Rabat – Since the beginning of the boycott crisis in Morocco four weeks ago, the political meter seems to be swiftly ticking towards the expiration date of the current Justice and Development party (PJD) cabinet and the coalition parties.
The massive boycott is threatening the future of three large Moroccan multinational corporations: Centrale Danone, Eaux Minérales d’Oulmès (Sidi Ali), owned by Holmarcom, and AFRIQUIA GAZ, owned by the Akwa Group.
The boycott that was launched on social media has quickly spread across Morocco. It caused the loss of millions of dirhams for these companies and tarnished the reputations of their brands, products and executives.
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While the boycotters consistently demand that these companies lower their prices, many infer that the boycott has been politicized. They claim it targets the billionaire Mr. Aziz Akhannouch, the Minister of Agriculture and the head of the National Rally of Independents party (RNI), and the powerful businesswoman Mrs. Meriem Bensaleh-Chaqroun. She heads the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM), Morocco’s largest business organization that represents the private sector.
With more than 30,000 member companies, CGEM’s mission is to advance the interests of its member enterprises nationally and internationally by creating a favorable economic environment.
As the heads of two of the boycotted companies, AFRIQUIA GAZ, and Eaux Minérales d’ Oulmès (Sidi Ali), both Akhannouch’s and Bensaleh-Chaqroun’s names have come up repeatedly during the boycott. They are seen as powerful magnates who are using their positions to enrich themselves, grow their businesses, and monopolize certain vital sectors of the Moroccan economy.
The boycott is also threatening the political shelf life of the PJD and the current government due to a poor handling of the situation. Since the beginning of the boycott, both the silence of Mr. Saad Eddine El Othmani, the Prime Minister, and the uncalculated remarks of several of his cabinet members have not only failed to suggest a possible solution, but directly inflamed the boycott.
It all started when Mr. Mohamed Boussaïd, a member of the RNI and the Minister of Economy and Finance, called the boycotters “morons.” The term became a popular hashtag that the boycotters adopted and used to describe themselves in a positive way.
In his first response to the boycott, during a live press conference, Government Spokesperson Mustapha El Khalfi threatened the boycotters. He considered the boycott to be based on “false information” and not “part of free speech” and asserted that “the government will review current speech laws.”
The boycotters reacted negatively and called for an apology as his comments seemed to have inflamed the situation and were seen as a failure on the government’s part to help resolve the worsening situation.
The statement of Mr. Mohamed Yatim, the Minister of Labor and Employment, shocked the majority of Moroccans when it was propagated through social media platforms. When asked about the boycott, Mr. Yatim said “Some people understood that I am either for or against it. I am neither for nor against. I am not concerned with this matter, because I am a government official and that is the concern of the people.”
He added when he was asked to comment as a Moroccan citizen, “I am a minister, I am not a citizen.” Yatim’s comments reveal the clear disconnection of the PJD-led government from the concerns of the Moroccan people. They mark the end of the popularity of the PJD party that won by branding itself as the party of the poor and working class Moroccans.
While the boycott continues to shake the economic and political power structures in Morocco, the PJD’s popularity is on a slippery slope. The boycott that started as a protest of high prices on some of the most basic commodities in Morocco is having a double effect in politics by threatening the interests of Moroccan business and political tycoons.
The boycott’s impact extends to the political parties in the government coalition, namely RNI and PJD, which are directly implicated in the ongoing boycott crisis.