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Protests rise in Morocco over the cost of living

Billionaire prime minister Aziz Akhannouch is under pressure as inflation doubles, reports Nick Clark
Issue 2793
Protesters in Rabat

Protesters call for Aziz Akhannouch’s resignation in the capital, Rabat.

Thousands of people ­protested across Morocco, in north Africa, on Sunday against the soaring prices of fuel and other essential goods.

Protesters gathered outside the parliament building in the capital city Rabat. They chanted slogans against the government for failing to protect ordinary people from spiralling price rises, which have forced people into poverty.

The authorities deployed police in force around the protest site. Protests also took place in other cities across Morocco including Agadir, Casablanca and Meknes. In Safi, people gathered in front of the headquarters of the Democratic Confederation of Labour Union (CDT) national trade union centre and demanded government action.

The demonstrations called on the authorities to raise workers’ wages and undo the increase in the prices of basic materials and fuel. CDT organisers demanded that the government engage in talks with unions.

The protesters raised banners that read, “No to high prices.” The protests come amid anger at the government of billionaire prime minister Aziz Akhannouch, who was elected just five months ago in September last year.

Lists of new, higher ­supermarket prices for staples such as petrol, vegetable oil and flour spread on social media with the hashtag “Akhannouch get out”.

Yet Akhannouch has been almost silent on inflation, except to dodge blame. In a rare interview in January—only his first since being elected—he practically dismissed price rises as a problem, insisting the situation in Morocco is “better than other countries.”

“They are temporary rises,” he said. Yet official data showed that the consumer price index in Morocco increased 1.4 percent in 2021.

It’s a low figure compared to Britain, but twice what it was in 2020. In response to the ­protests, budget minister Fouzi Lekjaa insisted the government had tried to implement measures to help ordinary people. But he admitted these had been “insufficient.”

Akhannouch is the top boss of the giant Moroccan oil and gas ­conglomerate Akwa Group, which controls around 50 companies.

Forbes magazine estimates he and his family are worth £1.2 billion. Meanwhile, price rises have hit poorer families hardest. Many of them are suffering from two years of the coronavirus pandemic. Some 430,000 people lost their jobs in 2020 alone. People are also reeling from one of the worst droughts in decades.

The national average rainfall is 64 percent lower than normal this year. Yet the government’s own ­figures estimate that nearly two-thirds of families in Morocco are not connected to the water network, leaving families dependent on deep wells for their families and land.

This reality lay behind the ­tragedy of five year old Rayan Oram, who made headlines across the world this month after falling down a well and dying. Sunday’s protests were timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 20 February movement of 2011—a series of demonstrations inspired by the Arab revolutions that year.

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