Despite the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has caused to millions of Moroccans, it is a historic opportunity for the state and society to rebuild.
Washington D.C – Within a few months of its outbreak, the COVID-19 pandemic has had many disastrous effects on countries across the world, including Morocco. But not everything that resulted from the pandemic is negative. Some of it is even beneficial.
There are several positive lessons we can learn from this serious challenge afflicting Morocco. The most important lesson is that Morocco must capitalize on the positive momentum the crisis generated and the historic reconciliation between public institutions and the Moroccan people.
We must make this reconciliation a starting point for building a new Morocco where all Moroccans enjoy freedom, equality before the law, and equal opportunities—a starting point where Moroccans reject all the aberrant practices that stand in the way of building a developed, prosperous, and open society.
In light of these earthshaking circumstances, Morocco should consider how to deal with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and how to build a better and stronger country.
Post-coronavirus Morocco should cut ties with foreign dependency, with the preference of foreign skilled workers over Moroccans, with the complex of inferiority towards the West, with the rentier economy, and with corruption.
Many say the world will change after the end of the COVID-19 crisis, but, at the same time, they forget that there will be no real change in our lives if we do not change our behavior as a society, government, and state. We must reconsider ourselves and determine the weaknesses that have kept our country from assuming the position it deserves in the international stage.
There are indeed many despicable societal behaviors that cannot end overnight. Some changes will require at least one generation as well as serious qualitative reform of the education system. But other changes would be possible if Moroccans have the will, vision, and patriotism to put their country on the right path towards building a bright future for the current and emerging generations.
The first step is to restore confidence in Moroccans and especially Moroccan skilled workers, to promote meritocracy, to encourage local industry in all sectors, and to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign countries.
An unprecedented show of national strength
Many Moroccans and foreigners have found the proactive and insightful way in which Morocco has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic both surprising and heart-warming. The response has enabled Morocco to avoid a massive outbreak and the collapse of its health system, thus saving tens of thousands of lives.
In addition to quickly closing borders, imposing a state of emergency, establishing a Special Fund for the Management and Response to COVID-19, and building field hospitals, Morocco has mobilized all of its efforts to provide the Moroccan people with protective gear, especially face masks, to prevent the spread of the virus.
Moroccan experts, engineers, and technicians have built machines and devices to help prevent COVID-19’s spread. Finally, Moroccan society has, to a great extent, responded thoughtfully and responsibly to the preventive measures the government implemented to reduce the spread of the pandemic and mitigate its health, social, and economic repercussions.
Morocco was also quick to mobilize textile factories across the country to produce millions of face masks daily and to enforce wearing masks in public. Meanwhile, several Western countries were still debating whether to advise wearing face masks.
Western markets did not have enough masks because of their complete dependence on China, leading Western countries to demonstrate unethical practices to obtain supplies, unconcerned with the values they have boasted for decades.
In one example, an American company prevented a French company from receiving a shipment of face masks it had ordered by paying the Chinese supplier more than the French company.
Morocco placed itself above these auctions and practices by depending on its own industry and local skilled workers. Additionally, while doctors around the world were still debating about the side effects and efficacy of the hydroxychloroquine treatment protocol for COVID-19 patients, Morocco made a courageous, sovereign decision in late March to use it.
As a result of its measures, Morocco kept the number of daily new COVID-19 cases fluctuating between 100 and 200 on most days, avoiding an exponential rise in the number of cases.
The measures helped Morocco avoid an unprecedented health catastrophe that would have claimed tens of thousands of lives. While many countries have lost thousands, the treatment protocol Morocco followed has helped reduce the number of deaths, currently standing at 188, and steadily increased the number of recoveries.
The road to reform
Morocco’s success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has earned the admiration of international media, including Spanish newspaper El Pais and French newspaper Le Monde, which are not known for providing positive media about the country and have often belittled its political reforms.
A simple comparison between Morocco and its European neighbors, notably Spain, Italy, and France, proves beyond doubt that Morocco’s vision, proactive measures, and learning from other countries’ mistakes has helped it avoid the catastrophic scenarios in Europe, despite their economic and financial strength and the quality of their health systems in comparison to Morocco.
