Pulse Report (June 2019)
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: DETERIORATING
Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional individualistic monarchy where hereditary sultan King Mohammed VI and the Makhzen, a ruling body consisting of the monarch, top-ranking military personnel, landowners, and other members of the establishment preside over the nation. The Makhzen is focal in Moroccan culture, and it is illegal to criticise this institution. Parliament in Morocco is elected by the people, yet the King appoints the leader of political parties and King Mohammed VI can, on his initiative after consultation with the head of government, terminate the function of any member of government.
Following the 20 February 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ protest movement, constitutional reforms and a reconfiguration of sovereignty within the Makhzen were promised, yet tangible outcomes have not yet occurred. This constitution was spuriously approved in a referendum on 1 July 2011 where it was claimed by Moroccan authorities that 73% of eligible voters participated, and 98% of voters approved the constitution. This is unable to be verified by an independent electoral source and it is understood by observers that this turnout could be fictitious, given the esoteric nature of constitutions and much of the Moroccan populace being uneducated. The 20 February protest movement also called for the end of political clientelism in the Makhzen; recognising Amazigh as a national language of the Berber minority, calling for high unemployment to be addressed and electoral fraud to be admitted, and addressed. Concessions included the Prime Minister to be given de facto power to appoint his cabinet, whilst the King continued to preside over the judiciary and security forces. Parliamentary elections were also held on 25 November 2011 where the Justice and Development Party (PJD) led by Abdelilah Benkirane won.
A movement referred to as Hirak al Rif was formed in 2016 following the death of fishmonger Mohcine Fikri who was crushed to death by a rubbish truck, continuing much of the legacy that 20 February left behind. This movement is ongoing and is isolated to the northern Rif region of the nation; a marginalised and mistreated area where protestors are framed as dangerous insurgents by Moroccan state media. It is unlikely that tensions with the Rif region and the Makhzen will lessen, however, whilst well-organised with clear-cut demands, it is unlikely that Hirak al Rif will succeed in its aims of social reform.
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: STABLE
Since the Arab Spring, Morocco has experienced greater and more visible waves of political protest inspired by the successful political opportunity structure exploited most successfully in Tunisia. Notably, protest is ongoing in the Northern Rif region of Morocco where Amazigh is sought as a recognised language, corruption within the Makhzen sought to be addressed, and genuine constitutional checks and balances following the 2012 referendum are sought to be implemented. This movement; ‘Hirak al Rif’ is framed by Moroccan state television as undermining state security and promoting terrorism. This movement has led to numerous activists being detained and arrested, highlighting that the Rif region is currently a volatile area of the nation.
There has been an irregular rainfall that has limited crop potential in the region. Whilst the harvesting season began well, Morocco has received 284 millimetres of rainfall as of April 2019 which is a 12% decrease from a normal harvest year. This will result in a lower cereal production in 2019 of an estimated 6.4 million tonnes which is 25% lower than the average yield. This will require increased imports to satisfy demand and will negatively affect harvesting trade. Whilst chronic droughts and unreliable rainfall are common in Morocco, a 25% lower yield will greatly impact upon the rural agricultural economy, but also upon economic growth in general.
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: IMPROVING
Petty crime in busy areas of Morocco is very common, particularly opportunistic pickpocketing, fraud, and burglaries targetting tourists or those unfamiliar with the area. Demonstrations against the Makhzen have become increasingly common since the Arab Spring and protests in large areas such as Rabat and Casablanca can begin peaceful and swiftly turn violent as protestors confront authority figures such as police. Heavily policed protests have been ongoing in the Northern Rif region of the nation and this area should be avoided as protests are heavily policed, can swiftly turn violent and those involved in the protests are putting themselves are risk of arrest with spurious charges, given the mistrusted and isolated legacy of the Rif region towards the Makhzen.
Females should be particularly vigilant in the nation and should respect local laws and customs, given that Morocco is an Islamic nation. Females can be targets of sexual assault and unwanted attention, so it is advised that women are accompanied by others and do not travel alone or at night. Homosexuality is also illegal in Morocco, so discretion is advised, and local laws should be adhered to ensure that travellers from the LGBTQ community are not targeted for unwanted attention.
In 2017, the Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita announced that security co-operation across the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) G5 Sahel countries (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad) will be strengthened to ensure to safety of the Western African corridor. Ordered by King Mohammed VI, Morocco is aiming to become a key influencer in African geopolitics with the aim of establishing itself as a major power in the continent. This co-operation has sought to build a diplomatic bridge between the nations and strengthen co-operational counter-terrorism policy, as whilst few attacks have occurred in the ECOWAS nations, terrorism threats remain the main security risks for these nations.
The nation has been progressive with its broad security policy, seeking to modernise security forces by educating on cyber-threats the possibilities of irregular warfare such as cyber terrorism with digital combatants, promoting moderate Islam to dissuade citizens from Islamic State (IS) propaganda, and religious diplomacy, which are all essential in counter-terrorism policy. Aforementioned, Morocco also represents an exemplar model of counter-terrorism policy in the Maghreb due to the effectiveness of the BCIJ in capturing terrorist cells. Whilst deradicalization policy must be fine-tuned, Morocco represents a valuable asset not just to ECOWAS nations, but all of its strategic partners, and for the future of African politics, especially since the nation joined the African Union on 31 January 2019.
RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: STABLE
Road safety in Morocco is poor and precautions should be taken, particularly in rural areas. With a road fatality rate 9 times higher than the UK, caution should be taken, particularly when weather conditions are adverse or driving at night.
