For more than twenty years, politics in Morocco has been witnessing a change in the cycles of protests under the influence of the parameters linked to the economic liberalization and evolution of the processes of disenchantment with a conventional political culture. The frequent use of repertories of collective action has not failed to shake the political and social landscape to the point that the demobilization of an area is followed by uprisings in neighboring sites. The response of public authorities varies according to the intensity and objectives of the social uprisings. This research is to study the evolution, over time, of the links between repression, the index of consumer prices of basic foodstuffs, and social uprisings. It covers about twenty years from January 1997 to November 2018. In addition to the descriptive temporal evolution, the work applies autoregressive distributed lag (ARDL) modeling to examine whether there are short- and long-term associations between the variables mentioned above.
The development of collective action repertories is difficult to consider outside their simultaneity with the collateral actions of authorities responsible for ensuring public order. Since the 1980s, the cycles of protest movements have illustrated the empirical and epistemological weight that characterizes the study of state management of such conflicts in the theory of social movements (Combes and Fillieule 2011).
The effect of repression on protest action is not only limited to the short term. The links between the sequence of physical coercion and protester expression also derive from the long term, giving meaning to the profound longitudinal logic of the pacification or criminalization of conflicting mobilizations. Studying the provocative or dissuasive function of repression vis-à-vis the public display of collective discontent shows the ambiguity of the motivational framework on which activists’ defection or radicalization is based.
Under the two parameters, linked to protest mobilization and coercive enforcement, politics in Morocco shows a picture historically marked by the criminalization and repression of political protest. Repeatedly, the authorities have succeeded in demobilizing militant organizations and sleeping sympathizers. However, we must exclude from this spectrum conventional movements of some authorized political parties’ activists and trade union members whose mobilization has mainly been for professional reasons or legitimately accepted demands. On the other hand, protesters from the dissident political field usually succumb to the burden of open or hidden forms of repression (Rolland-Diamond 2011, 335).
Nevertheless, this absolute association of mobilizations to repression, without taking into account structural factors at the root of social discontent, undermines the dynamics of the causal association in the short and long terms. The two variables, in their interdependence, are reliant on the intensity of feelings of injustice, based on the assessment of objective living conditions. Morocco’s inclusion, for more than forty years, of the reforms imposed by international institutions and, consequently, of the progressive liberalization of trade has contributed to the weakening of the economic and political basis of neo-patrimonial domination. This did not fail to undermine the rights of people to their share in rent. Such a process produced, as a perverse effect, the autonomy of subjects against the historical ties of political clientelism.
Enforced openness to the international market has precipitated not only the decline of the economic bases of authoritarian patronage but also the shift of the Moroccan economy towards inflation and the increase of the price of consumer goods and services. This situation makes it impossible for the government to promote efficient policies for price stabilization. This fact has led to the motivation of frustrated social groups to contest the political order in its functional dimension.
The cultural foundations of discontent with the political system, formerly advanced by the literate social strata, quickly gave way, especially under the reign of Mohammed VI (except for the 20 February Movement), to criticism of the political economy of the regime. The social uprisings of the last decade (2007–18) demonstrate the socioeconomic vector of the cycles of protest in a context of relatively favorable political opportunity.
With the alleged decline of neo-patrimonialism and the incremental opening of the political field, we have seen a decrease of state violence in parallel to the pacification of activists’ values. However, the criminalization of activists retains its effective vitality when protest concerns the profound foundations of the political order. Generally, whether the collective questioning of these foundations evokes the political economy of power or the economy of symbolic goods, such as religious resources or the basic political values of the regime, the bringing of activists before criminal courts is the preferred method used by the authorities. The frequent political use of criminal law constitutes one of the tools of repressive practices under the guise of legality. Often, the collective responses that follow vary according to the polarity that leads the dormancy of mobilization to the radicalization of political attitudes and behaviors that pave the way for physical confrontations.
If immediate observation of the ardent arenas of protest shows the demobilizing effect of repression, given that mass mobilizations (with the exception of the 20 February Movement) cease to appear publicly, following the interventions of the security forces and the neutralization of the protesters’ leadership, it is thus difficult to grasp the types of articulations that developed between social uprisings and the modes of police intervention. In the short and long terms, styles of social conflict management by the state have inevitable implications for the regeneration of social tensions.
Beyond their effect on the rise or disappearance of the power of militant organizations, the coercive practices of the authorities do not fail to influence individual orientations towards unconventional activism. While the use of force can, in certain circumstances, put an end to the spatial display of collective anger, it cannot eliminate, in the deep folds of political psychology, the disposition of individuals to protest. This vocation would have to work through subtle channels of visible or underground resistance. The study of the intensity of post-repression mobilizations shows, under the temporal vision, the effect on the recruitment of people. The level of recruits’ engagement in long-term uprisings is associated with the frequent use of force by the authorities in the past.
