The boycott, the Hirak Rif trial, mandatory military service, GMT+1 year-round, the high speed train, and the Imlil murder are some of the events that made headlines in Moroccan news and social media in 2018.
Rabat – 2018 was a year full of big events in Morocco that impacted the political, social, and economic aspects of Moroccans’ lives. The events from 2018 listed below were major news in Morocco.
Many Moroccans started a national campaign on April 20 to boycott three major companies in Morocco: Centrale Danone dairy, Sidi Ali bottled water, and Afriquia gas stations. The campaign aimed to speak out against rising commodity prices.
The boycott lasted through the spring and early summer and negatively impacted the earnings of the companies it targeted.
The main actor in the Moroccan dairy sector, Centrale Danone, experienced the largest loss this year. In September, Central Danone, which was the company most responsive to the campaign, decided to cut milk prices by 30 centimes, selling a 470-milliliter milk carton at MAD 3.20 instead of MAD 3.50.
June: 2018 World Cup in Russia and 2026 bid
After 20 years of not qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, the Moroccan team participated in 2018 World Cup in Russia (June 14-July 15) bringing joy and enthusiasm to Moroccan fans. Unfortunately, Moroccans did not achieve full happiness because the Atlas Lions were eliminated in the group stage.
Morocco was placed in Group C which included Iran and two strong teams: Spain and Portugal.
However, the Moroccan team played great games in the last two matches against Portugal and Spain after losing the first match to Iran (0-1) with an own goal.
FIFA used video assistant referee (VAR) technology for the first time in the 2018 World Cup. Several football teams and fans were not satisfied with the “unjust” use of VAR throughout the Russia tournament due to the alleged mistakes referees made in using VAR.
Morocco complained that VAR was not used to judge fouls in Morocco’s favor in its Portugal game (0-1), but the technology was used to allow an equalizer for Spain in Morocco’s last game (2-2).
One day before the start of the 2018 World Cup games, Morocco lost its bid to host FIFA’s 2026 World Cup disappointing many Moroccans. Only 65 countries voted for Morocco’s bid to the 134 countries which voted for the United (North American) bid at the 68th FIFA Congress in Moscow.
Many Moroccans were surprised that some Arab countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon—voted against Morocco. Morocco, however, was able to count on the support of Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar, Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Yemen, and Oman.
Read Also: Top Moroccan Achievers of 2018
June: Hirak Rif trial
On June 26, the judge of Casablanca’s Appeals Court pronounced sentences in the case of 53 detained Hirak Rif activists. The Hirak Rif leader, Nasser Zefzafi, received 20 years in prison. Other leaders of the protest movement, such as Nabil Ahemjik, El Boustati, and Samir Ghid, received the same heavy sentence.
The court sentenced dozens of other Hirak activists to between 1 and 15 years in prison. The court convicted most of the activists of “undermining the internal security of the state” and “preparing a conspiracy against internal security,” following their participation in protests which broke out in the northern Al Hoceima province in 2016 and 2017.
Many citizens condemned the sentences because they found them “very heavy and unfair.” Zefzafi was also selected as one of the three finalists of the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
August: Reintroduction of compulsory military service
On August 20, the Moroccan Council of Ministers approved a draft bill to reintroduce mandatory military service. The delegate minister in charge of the National Defense Administration, Abdellatif Loudiyi, introduced the bill, saying it aims to “promote the spirit of sacrifice and self denial.”
Many Moroccan youth and activists opposed “the legislative speed” which accelerated the ministerial council’s approval of Bill 44.18 “unlike other more important laws that have not been adopted yet.” Some Moroccan intellectuals stressed the need for the government to open public dialogue to discuss all aspects surrounding the mandatory military service.
However, the government did not hold public hearings on the bill. On December 26, the House of Representatives in Parliament passed Law 44.18 at a plenary session. The bill has not yet been passed in the upper house.
Both men and women aged 19 to 25 would be subject to 12 months of military service. Beginning in September 2019, 10,000 young people are expected to begin service in the military each year.
September: Implementation of Law 103-13 on gender-based discrimination
It took the government six years of consultation and public debate to pass the law published in the official gazette in February 2018. The law then went into effect on September 12.
The law on the elimination of violence against women provides women the ability to file complaints of sexual harassment and ensures harassers receive harsher punishments.
According to the law, people who sexually harass in public spaces, by use of words, acts or signals of a sexual nature for sexual purposes, can receive prison sentences ranging from one to six months and fines from MAD 2,000 to 10,000.
Perpetrators of cybercrime, such as sexual blackmail, could face one to three years in prison and a fine ranging from MAD 1,000 to 20,000 if found guilty.
Moroccan women have expressed positive feelings about the law, which defines any act of violence and harassment as a crime. But for some activists, the implications of the law are still vague since women do not know exactly what they should do if they are harassed.
The activists assert that the “law has to put into place the implementing mechanisms.”