Hiking in Morocco should be undertaken with prior planning through a reputed guide or within a group familiar with the area. Hiking alone can be dangerous and tourists can be susceptible to crime, an issue that was foregrounded with the murder of two Scandinavian tourists travelling in the Atlas Mountain region in 2018. Altitude sickness should also be considered as a precaution and travellers should be aware of acute mountain sickness at particularly high altitudes which is a potentially life-threatening condition.
The Western Sahara is a disputed region of North Africa and travel to this area should be treated with caution. Morocco claims to own 75% of this region, yet no other members of the United Nations internationally recognise this claim as legitimate. Terrorists are likely to carry out attacks in the Western Sahara and there is a high risk of undetonated mines within the region. As there is no British consular or diplomatic presence in the Western Sahara, emergency evacuation would be extremely difficult and therefore it is advised that individuals should not travel to this area unless essential.
Caution in particular should be exercised around busy tourist areas. In 2011, 17 people were killed and 25 injured in a bomb in Marrakech’s Djelma el-Fna Square. Cells sympathetic to IS and other extremist groups may try and carry out further attacks in populous areas which may be indiscriminate and attempt to target foreigners. Therefore, remaining vigilant at all times in populous areas is essential. The nation has experienced relatively few terrorist attacks and the nation is continuing to develop an effective counter-terrorism policy and encourage tourism to the country. As such over 650,000 British nationals visit Morocco every year trouble-free.
RISK LEVEL: HIGH
RISK OUTLOOK: IMPROVING
Morocco is often presented as an example in the fight against extremism and transnational terrorism. The US State Department described the country as having a “comprehensive counter terrorism strategy that includes vigilant security measures, regional and international cooperation”. The last high-profile terrorist attack in the country occurred in April 2011, when explosive devices were remotely detonated in Marrakesh, killing 17 people. The Moroccan government attributed the attack to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AGIM), though the grouping denied involvement. IS have not conducted an attack in the country, though the lion’s share of terrorist cells disrupted by the BCIJ are believed to have links to the caliphate. A statement released in October 2018 asserted that, since its inception, the BCIJ have been responsible for 57 disruption operations, eight of which occurred in 2018.
Whilst it is recognised that Morocco has enjoyed significant success in tackling terrorism and extremism since the 2011 Marrakesh attack, it is thought that despite (or indeed, because of) this success, attacks that have not been coordinated by established transnational extremist organisations may increase. Such lone wolf attacks can be coordinated outside the purview of security organisations such as the BCIJ, often conceived by marginalised and isolated individuals who are open to outside influence and inspiration via social media. Because Morocco has been so successful in this regard, disenfranchised individuals are likely to have sought fulfilment through travel abroad or else fostered resentment within the country. Such individuals provide ideal targets for those wishing to rally others to the cause, with the nexus between crime and terror posing a particular concern.
On 18 December 2018, the mutilated bodies of two Scandinavian tourists were discovered in a popular, isolated, tourist area; 65km south of Marrakesh, in the vicinity of the Atlas Mountain range. No extremist grouping claimed responsibility; though subsequent investigations revealed that those who conducted the attack had a line of communication with IS elements based in Syria and aspects of the attack align with IS doctrine. In the wake of the attack, the BCIJ have conducted a comprehensive operation against known Is sympathisers in the country, driven by estimates that over 1,600 Moroccan nationals had travelled to Syria to fight with IS.
On 14 March 2019 the BCIJ dismantled a six person terror cell that that remain in custody. On 3 May 2019, the BCIJ dismantled a terrorist cell in the north-western port city Tangier. Eight members were detained on the charge of propaganda of terrorism, with weapons, IS flags and electronic equipment seized and the threat considered to be neutralised by the BCIJ. It is apparent that the creation of the BCIJ has led to widespread coverage of the effectiveness of the organisation in intercepting terrorist cells. A report by the Egmont Institute for International Relations in Brussels noted that in the Maghreb region Morocco’s counter-terrorism policy was more effective than Egypt and Tunisia, as whilst the BCIJ discerned that 1,664 radicalised Moroccans had travelled abroad, Morocco has only experienced one major terrorist attack since 2011. These radicalised Moroccans are predominantly under the age of 25, according to the National Observatory for Human Development (ONDH) and 75% come from deprived families in slums. However, whilst these radicalised Moroccans returning following the reduction of IS-controlled territory in the Middle East is problematic, the BCIJ has dismantled 57 terrorist cells, arrested 3,129 people and has prevented 361 potential terrorist actions. Combined with the Makhzen’s interior ministry employing 50,000 mqadmin (auxiliary agents) as a counter-terrorism secret police, Morocco’s counter-terrorism policy is largely security-driven and the nation appears to be taking terrorist threats seriously.
While the terrorist threat remains high in Morocco, and the socio-political situation volatile since the copycat protests culminating in the Arab Spring between 2011-2012, Morocco is an exemplar nation in Northern Africa regarding counter-terrorism policy. The BCIJ, responsible for combating terrorist cells, abductions, smuggling and banditry have been extremely effective since their formation in 2015. Whilst further co-operation with neighbouring North African nations would strengthen security networks in the Maghreb further, the BCIJ conveys that counter-terrorism policy is taken seriously in Morocco. However, whilst the BCIJ is effectively detaining terrorist cells, Moroccan counter-terrorism policy must also focus on the deradicalization of terrorist suspects. Absent of a comprehensive deradicalization policy, Morocco must work internally and with other nations to develop a comprehensive policy to not just detain terrorists, but to deradicalize, gain intelligence and dismantle transnational networks also.
Subscribe to our mailing list below to unlock access to the PDF report.