On the perspective of ruling classes and the elite in Morocco on global environmental issues

12 October 2016 by Jawad Moustakbal

The dominant neo-colonial thinking represents the biggest hardship that we face in this country. We were a colony controlled by the French state that left behind some traditions: achieving success and happiness in life is embodied in the attempt to live as in France, as the richest people of France do. The diffusion of this idea in the minds hinders and sets a limit to the changes that we want to make. [1]

Thomas Sankara (1949-1987)

‘Of all the regions still referred to as the third world, the Middle East and North Africa region is the one facing the most severe development crisis’. [2]

Gilbert Achcar

Morocco embodies climate injustice. While its own emissions of greenhouse gases are globally insignificant — with 1.74 metric tons per capita in 2011 compared to 17 metric tons per capita in the USA (see Graph 1.1) — Morocco is among the most vulnerable countries in the world to the negative impacts of climate change. This is, especially true as concerns water resources and agriculture.

Like most non-oil producing countries of the MENA region, Morocco is among the least capable of adapting to the existing and expected impacts of climate change. This is due to Morocco’s lack of democracy, endemic corruption, widespread poverty, high-level of economic inequality, and low levels of education. [3] As Gilbert Achcar has explained: ‘Of all the regions still referred to as the third world, the Middle East and North Africa region is the one facing the most severe development crisis’. [4]

This article argues that the Moroccan state does not have a independent or adequate position on the global environmental and climate crisis; and has failed to develop its own strategy in the negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). This lack of independence has its roots the history of French colonialism and post-war Modernization theory; and in the Moroccan ruling classes’ alliance with foreign capital.

Does the Moroccan regime have a real independent perspective on global environmental issues?

The Moroccan regime does not base its environmental policies on its position as a country that has been a victim of climate injustice. It has not joined in alliance with other countries of the South to claim its right to environmental justice, to claim its ecological debt – a historical ecological debt that northern countries and their big corporations owe to all poor southern countries. Instead of developing its own approach in collaboration with similar Southern countries, the Moroccan regime continues to adopt positions similar to those advocated by the major world powers such as France and the USA.

Furthermore, the alignment of the Moroccan regime with the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia, is even more confounding for the Moroccan negotiators’ position in the climate negotiations - given the very conservative position of Saudi Arabia in these negotiations. Said Reem Al Mealla, Co-Founder of the Arab Youth Climate Movement, explained that before COP 21 in Paris:

Arab civil society is pressuring the Arab countries to take a stronger collective position at the COP21 talks but it is difficult, especially for the oil producing states. Saudi Arabia is being very uncooperative and opaque at the moment. They have hired a PR team to handle all their communication and we are finding it very difficult to reach out to them. [5]

Even though Morocco has taken part in all the Conferences of Parties (COPs) since their launch in 1995, it is difficult to identify any autonomous strategy or a clear political position on behalf of the Moroccan negotiators. It is also difficult to identify Morocco’s allies: Arab countries? African countries? The ‘Group of 77’+ China? [6] Due to this lack of a clear vision, ‘our’ negotiators are lost among more than 20 negotiating pressure groups.

As such, the Moroccan participation in these negotiations is no more than symbolic. This is how a Moroccan negotiator, who took part in the COP negotiations over many years and who declined to be identified, describes his experience:

Climate change involves a great number of meetings and a lot of travel. …. One can’t help but question the usefulness of such meetings. Even when a deal is reached, like in Kyoto in 1997, the agreement has never been fully applied and the objectives never totally attained. [7]

Additionally he claims that,

… these meetings are becoming a real waste of time and energy. From my experience, I know that nothing happens before the very last minute of the two weeks of negotiations. I know that there will be disappointing decisions, made in hidden rooms between a few delegates from important countries and announced very early the next morning.

On the other hand and given the absence of a clear vision and the failure of our representatives to participate and act independently, the role of Morocco in holding such international conferences becomes limited to logistics; that is, a ‘party planner’ who is in charge of preparing the ceremony venue, decorating it, providing the band and catering to the guests….

“Moroccan Green Capitalism”

The fact that the Moroccan ruling classes have no clear autonomous standpoint on the climate crisis does not prevent them from looking for new opportunities to accumulate additional profit Profit The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders. in the name of protecting the environment.

Most companies involved in green development projects, domestic as well as foreign, have historically been responsible for the pollution of many local ecosystems.

