Morocco: military service and education reform promise more repression

Morocco's King Mohammed VI attends a reception in honor of young students, during presentation of the progress report on Supporting Schooling, at the Royal Palace in Rabat, Morocco on September 17, 2018. Picture by Balkis Press/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved. Chaired by the king,
the council of ministers enacted a controversial bill
on mandatory military service on August 20. The bill
targets young citizens aged 19 to 25 and deemed fit to serve,
triggering debate about the issue on social media. Critical voices
expressed their worry and suspicion of what lays behind. The
“Moroccan Rally Against Mandatory Military Service”, a Facebook
group gathering thousands of young Moroccans, released a statement
August 28 signed by a number of civil society
organisations and activists, announcing their disapproval over the
draft bill. The
Democratic way party, the Youth
of the Democratic Way and the Youth
of the Socialist Democratic Vanguard also released
statements denouncing the bill.

A statement
by the Royal Cabinet stated that “military service
aims to promote patriotism among the young, within the framework of
the correlation between the rights and responsibilities of
citizenship”. In a televised speech to the Nation last November,
the king had emphasized “the ideals of true patriotism”, “the
spirit of loyalty to the nation’s sacred values” and “sacrifice
to the homeland”, where he also expressed his unequivocal support
for “the Royal Armed Forces” and “security services,” and his
appreciation of “their action, sacrifice and constant
mobilization,” and again on the following speech on Throne Day last
July in which he commended the “Royal Armed Forces, the Royal
Gendarmerie, the Auxiliary Forces, the National Security Forces and
the Emergency Services on being constantly mobilized, under [his]
leadership, to defend the nation’s unity and safeguard its security
and stability”.

The palace's praise
for the Royal Armed Forces and security services comes after a vast
crackdown on popular mass protests, which reverberated across the Rif
and other regions over the last couple of years. These movements have
faced mass arrests of young leaders and heavy sentences for their
participation in the protests.
leaders were accused of undermining state stability
territorial integrity, thus
the police’s brutal handling of the protests and the
allegations of torture supported by forensic doctors’ reports. One
could only conclude a will to make clear the repressive approach with
which any social contestation will be dealt with.

Education, international financial institutions and social security

In parallel to the
bill on Mandatory Military Service, the council of ministers approved
a draft law on education, adopting “a new governance model based on
contractualization”, “the integration of pre-school education”,
a new “funding regime of the educational, training and scientific
research system” and the “establishment of evaluation and
monitoring mechanisms” according to the statement by the Royal

Such educational
reforms have been discussed on several occasions. Following the
Council of Ministers, the king delivered a televised
speech where he criticized how the “education system
[continues] to produce unemployed people, especially in certain
branches of study, where graduates – as everyone knows – find it
extremely hard to access the job market” while “many investors
and businesses are having difficulty finding the skilled resources
they need in a number of trades and specialized sectors”.

The incompatibility
of the educational system with market needs has disturbed not only
the Palace but also international financial institutions; A World
Bank document entitled
Bank engagement in the Education sector in Morocco’
outlining the institution’s financial and consultative involvement
in reforms of the sector has called for the “adaptability of
education” and an “overhaul of the education system” through
almost the same measures mentioned by the royal statement, These
include improving “teacher recruitment and training”, a new
“governance structure”, giving priority to “early childhood
development”, “private sector participation” and “linking
education and accountability”.

Since the
introduction of structural adjustment programs in the 1980's the
Moroccan state has embarked in a process of economic reforms dictated
by international financial institutions, particularly the
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These reforms focused
mainly on promoting growth by imposing policies of monetary and
fiscal austerity, privatisation and financial liberalisation. On the
other hand, social provisions and social safety nets that are
perquisites for successful economic reform and political stability
are undermined by these same policies.

An internal World
Bank report entitled ‘The
Effect of IMF and World Bank Programs on Poverty’
concluded that “Adjustment lending is bad news for the growing
economy; it means that the poor share less in the expansion of the
economy” and that “lowering the sensitivity of poverty to the
aggregate growth rate could be dangerous because it gives the poor
less of a stake in overall good economic performance”.

The ruling elite in
Morocco seems to be more accountable to the country’s debtors and
less to its people. Hence, the given solutions to the country’s
challenges seem to only find an echo within the above mentioned
financial institutions. Green growth agendas, private sector-led
competitiveness and global integration are flattering the debtors
which applaud the country’s macroeconomic improvements. At the same
time, the government is constantly reminded it of its commitment to
implement more structural reforms in education and to improve the
business environment, even if it means feeding the wealth gap and
threatening social security. What matters at the end of the day is
that it benefits the donors’ neo-colonialist exploitation of the
country’s resources and that the money keeps flowing.

Throwback to the

The first years of
Hassan II’s reign were those of political instability and strong
opposition to the despotic tendencies of the previous monarch. After
announcing educational reforms which prevented students above the age
of 17 from attending high school, student unrest escalated in
different cities. In Casablanca, a
student-organised protest devolved into three days of
street battles on March 1965. Involving, in addition to students,
thousands of workers laid off during the 1964 economic recession, as
well as inhabitants of Casablanca’s shanty towns. The palace
reaction by deploying the military, and using live ammunition against
unarmed civilians, resulted in hundreds of deaths. The former king
then vented his anger on the educated youth, declaring in a televised
speech: "Allow me to tell you that there is no greater danger to
the State than a so-called intellectual. It would have been better if
you were all illiterate”.

A mandatory military
service was established the following year, and was widely used
against political opponents as a means of punishment. Students of the
executive committee of the 10th congress of the National Union
of Moroccan Students were drafted,
as well as those who organised the occupation of the Moroccan Embassy
in Paris in solidarity with them.

Running short of

The high percentage
of unemployment amongst university graduates in the country is a
source of worry for the Palace. Another point of contention is the
high drop-out rates in secondary schools, a result of a growing
disappointment amongst young Moroccans who no longer see education as
a guarantee of future employment. Unemployment among youth has not
been addressed seriously and remains high at about 20%. The outcome
of this state of affairs could prove costly for the relative
political stability enjoyed by the regime, as the recent tensions in
the Rif and elsewhere have demonstrated.

Military service has
once proved efficient in repressing the spirit of rebellion and
assimilating dissatisfaction and anger among the young. Since the
recruits are cut off from their society in a ‘total institution’,
where they are subjected to a fully administered round of life. The
process is basically one of acculturation during which the trainee
experience physical and psychological stress and enforced
environmental change, and must adapt to different social norms of
military discipline and unquestioned obedience that are fostered in
the course of military training and reinforced by the structure of
the military authority.

The reinstatement of
compulsory military service in this context of growing social tension
while maintaining the same economic and social policies that caused
it, the repressive approach towards social movements, the
unconditional praise of the military and security services and the
fact that the professional army isn’t practically in need of any
reserves are sufficient to conclude that it is meant to be used for
social control, and could even mean a coming back of the military to
the scene, to bring back order in future escalations of social

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