel between cities! “says Kenza, a cook in the restaurant of a hotel in Marrakech.
On the side of mobility, it was total paralysis, except for heavy goods vehicles transporting basic goods and basic necessities, between cities or internationally. On the ground and in the air, nobody was allowed to move around anymore. As a result, Royal Air Maroc, the Moroccan airline company, announced in 2020 that it was in great financial difficulty and was unable to pay all its 3,420 employees and 4,000 employees in subsidiaries last April. “I find this unacceptable! How can a company like the RAM, with a generous cash flow, say it is having trouble paying its employees for 2 or 3 months? This is unacceptable! It is a national company. It belongs to the State. It’s up to the State to inject what is needed in these times of pandemic,” protests Ali, a former steward at the RAM.
Anyway, the asphyxiation is there, in the numbers too. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the pandemic could cause Morocco to lose 4.9 million passengers and $728 million in lost revenue. In the airline industry, nearly 225,000 jobs would be at risk. (34)
Sovereign rating downgraded
It is a fact that several countries have seen their sovereign ratings downgraded by specialized international rating institutions. Morocco was no different, indeed, the U.S. rating agency Fitch Ratings downgraded Morocco’s at BBB- with a stable outlook, in a report published on March 16, where it analyzes the risks of Covid-19 on the Moroccan economy.
According to the agency, the kingdom has buffers to manage the pressures due to the coronavirus, despite the drought, thanks in particular to the recent decision to adjust the flexibility of the exchange rate regime.
However, recently on October 23, 2020, Fitch Ratings has revised Morocco’s default rating for long-term foreign currency bonds to BB+. While Fitch saw enough reason to downgrade Morocco it still considers its outlook to remain stable. The downgrade from BBB- to BB+ means that Morocco’s long-term foreign currency bonds now have junk bond status. (35)
In addition to tourism, disruptions in global value chains “could also affect the automotive industry, which accounts for the largest share of Morocco’s exports, with sales equivalent to 6 percent of GDP in 2017-2019,” the agency warns, (36) adding that “The slowdown in global growth could weigh on Morocco’s other exports, mainly phosphates (4.4 percent of GDP).“ (37) However, the fall in oil prices should alleviate the deficit of other sectors by limiting energy imports.
Taken together, these measures constitute a real “Marshall Plan” deployed by the king of Morocco, who from the beginning of the crisis has applied the maximum precautionary principle in order to preserve the Kingdom from the pandemic’s severe economic and social fallout.
Covid-19 and social cohesion
The operation to compensate employees who are out of work due to the coronavirus health crisis was entirely financed by the Special Fund for Pandemic Management. The last deadline for the filing of declarations by unemployed employees was set for Friday, April 3, 2020.
In a statement granted to the Moroccan official news agency (Maghreb Arabe Presse -MAP-), the Minister of Employment and Professional Integration, Mohamed Amekraz, said that more than 700,000 employees in a situation of work stoppage, registered on April 1, 2020 at 17:00 hours to receive the lump sum of MAD 2,000 from the National Social Security Fund (Caisse nationale de sécurité sociale -CNSS-). The minister indicated that a total of 113,000 companies have declared a temporary work stoppage since March 15, 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The number of employees registered to date on the [email protected] portal far exceeds the projections made by the state Economic Intelligence Committee (CVE). Referring to the sectors affected by the consequences of the coronavirus, the CVE had forecast a target population of about 430,000 employees, for a total amount of compensation estimated at 4 billion dirhams (from the date of March 15, 2020 to the end of June 2020).
According to another balance sheet drawn up on Wednesday April 1, 2020 at noon, 111,353 companies declared the total or partial cessation of their activity(ies), corresponding to a population of 688,297 employees. This assessment was announced by the head of government, Saad-Eddine El Othmani, on social networks.
As soon as the first contaminations were recorded in Morocco, King Mohammed VI, launched a Special Fund for Pandemic Management (Fonds spécial pour la gestion de la pandémie du Coronavirus “La Covid-19”) (38) with 250 million US$ (2 billion dirhams) from his own money coming from his holding Al Mada. (39) The fund stands at 3.8 billion US$ (as of July 2020) (40) with donations coming from various companies, personalities and people at large showing a great sense of national solidarity and sharing at a time of crisis.
