The terrible death toll from the earthquake in Morocco has shown the corruption of King Mohammed VI’s regime and the failures of prime minister Aziz Akhannouch. As usual Mohammed was at a mansion in France when the quake hit.
On Monday the death toll had reached nearly 2,600. But many more bodies were thought to be buried in the rubble. The Washington Post newspaper reported, “Communities near the epicentre of Morocco’s powerful earthquake were a picture of devastation and anger on Sunday, as residents described using their bare hands to pull loved ones from the rubble.
“In most places, there was no sign of government-promised rescue teams, and there was no word yet from many villages higher up in the mountains.” It took nearly 20 hours after the devastating earthquake hit until Mohammed VI finally made a statement from his luxury palace. His agreement is crucial to actioning key decisions by the state, and his delayed response cost lives.
In the village of Moulay Brahim, Mostafa Ichide, a graphic designer, said the only food aid to reach people had come from civilian groups. “They were all sent by Moroccan citizens to their brethren,” he said. “We have seen ambulances, but most of them have foreign plates.” The worst-hit provinces are among the poorest in Morocco, with some homes lacking electricity or running water.
Rural Moroccans have struggled in recent years to recover from the economic shock of the pandemic and, more recently, to cope with inflation. In May, Mohammed VI’s government signed a deal with the International Monetary Fund that demands crushing austerity for ordinary people.
“The reality is that the moment you step out of Marrakesh, the people are essentially living as if they are back in the Middle Ages because of the absence of the state,” said Samia Errazzouki, an expert in Moroccan history and governance at Stanford University. “It takes a crisis, a disaster like this, to shed light on the day-to-day realities of people who live in the margins.”
“These regions have historically been hit with earthquakes, but they have also been marginalised. In moments when people demand aid, infrastructure and development like in the Hirak movement in 2016, those who do so are thrown in jail,” she added. “On a good day, this region is difficult to access and deprived of basic infrastructure. The hospital system there is abysmal.”
As always, this “natural” disaster exposes inequality and capitalist priorities. The Moroccan earthquake registered 6.8 on the magnitude scale. It caused absolute devastation. But, because homes were built better, only four people died from earthquake damage after the bigger 7.4 magnitude quake in Fukushima in Japan in 2022.
In Morocco, the areas dedicated to tourism suffered much less. Samuel Roure, who heads the association of guest houses in Marrakesh, told Le Monde newspaper, “When I see the images of the earthquake and read about Marrakesh in the media, I don’t feel like I’m living in the same country.
“I’ve been touring the medina since 7.30am and, of the 10,000 homes and guest rooms in the city, barely 50 have collapsed.” He added that in Marrakesh, unlike the hard-hit surrounding villages, “The infrastructure is intact, the airport is up and running, and so are the telecommunications, water and electricity networks.”
Mohammed VI, whose entourage likes him to be called “the king of the poor”, has vast business holdings. His net worth has been estimated at up to £6.5 billion. Three years ago, he bought a mansion by the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, from the Saudi royal family for £75 million. Mohammed negotiated the sale of the 12-bedroom mansion by the Champ de Mars directly with Khalid bin Sultan.
He is a former Saudi defence minister and member of the ruling house of Saud. In 2022 Mohammed VI conspired with the Spanish state in the massacre of up to 100 migrants at the border of the enclave of Melilla, which is on Moroccan territory. And last year thousands of people protested across Morocco against the soaring prices of fuel and other essential goods.
They chanted slogans against the government for failing to protect ordinary people from spiralling price rises that have forced many into abject poverty. Morocco saw echoes of the risings occurring elsewhere in Arab countries in 2011. But the authorities beat them back with minor concessions and repression.
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