Morocco. In January, the African Union (AU) voted Morocco as its 55th member, since the country last year formally asked to join. Of the AU Member States, 39 voted in favor of the decision, which was however met by opposition from Algeria and South Africa, among others. Morocco itself chose to leave the AU in 1984 in protest against the granting of membership to Western Sahara, as the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
After Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane’s failure to form a coalition government after the October 2016 elections, Morocco’s King Muhammad in March replaced Benkirane with Saad Eddine El Othmani, also a member of the leading moderate Islamist party PJD (Justice and Development Party). Othmani is a trained psychologist and was between 2004 and 2008 PJD’s secretary general.
At the end of March, Othmani stated that PJD together with five other parties formed a coalition government. The coalition was a setback for PJD, which had to give up four ministerial posts.
According to Countryaah.com, the government announced in April that Morocco seized as much as 421 tonnes of plastic bags and 70 plastic bag machines, after a new law called Zero plastic was introduced in the country for environmental reasons. Morocco and Rwanda are the first nations in Africa to ban plastic bags and, with the help of inspectors and police, the government has managed to persuade its residents to switch to bags and bags of other materials.
A new demonstration wave erupted in several cities in the Rif region in northern Morocco in May. The protests began in October last year in solidarity with a fishmonger trapped to death in a garbage truck when he was to rescue fish seized by police. Since then, a movement against corruption and with demands for jobs and economic development has emerged.
The largest demonstrations took place in the city of Al Hoceïma, but even in smaller towns and cities such as Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech, people went out on the streets to demonstrate. In connection with the manifestations, the leader of the movement, Nasser Zefzafi, was arrested. After his arrest, the protests that in June became degenerate with clashes between stone-throwing protesters and police using tear gas.
The reef region is dominated by Berber, who consider themselves economically, culturally and socially isolated. This year’s demonstrations were the largest since the Arab Spring of 2011. Even then, the Rif region was the center of the protests against the government, which then led the king to implement certain constitutional reforms.
During the year, the government spent around SEK 200 million on countering Moroccan extremism abroad. The background was the attention to the fact that people of Moroccan origin participated in several terrorist attacks in Europe, including in Paris, London, Brussels, Turku and Barcelona. According to Youssef Gharbi, who chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee in Parliament’s lower house, the money would be used for cultural programs for Moroccans born abroad. Morocco has long conducted an effective domestic work against extremism and since 2002 has dissolved 167 terror cells and stopped 341 attacks, according to media reports, which also stated that close to 10% of residents in Morocco as well as in Algeria and Sudan support the terrorist group IS.
In November, at least 15 people died when panic erupted during a food donation in a market in southwestern Morocco, where up to 1,000 people arrived. The event was another example of the prevailing regional and social divisions in Morocco, where residents, especially in rural areas, suffer from great poverty.