The sense of responsibility and social cohesion is better reflected in the Internet, people’s democracy agora, where opinions are shared without any fear. Indeed, in the web people have shown their appreciation of the king’s generosity and sense of leadership and the government handling of the pandemic crisis, so far and this was reflected, also, on murals of the street art in Rabat and other cities.
As a matter of fact, all eyes were on the lips of the Minister of Finance, Mohamed Benchaâboun, on March 19, 2020, to inquire about the measures taken at the end of the second meeting of the Economic Intelligence Committee (CVE) held the same day on what concerns work stoppage and eventual cash payments to the people affected by this situation.
It was clear that the government, from the outset, had decided to start with the structured sectors and people already identified and affiliated with the Moroccan social security (CNSS). However, many insistent questions remained unanswered: What about people who are not affiliated to the CNSS and who work in the informal sector? What about the destitute? The Minister, nevertheless, informed, the public at large, that the third meeting of the CVE of March 23, 2020 will be devoted to this issue to examine a new series of measures. The question that arose, then, is how will these measures benefit the targeted populations?
The Moroccan Internet citizens have, also, shown their massive support to the authorities’ anticipative moves and the leading role played by the Ministry of Interior, the police, the gendarmerie, the army and especially the “White Army “made of doctors, medics, paramedics, emergency services, and hospital workers.
On this particular point, Mohammed Masbah writes: (41)
“In times like these, there is a call for unity in the face of a national and global crisis, and opposition groups such as Adl wal Ihssan and Rif activists have expressed their support for government measures and have encouraged people to follow the new guidelines and restrictions. However, despite calls to release political prisoners, Moroccan authorities have not indicated that they will do so. This is a missed opportunity vis-à-vis the opposition because it could have served as a way to further strengthen national unity during the crisis.
These are all promising signs and point to what is likely to be a short-term burst in unity and institutional trust. However, the institutional weaknesses in governance and the healthcare system have not disappeared, which is why this increase in institutional trust should be taken with a grain of salt. “
The Ministry of Interior has, indeed, never been so popular in the country as it is now, especially after fielding its women officials, for the first time, to talk to the population through loudspeakers, to encourage them to respect a strict lockdown for their own good and that of the country. This has shown that women can be convincing in public address more than men, a fact to be taken into consideration, for sure, by the authorities for future public communication campaigns.
Social inclusion in great danger
Universal social targeting would have, surely, been of great help to the government in these times of pandemic for the efficiency of direct aid to the most destitute populations, if its mechanics were set up, in due time, and were fully available. However, the project of the Single Social Registry (Registre social unique -RSU-), (42) was considered almost two years ago, but , unfortunately, it is still at the project stage while the National Population Registry –NPR- (Registre national de la population -RNP-) (43) still lacks a regulatory framework, to say the least.
This is where the problem lies. The establishment will have to make do with what already exists. Indeed, it was announced at the end of 2018 that the National Population Registry -NPR- (Le Registre National de la Population -RNP-) (44) pilot experiment will be launched in 2019 in the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra region, before being generalized during the period from February 2020 to May 2024.
However, it turns out that the task has been more difficult than expected, according to the Ministry of the Interior itself. Pockets of resistance are, also, multiple, including some parties and unions.
While the first phase of creating a favorable institutional and regulatory environment and developing authentication tools was to be completed in 2019, it was not until February 2020 that the Ministry presented the Bill 72.18 on the mechanism for targeting the beneficiaries of social support programs and creating the National Registry Agency (Agence nationale des registres -ANR-), (45) which project was to be debated during the last spring session by the Parliament.
Thus, the new legal mechanism to enhance the effectiveness of the social support management system by digitally processing the personal data of the entire population on the national territory, including minors and newborns as well as foreigners residing in Morocco does not exist, as of now.
