By Omar Bihmidine
By Omar Bihmidine
Morocco World News
Sidi Ifni, Morocco, April 11, 2011
It’s been a little over three months since Mr. Benkirane and his PJD party assumed political power in Morocco. One thing is certain: the PJD-led government has not been shy to take what some have described as controversial decisions. For instance, we had the drama over the “Grimats”. We were then treated to a shameful comment by the Minister of Justice over the Amina Filali case. Now comes the strangest decision of this untested government: raising taxes on alcohol sales. While authorization for the sale of alcohol dates back to 1967 during king Hassan II’s reign, it is rather puzzling that the PJD-led government would propose such a measure given that its leadership and members have always attacked the sale of alcohol in principle and in practice as strictly forbidden by Islam.
Mr. Benkirane is perhaps more politically shrewd than we think. He knows that his government would commit political suicide if it tries to outlaw the sale of alcohol and tobacco. Maybe the wiser approach is for the Islamist-led government to raise taxes on alcohol and tobacco sales. If Mr. Benkirane proceeds with this proposal, he will inevitably have to address serious questions: what impact will his decision have on Morocco’s economy? How will he overcome the expected fight from the powerful families that monopolize alcohol production, distribution and sales? Will revenue from the proposed taxes help alleviate social problems, such as poverty, unemployment, shoddy health care and lack of housing?
There is no doubt that the proposed tax hike will result in higher retail prices of alcohol and tobacco and therefore more revenue for the state. This is undoubtedly among the motives fueling the decision-makers. Perhaps another factor is social engineering. Through higher prices; there might be a decrease in alcohol consumption among poor segments of Moroccan society. With less and less consumption, certain societal ills associated with alcohol consumption (violent crime, domestic abuse, drinking and driving, etc) will also decrease. Regrettably, well intended social engineering might not materialize as alcohol consumption in Morocco is quite high, especially among the poor. Most are not social or recreational drinkers but are actual addicts.
As such, making alcohol consumption more expensive might not generate the desired result. Alcoholics will pursue their drinks no matter the cost. Perhaps Mr. Benkirane should consult current New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg. A few years ago, in an effort to reduce smoking, the mayor increased taxes on cigarettes to an unprecedented high. New Yorkers, from all income categories, still smoke quite extensively.
If Mr. Benkirane turns to religion to justify the tax increase, he is preparing himself for a grilling. Islam does not just forbit consumption but also bans so much more: it is forbidden for the one who consumes it, who produces it, who serves it, who carries it, to whom is carried, who buys it, to whom it is bought, who sells it, to whom it is sold, and the one who earns from its sale. It’s crystal clear that the Moroccan government has always gained a lot from alcohol sales. How will Mr. Benkirane justify earning even more than his non-Islamist predecessors.
Regrettably, the Islamist-led government always seeks excuses to exonerate itself from the same shameful acts of previous administrations. Rather than raising taxes on alcohol, Mr. Benkirane’s efforts should focus on treatment. Again turning to the United States for comparative purposes, the war on drugs has been a complete failure because every administration has focused on attacking the source/supply as opposed to treating the consumers. If the Benkirane government reached out to people on the ground and afforded them resources for treatment, this will not end alcohol consumption in Morocco. It will nevertheless reinforce the PJD’s status as a party of the people that operates on Islamic principles of justice, care, and social cohesion.
The PJD-led government is fairly young and needs more time to be fairly judged. Rather than attacking alcohol consumption, indeed a worthy cause, it should start with a steady focus on other challenges: corruption, accountability, lack of transparency, unemployment, and crippled educational and healthcare systems. As the magazine TelQuel once published, Morocco has among the highest rates of alcohol consumption in all of North Africa and the Middle East. It behooves the PJD-led government to tread carefully when attempting to overturn this sad Moroccan reality.
Edited by Hisham El Koustaf
Omar Bihmidine is high school teacher of English. He obtained his Associate Degree at Choaib Eddoukali University in 2008. His writings take the form of short stories, poems and articles, many of which have been published in Sous Pens magazine, in the ALC magazine in Agadir, and in the late Casablanca analyst newspaper.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved.