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With Egypt in Turmoil, Algeria and Morocco Put Forward Insufficient Measures to Quell Decent

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The Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia and the mayhem that followed in Egypt are catching Arab governments by surprise and decisions have to come soon. Yet Algeria and Morocco’s popular grievances, generally about all aspects of life, from economic opportunity, to civil liberties and the endemic corruption, are not new and have been a permanent factor in the domestic political landscape.

While the level of protest has generally been lower in Morocco, the Kingdom suffers from similar issues than Algeria, from chronic unemployment and poverty, to rigid economic structures and a political system that seems to be challenged by many. Although most Moroccan endorse the Monarchy and avoid challenging it head on, many are questioning the amount of power the King holds. Some 3,000 people have joined an Internet group to call for reforms, starting with enacting a constitutional monarchy, in addition to demanding for substantial changes in the executive branch with the direct challenge to Prime Minister Al Fassi. Many are calling for his sacking and for the dissolving of the Parliament. Note that the Moroccan constitutional monarchy system is vastly different than for example the British monarchy. In Morocco, the King plays a substantial role in the designation of a Prime Minister and therefore of the government cabinet as a whole, while having the ability to dissolve the parliament and impose the state of emergency. Meanwhile, the economic reforms that meant to improve the standards of living of the population have been bogged down by government inefficiencies, bureaucracies, and corruption. Press freedom has also been heavily controlled, preventing citizens from discussing their issues.

Neighboring Algeria may be in an even more precarious position, with unrest seen on the continuous basis. Despite having a healthy source of revenue, oil and gas, the government there has been absent for the past decade, creating an atmosphere of complete laisser-faire. This vacuum of the public domain meant a continuous deterioration of standards of living and economic prospects for millions of young people, while channels of communications between government and the public have evaporated. The country has been rocked by unrest over grievances that range from housing distribution to labor and from food prices to unemployment.

Fearing a contagion from Tunisia and Egypt, Algeria and Morocco are working hard to pre-empt events to escalate as many young men in both countries have followed the same path of immolation that started the domino effect in Tunisia. In Morocco, food subsidies are being maintained to at least avoid protest over price increases. Prices of butane will continue to be supported by the government. But apart from that, the Moroccan authorities are playing down any public reaction following calls for demonstrations. Internet groups, but also groups of unemployed have been warning that demonstrations could take place in coming days.

In Algeria, where demonstrations have been banned, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was quoted by stated news agency as saying that the state of emergency will be lifted, without mentioning a date. The state of emergency was established nearly two decades ago essentially as a tool to fight terrorism, but that is something NGOs, opposition parties and various types of activists have been calling for its lifting. However, the measure is likely to be insufficient considering that marches and demonstrations will remain banned in the capital city, where all the political institutions are based.

The country’s media landscape may also be revisited since state owned radio and TV stations do not allow even legal opposition party leaders to discuss the country’s problems.

Meanwhile, rumors of a pending reshuffle in the Algerian government led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia continue to be heard in the capital. Neither confirming nor denying the rumors, Prime Minister Ouyahia took part to the closing of the autumn session of the parliament in the assembly building packed with reporters.

Outlook: In our assessment, the steps made by Algeria and Morocco at this stage are irrelevant and will not go far in addressing the structural issues crippling those countries. Announcements of subsidizing food and easing some of the rules governing demonstrations are seen by the public as insufficient measure considering that the sources of grievances are broader and of a more complex political nature. The announced measures are just band-aid actions and are not solutions to political discrepancies. As a result, we expect tension will remain palpable until more meaningful decisions are announced.

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