The Single Social Registry, the second pillar of this new policy, which aims to make the management of social protection programs (140 programs) more efficient by avoiding overlap and reducing the number of stakeholders, is not available, either. In this wake, it should be recalled that in 2018, Morocco requested World Bank support for the implementation of this universal household targeting system to provide a single entry point.
Given this depressing observation, will the government have to use existing channels (various programs and social cohesion funds)? Or will it show ingenuity in forcing this reform so that everything is managed at the level of the pandemic Special Fund created by royal order on March 15, 2020? But is this feasible in the current context?
These are all questions that call for a review of the country’s priorities, especially social priorities that place the human being at the top of the public policy pyramid, a paradigm shift by force of circumstance. The Covid-19 health crisis has shown, by substantial proof on the ground that this registered delay will, undoubtedly, incur a high social, economic and political cost. And what was not done gently will now be done in pain. The State will be called upon to make a superhuman effort to ensure that the measures that were be taken on March 23, 2020 are implemented quickly and effectively for the benefit of the populations affected by the disastrous effects of the pandemic.
The Unified Social Register will come into force in 2022 in the Rabat-Salé-Kénitra region, while the generalization of the National Population Register and the Unified Social Register will take place between 2023 and 2025 in all regions of the Kingdom. The announcement was made on July 3, 2020 by the Minister Delegate to the Minister of the Interior, Noureddine Boutayeb. Making a presentation on Bill No. 72.18 on the system of targeting beneficiaries of social support programs and establishing the National Registry Agency, the official, who was addressing the Committee on the Interior, Local Government, Housing and Urban Policy in the House of Representatives, said that for the National Population Registry studies have been conducted and tenders launched and as for the Unified National Registry, the calls for tenders have been drawn up. (46)
The population supports the measures adopted
Today, the population is aware of the seriousness of the risk and there is more responsibility in the application of public directives. The State’s calls to respect barrier gestures, standards of social distancing and hygiene, and the wearing of face masks have found a favorable echo with the majority of citizens.
The speed at which the virus spread gradually led the authorities to adopt more restrictive measures, limiting people’s mobility. A health emergency law was enacted and community lockdown was imposed. All government resources were mobilized to enforce the law: a communication to the citizen, a control on overflows, and sanction in case of non-compliance with the law. This combination of communication, deterrence, and punishment has ended up creating a more responsible attitude among people who refuse to allow their freedom of movement to be infringed upon by the State.
8,612 people have been arrested and subjected to judicial investigations since the declaration of the state of health emergency in Morocco, for various reasons: non-possession of the exceptional exit permit, violation of the measures of the state of health emergency, dissemination of digital content bearing false information or fake news about the epidemic and incitement to disobey security measures. The credibility of the communication plan deployed to public opinion has helped to better ensure public support: continuous media awareness, information on health monitoring, production of information kits, development of educational materials and digital community platform.
The population was, also, reassured to observe that the “protective” State was quickly and effectively committed to providing assistance in the form of cash transfers to vulnerable people affected by their loss of employment and income following the cessation of activities of thousands of businesses, or by the impact of mass quarantine on informal survival activities for thousands of households.
Echoing this vertical solidarity carried by the State (return of the welfare state (état-providence)), other actions of solidarity of a horizontal nature have been undertaken by economic and social actors. Corporate citizens (public and private) have set up hospital services and consultation centers. Hotel and catering units have volunteered to provide rooms and catering services for convalescent patients or healthcare staff.
Volunteerism has manifested itself through various actions: building networks of food donor suppliers, mobilizing students from specialized hotel and catering schools, university researchers have been involved in the development of mathematical models for predicting the spread of Covid-19 in Morocco, etc.
The State has sought to ensure the continuity of the public service for the benefit of users through a local organization supported by local and regional authorities, to enable in particular the maintenance of activities of vital importance, the regular monitoring of market supply and operations to control prices and the quality of food products. This has strengthened the population’s confidence in the State’s ability to manage this crisis.