One example of such an actor is the Société Nationale d’Investissement (SNI) holding company, whose largest shareholder is the Moroccan royal family. It is branded today as a leader in sustainable development in Morocco, especially in wind energy. However, not only has its sugar producing company Cosumar been involved in pollution disasters but its mining branch Managem in its ‘Imider’ silver mine, located in the south of Morocco, has seen the contamination of aquifers and there is still an ongoing conflict with the local population over water resources. [8]

The participation of some of the dominant classes in today’s ‘green’ projects is no more than a continuation of the operations of ‘legitimized’ robbery, in which they have been involved since Morocco’s formal ‘independence’. As Frantz Fanon (1961) wrote in The Wretched of the Earth:

When decolonization occurs in regions where the liberation struggle has not yet made its impact sufficiently felt, here are the same smart alecks, the sly, shrewd intellectuals whose behavior and ways of thinking, picked up from their rubbing shoulders with the colonialist bourgeoisie, have remained intact. Spoiled children of yesterday’s colonialism and today’s governing powers, they oversee the looting of the few national resources.[…]They insist on the nationalization of business transactions, i.e., reserving contracts and business deals for nationals. Their doctrine is to proclaim the absolute need for nationalizing the theft of the nation. [9]

In our local context, this amounts to the ‘Moroccanization’ of the robbery of Moroccan resources.

Anti-pastoral discourse

The ruling classes in Morocco inherited an environmental discourse from French colonialism, which as part of its mission civilisatrice, presented the traditional livelihoods of pastoralists as inefficient and damaging to the land. It was said that to conserve soil and other natural resources traditional forestry and cattle grazing on commons and collectively owned lands had to be replaced by modern farming and private ownership. This colonial discourse – call it an anti-pastoralist, proto-conservationist, modernism – was first used by the French in Algeria as a technocratic justification for dispossessing local people of their land and resources. As Davis explains:

[This narrative] was utilized widely to help appropriate collective lands, a classic instance of enclosing the commons so emblematic of the changing social relations with nature during that period of classical liberalism and the rise of the global economy. The current use of this neocolonialist narrative by the Moroccan monarchy and international financial actors has facilitated a contemporary enclosing of the commons; …the utilization of this narrative has also cast Moroccan pastoralists and subsistence farmers as double eco-outlaws….. The narrative was also used to change and rewrite numerous laws and policies over the course of the colonial period. In the process, the traditional uses of the forest and other lands by the Algerians were systematically criminalized and the majority of the indigenous population was marginalized and impoverished. The same environmental narrative was carried to Tunisia in 1881 and to Morocco in 1912, with much the same effect. [10]

This early colonial discourse merged with what became know as Modernization Theory after World War II. Now in the name of “development” rather than the mission civilisatrice a new group of international financial institutions, such as the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

, International Monetary fund IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.

(IMF), and USAID, attacked collective ownership as inefficient and instead pushed a model of privately owned, capital and chemical intensive agriculture. This led to increasing inequality but was promoted as the path to prosperity for all. As Davis explains these new champions of capitalist globalization,

…. had been utilizing the narrative to encourage reforms in rangeland management for 30 years. Invoking Garret Hardin’s liberal ’tragedy of the commons’ thesis, which claims that all common land will necessarily be overexploited and thus should be privatized, USAID has strongly recommended that in Morocco ’the collective pastures must first be enclosed’… USAID claims that enclosing the collective pastures is necessary due to severe degradation, although it admits that ’there are no reliable data on the degree of present degradation’... Despite this disturbing lack of data demonstrating overgrazing and land degradation, USAID has been advising Morocco to privatize rangeland since the 1960s. [11]

In the last two decades yet another technocratic discourse of modernization has emerged and it attempts to present itself as “green.” Today in circles that profess to be progressive, efficient, and innovative environmental stewardship is invoked to justify attacks on public and collective ownership.

Sadly, in Moroccan academia and public discourse the question of political ecology is almost entirely absent. The fact that Morocco’s academic publishing and research remains very low, does not help overcome the dominant narrative of capitalist progress. ‘In 2009, the number of Moroccan scientific publications did not exceed 3,100, far behind South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Algeria.’ [12]

What does Moroccan civil society have to say about environmental issues?

If the rulers and the dominant classes are incapable of developing an independent, alternative perspective on the problem of climate change and the global environmental crisis, then the question that arises is: Is there another actor within the country that can come up with that alternative perspective, and more precisely, is ‘civil society’ capable of doing so?

