On May 4, residents of Jerada, Morocco resumed protests over the authorities’ failure to respond to various economic and social concerns. Specifically, demonstrations reiterated calls for more job opportunities, regional development, and the release of prisoners detained during previous protests.
The demonstrations began in December 2017 over a demand for lower utility bills. Days later, tensions flared after the death of brothers Houcine and Jedouane Diou, who were both mine workers. Protests continued throughout the early months of 2018 in response to further mine worker deaths and detention of members and leaders of the protest movement. In response, the Moroccan government promised various reforms, including establishing new development plans and strengthening controls against corruption; such improvements have yet to materialize, however.
A small coal-mining town of fewer than 50,000, Jerada is located in northeastern Morocco near the Algerian border, and is one of the poorest areas in the country. Coal mining was the main source of income for most of the city’s residents until the government shutdown these mines in 1998, laying off 9,000 workers. With few economic opportunities and little government support, many of Jerada’s young men have been forced to search for coal in the abandoned mines and sell them to powerful local barons for small sums of money.
Government reaction to these issues has been slow. The Moroccan state has, by contrast, been quick to use repressive and violent tactics against protestors. On March 13, Minister of Interior Abdelouafi Laftit issued a ban on unauthorized protests in Jerada, claiming radical left-wing parties and Islamic groups were using the demonstrations to antagonize the state. According to a report by Amnesty International, in March, Moroccan security forces have intimidated and used excessive force against civilians during the peaceful protests. More recently, the Moroccan Coalition for Human Rights Groups also released a report saying authorities forced protestors to demonstrate in locations outside of the city and were generally unresponsive to dialogue with demonstrators.
The problems facing Jerada are endemic to Morocco. Poor areas continue to be neglected as the kingdom cuts subsidies to drive economic growth. As the country continues to pursue a market liberalization strategy, Geoff Porter, a North African risk consultant, has noted that the effect may leave Morocco’s rural poor population alienated and at risk. The country’s young people are also suffering the consequences of these difficult conditions. With little keeping them home, many members of Morocco’s large youth population are leaving the country for more promising job opportunities and economic conditions abroad.
To combat all this, creating and integrating civil society initiatives, aimed at providing assistance to the poor, can be a way to offset the negative effects of aggressive market competition and government inefficiency. These initiatives can be a useful tool for development in areas like Jerada that are vulnerable to exploitation.