Distant vs. face-to-face education
The start of the 2020-2021 school year did not necessarily mean a return to school for the 7 million Moroccan students who have deserted their educational institutions benches since March 2020. Scheduled for September 7, 2020, the start of classes was initially to be by distance learning, although the Ministry of Education has given parents the choice of whether or not to send their children to school or adopt distance learning.
After several weeks of reflection, the Ministry of National Education opted for an “à la carte” back-to-school program with strict health measures. The two terms in vogue are now “distance learning” and “face-to-face learning”.
In his management plan for the current school year, the Minister of National Education, Said Amzazi, has adopted a model based on two mechanisms. The first concerns distance learning for all levels through the broadcasting of courses on public TV channels and the provision of digitized resources via electronic platforms, in addition to the courses provided by virtual classrooms.
The second mechanism consists of giving parents of students wishing to see their children access to face-to-face education the possibility of filling out a form directly on the Massâr educational digital system or at the schools from September 1, 2020.
In public schools, classes were supposed to be initially given at distance, via television channels, virtual classes and digital platforms, but parents (on the basis of a form submitted at the discretion of the authorities) were allowed, eventually, to have their children access “face-to-face” education.
In the field, the implementation of this second option, which is inevitably complex, is already being considered. “This implies that in less than a week, we must not only determine the number of students who will physically attend the school, but also, and above all, be ready logistically,” explains the director of a public school.(48) “Classes will have to be divided into groups and the timetables of students and teachers will have to be rearranged to take into account the hours devoted to distance learning, not to mention the various health arrangements that will have to be put in place within the schools, “ he goes on to say. In addition to this puzzle, school principals may, also, have to deal with a large influx of parents as soon as schools open. “They may all come at the same time, form in hand and questions in mouth, and we don’t have the answers yet,” continued the same source.
The president of the National Federation of Parents’ Associations in Morocco (Fédération nationale des associations des parents d’élève au Maroc -FNAPEM-), Noureddine Akkouri argues, with force, in an interview with Yabiladi:
“How can we ensure equal opportunities throughout Morocco if some students attend classes in person while others follow them at a distance? These students cannot take the same exams, which will already create confusion. “ (49)
In fact, according to an authoritative source, nearly 80% of parents want their children to return to school. There are, actually, three main reasons for this:
- Firstly, fathers and mothers have to go to work and therefore cannot take care of their offspring all day long;
- Secondly, children seem to be generally not very sensitive to Covid-19: in Morocco, 95% of contaminated children would have been contaminated by adults; and
- Finally, the last motivation is the mental health of the youngest children who, by staying at home, see their psychological balance put to the test.
On the Belgian mission school, both face-to-face and distance learning are provided throughout the week, but the canteen was reduced to a cold meal served in class.
“The parents will suffer, and the children will drink a toast. I was close to putting my two daughters in public school, even if the teaching leaves something to be desired. Private schooling is very expensive, and if you have to reconfirm, there’s no point in paying for a service that no longer works. No private school agrees to lower their fees; some even ask for deposit checks for every month of the school year. But we too are in the middle of a crisis! “says Sofia, a mother from Casablanca, who is extremely indignant and unhappy with private schools performance. (50)
The use of digital technology for education and training in Morocco is a subject that does not date from today or yesterday. In the higher education sector, the process has been underway for several years now at varying rates and with more or less convincing results. For a good number of institutions, the issue was not a priority until the health crisis gave it an indisputable urgency and the idea of “going slowly but surely” no longer applied.
The strategy of integrating digital as a fundamental component of our education has existed for several years and is a fundamental axis in the various development projects of Moroccan universities and higher education institutions. However, the achievements so far, despite some successful experiences, were below aspirations.
Shocked by the pandemic, higher education actors have indeed had to react quickly to meet the challenge of distance learning and ensure educational continuity during the phase of mass quarantine. They have thus travelled more ground under duress in a few months than they have been able to do in several years.
While the private sector as well as public institutions with limited access have been better prepared to successfully make the transition to distance education, public universities have had to work harder to meet the challenges they faced, including limited online resources, lack of infrastructure, and the adaptation of students to new ways of learning. The success of distance learning depends, of course, on the means put in place for the smooth running of the operation, but also on the adaptability of the student and especially on his willingness to use this new mode.