The objective of this interdisciplinary research is to study, longitudinally in the Moroccan political context, the evolution of associations between repression, the consumer price index (CPI) and social uprisings. The study covers approximately twenty years, from January 1997 to November 2018. This time span corresponds, politically, to the end of the reign of Hassan II and the advent of Mohamed VI. In terms of representation in the political field, the period is marked by the election of the former socialist opposition, after the 1998 parliamentary elections. Since 2011, protests have indirectly helped to bring the Islamist Party (IJP) to the head of formal executive power. Economically, this period coincides with the World Bank’s (1995) notoriously alarming report that announced the obligation of the state to minimize neo-patrimonial consumption. These dates are significant in terms of the evolution of social discontent that the practices of power, which were supported by the socialists and Islamists, failed to abate.
Like other forms of conflict, protest is an open, complex system of emergent behavior and adaptive organization. It needs to articulate structure and agency. As a whole, protest cannot be understood by reducing it to its component parts. Even if this research does not claim to satisfy these theoretical assumptions, it seeks to investigate the links between political and economic factors, on the one hand, and the activist agency of Moroccan citizens, on the other.
The perception of injustice, which pervades the human relationship to basic needs of survival or self-expression, is flagged up in the current literature as one of the factors that motivates the challenge to the established order (Corcoran, Pettinicchio, and Young 2015). According to the materialistic and physiological aspects of the existential condition, access to food is a first-order necessity in societies that have a shocking deficit of Postmaterialism (Inglehart and Welzel 2005). Political and economic threats to food security often have serious consequences on the stability of social order. Indeed, while Postmaterialism tends to motivate proactive social movements, the insecurity linked to the dissatisfaction of the class of needs located at the bottom of the Maslow pyramid forms a motivational potential for reactive uprisings (Hougua 2018).
Keeping people safe from inflation or food scarcity is a major political issue for governments, especially in countries with a limited food industry. Under the threat of riots and uprisings that destabilize public order and living together, states should act in this matter by observing the basic requirements of this implicit political right which underpins, from a socioeconomic point of view, the structure of the right to life (Dreze and Sen 1989). However, the price of food is no longer the sovereign responsibility of the state. Rather, it is dependent on international economic forces. As a result of economic interdependence, the supply and demand logistics that control food production can affect the stability of the CPI in most countries of the world, even if they lead to varying levels of turbulence.
The inclusion of developing countries in the liberal agenda of international financial institutions makes them increasingly vulnerable to changes in the global economy. As demonstrated by Walton and Seddon (1994), national governments are becoming increasingly affected by the rise of inflation. The authors found that the rate of food riots increased significantly around the world following the austerity policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the structural adjustment programs.
However, accelerated integration into the international economy is not the only factor responsible for consumer prices of foodstuffs. The effect of climate change on the geographical regularity of agricultural production should also not be neglected. These changes are deepening the uncertainty of household access to food (Lobell and Burke 2009). These factors, taking into account their multiple effects, weaken the capacity of governments to act independently (Tilly 1995), which will probably lead to the increase of various forms of collective actions of discontent (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 1998).
The causal link between inflation and protest uprisings is an empirically attested phenomenon, first by the historical occurrence of hunger riots (Bellemare 2015), and second, by the development of other forms of anti-government display of collective discontent (Arezki and Brukner 2011). While hunger riots are not the particular focus of this research, it is important to note the abundance of work that links hunger riots to the abrupt escalation of food prices. The debates on the British, French and Russian revolutions are based on this fundamental factor (Rudé 1964; Tilly 1971; Wade 2005). More recently, Schneider (2008) has dealt with social uprisings, following the 2008 crisis in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East; and Bush (2010) discusses the impact of pricing policy on social mobilizations particularly in the Middle East. When Morocco’s inland cities were shaken by rising prices, it did not escape waves of protests against the high price of the standard of living (Harsch 2008; Brown 2008). Sefrou, Taza, Figuig, Bni Bouaayach and other localities have reacted vigorously to the economic crisis with unrest of varying intensities.
While it is recognized that the increase of food cost is not the only predictor of social mobilizations and it should be associated with other parameters of perceived injustice which produce discontent (Goldstone 1982), it still plays a fundamental role in popular protests. The psychological mechanism to which the relationship between food prices and the display of collective discontent is linked seems to be rooted in the long tradition of relative deprivation theory (Gurr 1970). This sense of frustration is based not only on interpersonal or social comparisons but also on time comparisons (Sayles 1984).