October: Bouknadel train accident
On October 16, a train heading to Kenitra from Casablanca derailed in Bouknadel, near Rabat, at about 10:30 in the morning.
The accident killed 7 people, including the train’s engineer, and injured at least 125 people.
After an investigation, the public prosecutor of Sale’s Court of First Instance blamed the driver for going 158 kilometers per hour.
Many Moroccans expressed rage against ONCF, Morocco’s state-owned railway company, blaming it for the accident after a recording of a conversation between ONCF employees blaming faulty tracks, improper signage, and speeding went viral.
October: GMT+1 year-round
On October 26, the government adopted Draft Decree 2.18.855, adding 60 minutes to the standard time in Morocco, moving Morocco to GMT+1 year-round.
The government adopted the change overnight, only two days before Morocco was set to turn back the clocks one hour with the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST) October 28.
The government’s last-minute decision to maintain GMT+1 year-round was based on “an evaluation study.” The decision, which according to the government was “a sovereign decision,” angered many Moroccan people who raised questions about whether a study was ever conducted.
Many Moroccans took to social media to reject the move and express their worries about the long-term effects of the decision.
October: UN Security Council’s Resolution 2440
On October 31, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2440 which extended the mandate of the UN mission, MINURSO, in Western Sahara for 6 months for the second time since 2008. The mandate had traditionally been extended for 12 months.
The resolution mentioned Algeria for the first time since 2002 and since the start of the political process in the Western Sahara conflict.
For the first time since 2012, the four parties in the conflict took part in a roundtable discussion. Morocco, Algeria, Polisario, and Mauritania all participated in the Geneva round-table December 5-6 to discuss a framework for negotiations.
November: King Mohammed VI’s call for dialogue with Algeria
In an unprecedented speech, King Mohammed VI showed a willingness to open the border with Algeria with “no need for third-party mediation.”
On the 43rd anniversary of the Green March on November 6, the King expressed Morocco’s readiness for “direct and frank dialogue with Algeria to settle the transient and objective differences impeding the development of relations between the two countries.” He suggested the countries set up a joint political mechanism for dialogue and consultation.
Many international officials ,such as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and former US Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley, lauded King Mohammed VI’s call. The African Union also praised the King’s offer.
However, Algeria has not officially responded to the King’s dialogue offer yet. Several sources from Algeria spoke anonymously about the Moroccan offer to the press. One anonymous source said that King Mohammed VI’s offer is “questionable” and “not sincere.”
November: Launch of first high speed train in Africa
On November 15, King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated Africa’s first high speed train (LGV) in Morocco, named Al-Boraq.
The high speed train links Tangier and Casablanca in two hours and 10 minutes instead of the normal five-hour train ride. The train also makes stops in Kenitra and Rabat. The trip from Tangier to Kenitra now takes 50 minutes, while the trip from Tangier to Rabat takes 80 minutes.
Morocco received loans from several countries, foreign companies, and financial institutions to construct the LGV, which cost €2 billion.
Morocco’s railway company, ONCF, set promotion prices for passengers under certain conditions.
Some Moroccans and MPs opposed the LGV, saying the country has more important priorities. They stressed the need to improve the already existing railway network and trains. They also called on the government and ONCF to extend the railway network to other parts of Morocco in the south and southeast.
November: Launch of Mohammed VI-B satellite into orbit
On November 21, the French Arianespace satellite launching company launched into orbit the new Mohammed VI-B satellite from the Vega Launch Complex in Kourou, French Guiana.
The Mohammed VI-B is the second satellite of Morocco’s Mohammed VI – A and B program to orbit. Mohammed VI-A was launched in 2017 and cost €500 million.
The Mohammed VI-B satellite is capable of taking up to 1,000 images per day with a resolution of up to 70 centimeters and will be circulating in the same orbit as the first satellite, 620 kilometers above the earth.
The satellite will be mainly used for mapping, surveillance, and agricultural activities. It will help with “prevention and management of natural disasters, monitoring changes in the environment and desertification, as well as border and coastal surveillance.”
December: Imlil Murders
Unfortunately, 2018 ended with a horrible double murder after terrorists murdered two young Scandinavian women near Imlil, 90 kilometers south of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains.
The crime took place on December 17 against Danish tourist Louisa Vesterager Jespersen and Norwegian tourist Maren Ueland who came to the area to camp near Mount Toubkal.
Shocked and horrified by the act of terror, Moroccans condemned the murder and expressed sympathy for the victims’ families on social media, on the streets, and in front of the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Morocco.
Moroccan authorities have arrested 23 suspects in connection with the murder. The first four appeared in a video online pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Police arrested the latest suspect, a man of dual Swiss and Spanish citizenship, on December 29.
According to a statement from the general prosecutor, 15 suspects in the Imlil murder appeared before the investigating judge at Rabat’s Court of Appeals on December 30.