Recently, Morocco has witnessed the emergence of thousands of so-called civil society associations focused on environmental issues. The quantity and activities of these associations are expected to increase as Morocco prepares to hold COP22. The result is the expansion of ‘policy mercenaries’ taking hold of the subject of environmental protection to benefit from and receive subsidies. Furthermore, the state is working hard to keep them away from major environmental issues considered politically sensitive, and to limit their spaces of intervention to merely collecting garbage and planting trees, as seen in the campaign of ‘Bou-ndif’ concerned with cleaning beaches. [13]

In addition, some environmental organizations are tasked with compensating for the State’s negligence in various arenas, and its failure to provide basic infrastructure such as supplying water to villages, building roads, or helping local residents organize themselves into cooperatives to produce and distribute local products.

Beyond a lack of knowledge about global environmental issues, a number of activists consider debate about such topics to be an intellectual luxury, given the poverty and lack of democracy that currently exist in Morocco. This group takes a ‘practical’ perspective which can be summed up as follows: We have to strive to establish democracy and claim political and economic rights first. When these conditions are fulfilled, we can talk about striving for the environment’s protection and discussing the climate crisis. This was obvious in the protests of the February 20th Movement, which did not include any clear demands on the issue of the environment, except for some slogans related to the distribution of natural wealth. (See photo 1.1)

Demonstration taking place in Rabat in 2011 with a sign protesting that, ‘Despite having phosphate and two seas we are living in misery’

A hopeful path: Towards an eco-socialist development model

In 2009, I attended the World Social Forum (WSF) in Belem, the capital and largest city of the state of Para in northern Brazil at the gateway to the Amazon River. The Belem Forum was one of the most successful WSFs thanks to the direct involvement of Brazilians, with more than 140,000 participants, especially indigenous peoples. [14] This year, the WSF has focused, primarily on the global environmental crisis, considering it to be one side of the ‘systemic crisis’ and ‘crisis of civilization’ that the world faces today.

I witnessed and I was impressed by how social and environmental NGOs drew their strength from their people and tried to develop alternatives based on their own histories and traditions, without importing readymade solutions from the West. Inspired by this, I believe that a fundamental challenge facing sincere activists and NGOs in the MENA region is; how do we build a real environmental and social justice movement, connected to the international movement, but not reproducing the same neo-colonial relationship with the Western powers that our governments still maintain?

If the path to building a genuine environmental justice movement in Morocco will be long and rough, it is also a path that has today become both unavoidable and necessary.

The first step towards building such a large movement is to thoroughly comprehend the errors that current interventions generate in environmental systems. This can be done by providing critical analyses from an environmental justice perspective of the strategic economic plans currently ongoing in Morocco; and also by offering practical alternatives with the aim of building a progressive developmental model, i.e. an eco-socialist model.

The most important point to be stressed here is the structural contrast between the country’s limited natural resources and the strategic choices adopted by Morocco’s rulers. Most of the plans implemented in this area, such as the Azur Plan for Tourism, the Moroccan Green Plan for agriculture and the Halieutis Plan for fisheries not only deny the people access to the limited natural resources that Morocco possesses, but reinforce their depletion by encouraging their overexploitation. The already existing and potential further consequences of these plans on the country’s natural resources, combined with the neo-liberal economic approach and structural adjustment Structural Adjustment Economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange of new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural Adjustments policies were enforced in the early 1980 to qualify countries for new loans or for debt rescheduling by the IMF and the World Bank. The requested kind of adjustment aims at ensuring that the country can again service its external debt. Structural adjustment usually combines the following elements : devaluation of the national currency (in order to bring down the prices of exported goods and attract strong currencies), rise in interest rates (in order to attract international capital), reduction of public expenditure (’streamlining’ of public services staff, reduction of budgets devoted to education and the health sector, etc.), massive privatisations, reduction of public subsidies to some companies or products, freezing of salaries (to avoid inflation as a consequence of deflation). These SAPs have not only substantially contributed to higher and higher levels of indebtedness in the affected countries ; they have simultaneously led to higher prices (because of a high VAT rate and of the free market prices) and to a dramatic fall in the income of local populations (as a consequence of rising unemployment and of the dismantling of public services, among other factors).

IMF : http://www.worldbank.org/
plans that have been in place for decades, added to the present and expected future impacts of climate change, lead to this impending ‘catastrophic convergence’, [15] and constitute a real environmental threat to human and non-human nature in Morocco.

The second challenge in building a large environmental justice movement is to foster connections and solidarities among the real victims of global and local environment injustice who are fighting everyday all over Morocco to protect their rights and their territories.