The North African country’s efficiency has led several Spanish politicians to express their admiration for the Moroccan model in mitigating the impacts of the pandemic.
However, all these gains may be lost if the Moroccan state and society do not draw lessons from the pandemic to build a new national pact based on sovereign decision-making, separate from external influences, accountability in public life and on reforms of the educational and medical sectors, overhauling them to meet the rapid changes of today’s world.
The new social pact should also encourage scientific research and innovation, prioritize and develop human resources, fill in the country’s digital divide, and establish world-class scientific laboratories that would not only keep high-skilled Moroccan professionals in the country, but also attract skilled foreign professionals.
The kingdom must rely on Moroccan workers, restore their esteem, and cut ties with the culture of preferring foreigners over Moroccans, as if being a foreign national was a guarantee of competence, regardless of scientific and practical capabilities.
My experience of over 20 years in the West has taught me Westerners do not outperform Moroccans in intellectual and scientific abilities or intelligence. Rather, they benefit from an educational system and a professional environment that helps them obtain the training necessary to enter the labor market and to develop their skills and intellectual faculties.
This is what drives many talented Moroccans to emigrate every year in search of better job opportunities that meet their ambitions. Countless talented Moroccans are working in major international companies.
More than 600 Moroccan engineers leave Morocco annually to search for job opportunities that match their professional and financial aspirations and provide an optimal professional environment to develop their skills.
The saddest part in this is that Morocco pays billions annually to train young professionals in universities and hands them free of charge to countries such as France, Spain, or the United States. In the end, these Moroccans work in sectors from which foreign companies earn large amounts of money through their exports to Morocco.
As for the trained Moroccans who are not fortunate enough to emigrate, they either suffer a setback due to the lack of suitable job opportunities and poor conditions for innovation, or they work in sectors completely outside their field of expertise.
Therefore, the Moroccan state must prioritize the reform of the educational system and its adaptation to the current era’s needs to develop Moroccan skilled workers who can benefit the country as a whole.
Morocco would not be able to achieve this overnight. However, taking the smallest step in this direction after the COVID-19 pandemic would have a positive impact on the country’s economy, prosperity, and social cohesion 10 or 20 years from now.
In parallel, the government should review all the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) it signed without careful and in-depth studies of their impact on the Moroccan industry, on the labor market, and on the trade balance.
The catastrophic impact the FTA with Turkey had on Morocco’s textile sector, for example, is good evidence of the damage some FTAs inflicted on the Moroccan economy. This also applies to agreements with other countries and regional blocs, including the US and the EU.
Morocco should review its open-door policy with China. The policy has catastrophically affected all industrial sectors, including the handicraft industry, since China started exporting cheap handicraft products without observing quality standards, bankrupting many artisans and handicraft businesses in cities such as Fez and Marrakech.
The country should reconsider its partnership with China, whose exports to Morocco are 13 times larger than its imports.
If the state takes the necessary steps to put the national economy on the right path and to restore the esteem of Moroccan professionals, Moroccans must also play their role. The government’s measures to strengthen Moroccan industries and reduce dependence on foreign products cannot succeed if the Moroccan consumer continues to favor foreign products over domestic ones.
After COVID-19, the Moroccan consumer must have a sense of patriotism and be aware that their preference for foreign products means the destruction of job opportunities and entire industrial sectors, deepening Morocco’s chronic trade balance deficit and foreign debt.
The Moroccan consumer should also reconsider domestic tourism. Our country boasts many tourist resorts and natural landscapes of unrivaled beauty, which mostly foreign tourists enjoy.
Instead of traveling abroad and using foreign currency that the country’s treasury critically needs to pay off foreign debt and to cover imports, Morocco should encourage domestic tourism and revitalize this sector experiencing an unprecedented recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the economic and psychological damage the pandemic has caused to millions of Moroccans, it is a historic opportunity for the state and Moroccan society to launch a genuine educational reform and build a new political economic and social pact that shuns and fights the rentier economy, reduces imports and trade deficits, and enhances the country’s capabilities in industrial sectors with high added value.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.