The relationship between the price of food and protest is complex and can be parameterized by time. It is also due to other factors that make the causal link less direct. The type of political regime and the socioeconomic categories targeted by social development policies form two parameters that moderate the causal effect of rising prices (Hendrix and Haggard 2015). Under an authoritarian regime, the use of repression and rentism is so powerful that it increases the costs of disobedience and demobilizes potential activism (Wallace 2013). In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, being insensitive to electoral outcomes, the low political opportunity of regimes often treats activists as renegade before they are forcibly dispersed and their leaders brought to the criminal courts (Seddon 1989).
Perceiving the injustice of the socioeconomic cleavages provides the basis for the proliferation of mobilizations and, hence, a more or less violent degree of police intervention. The relationship between repression and protest is more complex in that theoretical paradigms manifest contradictory conclusions. While the theory of resource mobilization, sensitive to the costs and benefits of dissent, subscribes to the idea of activists’ demobilization in response to the interventions of the security forces (McAdam and Wiltfang 1991), relative deprivation theory affirms its conviction in relation to the provocative effect of repression on social uprisings (Lichbach 1987).
However, it must be acknowledged that the picture emerging from the empirical analyses of the relationship between the use of force and protest mobilizations is most confusing (Combes and Fillieule 2011). Thus, for many authors, while it is evident that the onset of dissent attracts the anathema of repression, it stimulates the phenomenon of radicalization that can take the form of a ratchet effect, especially when the shock suffered is morally intolerable by the community of activists (Van Zomeren et al. 2011; Van Zomeren, Postmes and Spears 2012). Such situations run the risk of producing uprisings based on emotions associated with primordial solidarities (Geertz 1973). The case of the popular mobilization in the Rif region of Morocco illustrates the motivational basis of the mobilizations triggered by the murder of Mohcine Fikri and the arrest of the Protest leadership (Hougua, Danane, and Ennadre 2018). It is also important to mention the last uprising of the mining town of Jrada in the east of Morocco. An uprising was directly triggered by the refusal of local authorities to look for some indigenous people lost in the old coal mine. This led to a vast protest mobilization of all parts of the city.
When forces of law and order undermine the community’s ethos of honor, disobedience subsequently ensues. The motivational climate built on such occasions under repression makes open resistance a moral duty within collectivist movements (Hougua 2018). Violent attacks on members of the community are likely to push individuals, who were previously politically inactive, to join the procession of activists expressing their anger and a desire for revenge (Brockett 2005, 25).
On the other hand, empirical evidence about the role of repression in the elimination or suppression of social movements does not fail to consolidate the negative causal relationship between the two variables (Combes and Fillieule 2011, 1050). It follows that, with low levels of coercive control by law enforcement, mobilizations are widening and gaining more recruits. However, with the rise of repression, the movement of disobedience gradually weakens (Sabine 2006). Figures 1 and 2 schematize the direct links between the variables studied.
It is argued that the contradictions of the results obtained are due, in particular, to the contexts studied, the nature of the resources used and the chosen temporal scale (Opp and Ruehl 1990). The scale of repression can also have an undeniable effect. Indeed, when the intensity of repressive coercion is taken into account, there is a move away from the simplicity of linear reciprocal causality between the two variables. Some authors argue that the causal relationship tends to take the reverse curvilinear or curvilinear form. Figures 3 and 4 show the relationship. In the first case (Figure 3), the protests tend to be more prevalent during both high and low levels of repression, while they are less prevalent when coercion is moderate. These variations resonate with the backlash hypothesis developed by Francisco (1995, 1996) to explain the escalation of mobilizations after harsh repression. The hypothesis suggests that if repression demobilizes the number of activists in the short term, it engenders contentious actions in the long term, especially when the practice of police coercion is applied indiscriminately to community members (Mason and Krane 1989).
The last hypothesis, on the reverse curvilinear relationship, is based on different arguments, assuming that, under a repressive regime, the risks attached to protester action deter people from participating in mobilizations. This forces opponents to pursue subtle paths to achieve their social and political goals. However, under a less punitive regime, individuals can take part in demonstrations without running the risk of being brutalized or killed by the police and government forces. In the latter context, protestation is one of the political means of expression of social groups used to make demands (Muller and Weede 1990).
The aim of this study is to examine the dynamic relationships between protest action, repression and the CPI. Time-series analysis characterizes the methodological approach adopted here (Swen 2014).
