While 1.7 million Moroccans moved out of poverty over the past decade, there still remains a visible economic divide.
As Muslims around the world mark Eid al-Adha, Morocco is building itself up for the big feast. This is my first time in a Muslim-majority country on Eid and the vibe is warm, hospitable and friendly. In Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, there is anticipation as families and friends get together for the holiday that begins on October 5 in the country.
Eid al-Adha, a festival that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God, is a time for prayer, fun and feasts. Just like Christmas, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, it’s a time to be thankful and spend precious moments with loved ones.
On “Eid Eve,” Casablanca’s streets are busy — families out shopping, young couples spending time together and children running around. With mothers and fathers in a rush to buy presents and food, the medina and other neighborhoods around town are more packed than ever. Stall owners in the souq (market) shout out their best offers, in a bid to entice last minute shoppers. Morocco certainly has its fair share of last minute shoppers, just like the late ones on Christmas Eve.
Around Casablanca, whichever street you walk down, you’ll probably stumble upon “pop-up” sheep stalls. Yes, there are pop-up stalls that are selling sheep, calves and cows. Ironically, one of these stalls has turned a burger shop into a temporary outlet with about a dozen or so animals inside, as fathers turn up with their children to haggle a price — it’s actually amusing watching a child run away from a sheep.
Once bought, the animal is loaded onto a small truck and taken home, before being slaughtered for a feast — an act that is supposed to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Now, I am not a vegetarian — far from it, I love my kebabs too much — but I really wonder what goes through the poor sheep’s mind at that point. Nonetheless, Eid al-Adha in Morocco is certainly a moment full of joy, love and laughter.
Inequality in North Africa
In the backdrop of this, however, you cannot help but notice the poor: The people who sit at the side of the street in no shoes and tatty clothes; those who rummage through the trash in the hope of finding food; mothers who stand outside mosques begging for spare change, as they need to feed their children; or young men who shine shoes to earn a buck or two.
Due to a variety of reasons, including migration from rural towns to urban cities, there are sizeable populations in each of these countries that live in poverty. When poor people living in rural areas move to a metropolis like Rabat, Tunis, Tripoli or Cairo, they will continue to live in unbearable conditions but with different surroundings.
In Morocco, as with other countries in North Africa, inequality is striking. In Casablanca, you might walk along one street and see a flashy Maserati, only to walk down another to see a homeless man sleeping on the floor with derelict buildings around him — such drastic and differing conditions in the quality of life are shocking. While 1.7 million Moroccans moved out of poverty over the past decade, there still remains a visible divide between the haves and the have-nots. Without tackling wider socioeconomic issues in the correct manner, including illiteracy rates and an education system that needs a complete overhaul, there is a clear risk of poverty increasing instead of decreasing.
Morocco is not alone here. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a disparity in wealth was a key factor behind the uprisings in 2010-11. According to CAPMAS, Egypt’s poverty rate stood at over 26% in 2012-13. Due to a variety of reasons, including migration from rural towns to urban cities, there are sizeable populations in each of these countries that live in poverty. When poor people living in rural areas move to a metropolis like Rabat, Tunis, Tripoli or Cairo, they will continue to live in unbearable conditions but with different surroundings. In fact, there are many Moroccan women who move from small villages to cities such as Casablanca, only to find out that they can’t put food on their children’s plate — some of these women even end up in prostitution as a result.
The Moroccan government must ensure that rural migrants are well-prepared before moving to urban cities. While Morocco isn’t the richest of the bunch, governmental and nongovernmental organizations are required to educate citizens in rural regions, so they are able to find suitable jobs in cities such as Rabat and Casablanca. Initiatives in empowering women, education and entrepreneurship will be key. If left untreated, underlying problems that lead to poverty will result in a continuation of inequality that could spiral out of control.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.