According to a survey conducted by the High Commission for Planning (Haut-Commissariat au Plan -HCP-) from 14 to 23 April 2020 among 2,350 households, 56% of students in higher education have continued distance learning courses regularly and 31% irregularly, using the various digital media put in place, against 13% who did not follow them at all. However, the interest in distance learning courses has been impacted by the postponement or cancellation of exams, as shown by a second HCP survey, conducted this time from 15 to 24 June 2020 on a representative sample of 2,169 households.
In the space of a few months, distance education has quickly moved from a distant perspective to a concrete reality thanks to the accelerating effect of the pandemic. Acting in a state of emergency, Moroccan higher education actors have more or less managed to pull through, despite the major challenges they have faced.
In its weekend dossier of December 26-27, 2020, the Arabic newspaper Assabah takes stock of the year that is drawing to a close. It has been catastrophic for economic actors: losses in billions of dirhams (tourism, real estate, transport, etc.) and a suspension of activity for 57% of companies. Official reports also indicate an increase in poverty to more than one million people (1,058,000). The impact was also severe on education, which experienced a “suspended school year”. It was also a blank year in the field of culture.
On the political level, Mohammed Issam Laarousi writes in Aljazeera: (51)
“In Morocco, the King’s initiative has ensured promptness, yet eclipsed other political actors. It has also reenergized the calls for accountability, transparency, and democratization. There is lack of a broader debate on the political actors bestowed with providing security, on what ‘security’ means during the pandemic, and for whom. With a growing pattern of securitization, some individuals and groups welcomed police brutality and violence against those who defy the quarantine rules. Few voices have questioned the implications of corruption on the inconsistencies of the health system in the country. “
The population, at large, is satisfied by the government swift response to the sanitary crisis caused by the pandemic, but would surely want the state to give more attention to the public health sector in the future, to be, fully, prepared for future instances of pandemic. In this regard, Mohammed Masbah argues, quite rightly, in a Chatham House article: (52)
“In Morocco, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased public trust in government, but people still have doubts about the effectiveness of the healthcare system. According to a recent study conducted by the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA), the majority of Moroccans surveyed are generally satisfied with the measures taken by the government to battle the coronavirus. However, the same survey also shows that Moroccans do not have confidence in the healthcare sector’s ability to respond to this pandemic.
The positive perceptions of the government’s response can be explained by the swift and strict measures enacted. King Mohammed VI held a high-level meeting with the prime minister, the minister of health, and top security officials on 17 March and a few days later, on 20 March, the Moroccan government declared a state of health emergency and began to implement aggressive measures to contain the virus. “
As to what concerns the co-opted political parties, no reaction of interest was recorded on their behalf and no positive action such as chipping in the national Covid-19 fund was reported, either. They showed total silence, incredible abstinence in all fields and self-effacement leading to some sort of political hibernation, maybe until the next general election, a move that delegitimizes further these parties in the eyes of the general public.
Nevertheless, the lack of partisan fervor was largely compensated by the incredible public cohesion and sense of responsibility and the high effervescence of Moroccan civil society, much respected by the population for their highly-positive social zeal. The Moroccan people not only accepted and respected the painful psychological and economic community quarantine, but, also, showed a great sense of sharing and caring during the Ramadan season, by extending a helping hand to the needy in these painful moments.
All in all, the pandemic heralded the demise of neo-liberal economic policies and the end of the predator liberalism, the return of the état-providence (all-caring state), and the total inefficiency and lack of responsibility of political parties in the government and the opposition and their continuous well-earned discredit by the public at large.
Nevertheless, the national cohesion had a positive impact on the national weal of the community, on economic autarky and self-sufficiency. Also, such positive sentiment highlighted the urgent need to encourage further scientific research in medicine, in particular and science, in general, in higher education and research institutions in public and private sectors and provide necessary funds for such an undertaking, and, last but not least, the urgent need to revalorize the health sector, revamp its structures and strengthen its resolve, for the good of the nation.
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
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