The analysis covers a series of observations collected continuously over time, at regular intervals, from January 1997 to November 2018. With regard to protest action and repression, we have quantified the raw qualitative data collected on the waves of mobilizations and practices of repression in Morocco. This enterprise was based on multiple databases in order to constitute a specific file characterizing protest in Moroccan society. Comparison with the data related to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) project (Raleigh, Linke, Hegre and Karlsen 2010), along with the annual data relating to the mobilizations collected by Harvard University, has made it possible to enrich and nuance the specific database on protest and repression. Qualitative data were recoded and transformed for statistical analysis using EVIEWS 10 software.
Historical data on the CPI were provided The Global Economy.com. The month was the time unit of observation adopted in this study. All these variables underwent a logarithmic transformation as preparation for time-series analysis.
The uprisings were measured by the number of protest events occurring during a month throughout the period concerned. The methods of control and repression varied according to the circumstances. They can be placed on a continuum from threat to brutal repression. Thus, repressive acts are from surveillance without intervention to the excessive use of force. The response of the state is quantified as shown in Table 1.
The CPI is one of the key indicators of a country’s economic performance. It is used to measure changes over time in the general price level of goods and services acquired and consumed by households. Changes in the CPI affect real purchasing power and consumer wellbeing. It is usually assigned a value of 100 for a specified base period. For other periods, the index values should, in principle, provide an estimate of average changes in percentage of prices compared with the base period.
In addition, two dummy variables were introduced to improve the model specification. The first variable was introduced to correct the abrupt rupture of the time series of protests at the beginning of the 20 February Movement. It takes the value 1 for the period February 2011–October 2018, and 0 for the previous period. The second variable reflects the political change that has occurred in Morocco since the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) at the end of 2011. This date in fact constitutes a second breaking point in the temporal series of events. The mute political environment variable takes the value 0 before January 2011 and 1 from that date to November 2018.
In order to explain the predictors of the protest action, we used an autoregressive distributed lag modeling approach to co-integration (ARDL). This approach, developed by Pesaran, Shin and Smith (2001), allows for the joint treatment of long-term dynamics and short-term relationships. It has the advantage of being less restrictive and more flexible than both the Johansen co-integration test (Johansen 1991) and the Engle and Garanger (1987) test, which apply only to integrated series of the same order (l0) or (L1). ARDL, on the other hand, offers the possibility to process variables with different integration orders: (l0), (L1). It is also better suited to small samples.
This procedure is carried out in several stages: the unit root tests were first performed to examine the stationarity of the time series. The first step is the specification and estimation of the ARDL model. After examining serial correlation, heteroskedasticity, residual normality, and stability tests, the bounds test of co-integration is performed to verify the existence of a long-term relationship between the variables. The third step consists of estimating the error correction model (ECM) which allows for both short- and long-term dynamics.
The ARDL approach requires that no time series is integrated in the order two (l2) or more. Because if this condition is not met, the results of the bound test co-integration will not be valid. This is why we must first perform the unit root test to examine the order of integration of each series and ensure that none of it is integrated in order two or more.
To examine the stationarity of the series, we used the augmented Dickey–Fuller (ADF) and Phillips–Perron (PP) tests. Table A1 in Appendix A presents the results of the two tests. The results show a mixed-integration order. While the protest action (ln PROT) and the CPI (ln IPC) are integrated at the order (L1), the repression (ln REP) is integrated at the order (l0); thus making the use of the ARDL possible.
The results of the diagnostic tests, namely, the serial correlation test, the normality test, and the heteroskedasticity test, are presented in Table A2 in Appendix A. The results show that the ARDL models are generally satisfactory, since the probability associated with the F-statistic is < 0.0001. The estimated value of the adjusted R2 is 0.71. Thus, 71 percent of the variability is explained jointly by the repression, the CPI, and the factor related to the change in the political environment.
Results of the model validation tests, namely, the Breusch–Godfrey (LM) serial correlation test, the heteroskedasticity test, and the Jarque–Bera (JB) test for residual normality, confirm the absence of serial correlation, the absence of heteroskedasticity, and the normality of the residuals. Thus, the residuals satisfy all the required conditions. In addition, the cumulative sum (CUSUM) and CUSUM square tests show that the estimated parameters are stable over the study period (see Figure A1 in Appendix A).
Table A3 in Appendix A gives the results of the co-integration tests. The null hypothesis related to the absence of a long-term relationship is rejected since the F-statistic (17.94) is above the upper critical limit (a threshold of 1 percent).
