Moroccan king calls for better wealth creation

Mohammed VI keeps focus on economy, which has been a harbinger of past unrest

This handout released by the Moroccan Royal Palace and taken on July 31, 2019 shows the Moroccan King Mohammed VI greeting the crowd as he rides a horse during a ceremony of allegiance, at the King's palace in Tetouan to mark the 20th anniversary of Mohammed VI's accession to the throne. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Moroccan Royal Palace" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

King Mohammed VI of Morocco is calling for an expansion of the country's middle class to preserve stability as he aims to make the weakening economy the focus of public discourse.

The monarch said on Tuesday that Morocco needed to create more wealth and that it should be evenly distributed, in the second major speech focusing on the economy in a month.

Without mentioning the periodic unrest that has swept Morocco since the 2011 Arab uprisings, King Mohammed, 55, made it clear his priority was the social and economic concerns that have contributed to street protests and strikes.

In the past few years, Morocco has begun to develop a middle class as a backbone of “cohesion and stability”, he said.

"Conditions must be created for the middle class to expand and for doors of social mobility to open," the king said in a speech to mark Revolution Day, when in 1953 the French exiled his grandfather, Mohammed V, to Corsica.

"These challenges will not be met without higher rates of growth and more wealth, and more justice in its distribution.

Last month, the Moroccan government lowered its economic growth forecast for this year from 2.9 per cent to 2.7 per cent because of a drop in farming output, compared with 3 per cent growth last year.

According to the World Bank, Morocco's per-capita income last year was $3,090 (Dh11,350) and unemployment stood at 10 per cent.

About 5 per cent of the population earned less than $5.50 a day in 2013.

The king identified rural areas and the suburbs as home to those who require “more support and attention to their conditions, and non-stop work to respond to their pressing needs”.

In 2017, the death of Mouhcine Fikri, a downtrodden fishmonger in the coastal town of Hoceima, led to large protests.

Fikri was crushed to death after throwing himself inside a refuse lorry to retrieve a fish confiscated by officials. Strikes and sit-ins have continued, most recently by refuse collectors, and last month by public sector doctors.

On the 20th anniversary of his coronation, King Mohammed last month ordered an overhaul of development policy, saying the wealth gap remained too wide and that the aspirations of the poor had not been met.

The monarch succeeded his father, Hassan II, in 1999. He plays the role of arbiter between the state and society, leaving the day-to-day running of the country to the government.

But recently, he has intervened more frequently, sacking ministers he deemed incompetent and setting development goals.

With high migration and the military in neighbouring Algeria seeking to contain protests against their rule, King Mohammed has emphasised the need to serve a youthful population and lift Moroccans out of poverty.

While he has not abandoned his behind-the-scenes approach, his recent pronouncements have tied management of the economy to his public role.