To cite some examples:

In Ouarzazate/Imider, local communities have been fighting since 2011 against a mining company’s overexploitation and pollution of their water, as well as for their historic rights and sovereignty over their own resources;

In Bensmim, villagers led a spectacular struggle that lasted for over 10 years to defend their water rights against a bottling company owned by a multinational corporation backed by central authorities;

In Mohamedia, local inhabitants stood up against a powerful private real estate lobby Lobby
A lobby is an entity organized to represent and defend the interests of a specific group by exerting pressure or influence on persons or institutions that hold power. Lobbying consists in conducting actions aimed at influencing, directly or indirectly, the drafting, application or interpretation of legislative measures, standards, regulations and more generally any intervention or decision by the Public Authorities.
that wanted to ’enclose’ and destroy their beaches, beaches already altered by local industries especially by a breakwater wall for la Samir Refinery. We must remember that this same refinery, the only one in Morocco that was privatized in the nineties, went bankrupt in early 2016 under its new private owners.

In Saadia, a coalition of local NGOs led by a local agronomic engineer revealed the catastrophic impact of an unwise touristic mega-project that was harming the coastal ecosystem and excluded and marginalized local communities.

In Agadir/Ait melloul, small NGOs led by former members of the Moroccan unemployed graduates organization succeeded in stopping a very harmful and polluting plant involved in recycling used cooking oil.

These struggles are, for me, a source of hope. A hope that we can construct a large and effective grass roots environmental justice movement in Morocco. A movement acting not only for real protection of local ecosystems but also for real and total sovereignty for citizens and local communities over their natural resources, and their legitimate right to decide on the appropriate uses of water, lands, forests, sea and sun.

Casablanca, September, 2016
M. Jawad (Attac/Cadtm Morocco)

This paper is an update of an article published by “Perspectives” Magazine “Issue 9 August 2016” edited by Heinrich Böll Fondation.


[1Gakunzinom, D.(1988) Oser Inventer L’avenir : La parole de Sankara (1983 - 1987). Atlanta : Pathfinder Press. p. 13

[2Achar, G. (2013) The people want : A Radical Exploration of Arab Uprising. London: University of California Press. P.10


[4Achar, G. (2013) The people want : A Radical Exploration of Arab Uprising. London: University of California Press. P.10

[5Pari, T. Here’s why Saudi Arabia is highly unpopular at Paris climate conference. [Online] Updated: December 10, 2015 4:53 pm. Available: http://indianexpress.com/article/blogs/heres-why-saudi-arabia-is-highly-unpopular-at-paris-climate-conference/ [28 May 2016]

[6‘The Group of 77 is the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the United Nations, which provides the means for the countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the United Nations system, and promote South-South cooperation for development.’ For more details visit : http://www.g77.org

[7This statement was written by the negotiator in a text presentation of his personal experience in these negotiations to benefit students from a US university in 2014.

[8Bouhmouh, N & Bailey, K.D. A Moroccan village’s long fight for water rights For four years, residents of Imider have held a sit-in against a mine they say is ruining their livelihoods. [Online]. Available: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/12/moroccan-village-long-fight-water-rights-151205121358666.html [28 May 2016]

[9Fanon, F. (2004) ‘On violence’. In : The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove Press. P. 47

[10Davis, D.K. (2006). Neoliberalism, environmentalism, and agricultural restructuring in Morocco. The Geographical Journal, 172(2), p.93.

[11Ibid, p.94.

[12Hicham, H. Recherche scientifique : des cerveaux mais des moyens dérisoires. Lavieco newspaper [online]. Available: http://lavieeco.com/news/societe/recherche-scientifique-des-cerveaux-mais-des-moyens-derisoires-18544.html [28 May 2016]

[13A campaign organized each year by ‘Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection’ chaired by the Royal princess. See: http://www.fm6e.org

[14Conway, J. Belém 2009: Indigenizing the Global at the World Social Forum [Online]. Available: http://www.openspaceforum.net/twiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=776 [28 May 2016]

[15Parenti, C. (2012) Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. New York: Nation Books, p.7.

Jawad Moustakbal

Attac/Cadtm Morocco.

Jawad Moustakbal is the country coordinator in Morocco for the International Honors Programme: “Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy” at the School of International Training (SIT) in Vermont, USA. He has worked as a project manager for several companies including OCP, the Moroccan State phosphates company. Jawad is also an activist for social and climate justice, he is member of the national secretariat of ATTAC/CADTM Morocco, and a member of the shared secretariat of the international Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debts. He holds a degree in Civil Engineering from EHTP in Casablanca.

Other articles in English by Jawad Moustakbal (11)

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