Protest mobilizations over time: Descriptive analysis
Despite the fact that Morocco’s deep or recent political history is marked by the intermittence of political stability and instability (Orlov 1999), the country lacks a dazzling tradition of lasting social movements, with alternative political and social projects. However, the study of historical landmarks of social upheavals paradoxically tends to give a picture that historically is marked by the dominance of the phenomenon of rioting that ostensibly survived until the late 1990s (Rachik 2016).
During the pre-colonial era, the political segmentation of tribal society into “wolves,” “watchdogs,” and “herds” is based on historical and sociological validity (Gellner 2003). Beyond its spiritual and charismatic legitimacy, the central power does not often succeed in expelling the rebellious wolves that wait for its weakness and spoil its tranquility.
Beyond the scenes of spectacular decapitation of the opponents and forced dispersal of the rebel tribes (Arnaud 1952), it was not until the bureaucratic technology of the protectorate that the last “jackals” behind the ramparts were transformed into watchdogs, and the herds rushed en-masse towards the big cities to join the camp of the proletarians and the uprooted (Gellner 1962).
However, as a result of rural emigration, the urban demographic centrality, disproportionate to unevenly distributed resources, did not go without suddenly arousing violent conflicts. The uprisings of Casablanca in 1981 and those of Fez in 1991 illustrate the social and political gravity.
In fact, from the uprisings born in the cradle of marginal tribalism, politics in Morocco has entered the era of metropolises protests stimulated by Marxist ideology, propagated in student circles and groups of workers and civil servants affiliated with the radical parties of the left. Trained in the ways in which social discontent is manipulated in practice, these parties are often accused of provoking disorder where the anomic worker, the vagrant, and the unemployed find an opportunity for destructive acts, and indiscriminate plunder of public and private property. The resulting damage provides a pretext for the systematic exercise of physical and psychological repression.
However, this observation, based on a periodization of eruptions of social anger, should not overshadow the prevalence of peaceful protests and strikes instigated by the unions attached to parties engaged in the march towards political conformism during the 1990s (El Maslouhi 2009). Numerous voluntary organizations and workers unions have participated in this kind of dynamic protest. They did not fail to initiate collective actions and support social upheavals which were suddenly triggered during this period. Figure 5 shows the evolution of the size of protest mobilizations from January 1997 to November 2018 as well as the succession of two intermittent periods of disobedience:
The first, flexible, is spread over thirteen years (1997–2010) and fits politically under the reign of Mohammed VI and the two socialist (Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party—USFP) and technocratic governments. It epitomizes the display of the vigilant openness of the political structure of opportunity, socially favorable to the transition from the exit register to the culture of voice, according to Hirschman (2011). Socioeconomically speaking, great care was given to the middle class in order to ensure a peaceful transition of the throne.
The second spike begins with the 20 February Movement and culminates in the mobilizations that shook the interior of Morocco. Except for the case of the 20 February Movement, the second period of mobilizations developed within the framework of antisocial policies adopted by the Islamist government (PJD).
In terms of the ecology of protests, it is necessary to distinguish between the mobilizations of the urban coastline, embracing the great cities of the kingdom, that of the interior and the rural coastline, and finally those who crossed the provinces of the south.
Figure 6 shows the evolution of protests according to their ecological dimension. Whilst the period before 2010 seems visibly dominated by the vitality of the mobilizations of the urban coast, accompanied by some cyclical storms within the southern provinces, the outlying regions of Morocco seem to be dormant during this time span. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the emergent dynamics of the democracy paradigm have been manifested by this cycle of proactive protest actions demanding of the state political rights and freedoms. Identity movements and feminist claims have been part of this paradigm.
However, since 2010, the dynamics of protest activism have started to shake up the peripheries of Morocco. The demands displayed by the social uprisings show that the protests are ostensibly manifesting a challenge to the established order and political economy. The underlying belief in this subtle transition is that the formal and minimalist democracy of political institutions cannot succeed as long as the plundering of resources continues.
The perception of the importance of the distribution in the functioning of democracy forms the cognitive framework of this new cycle of protest which is bound to increase in the coming years with the rise of inflation and the weakening purchasing power of the frustrated populace. The global vulgate of transparency and accountability is an instrument through which the practices of power, which is said to be in governance, are now judged.
The two frameworks of democracy and political economy culminated in the 20 February Movement, but the subsequent events saw the ascendency of the latter cognitive framework through socioeconomic claims. Indeed, in line with the metropolitan geography of social upheavals, relatively long-lasting protests in the peripheral regions of Morocco have been beginning to emerge for some ten years. Small or medium-sized cities of the interior or peripheral coastline have manifested social tensions in relation with the authorities. The collective blame directed against spatial inequalities, characterizing the centralized logic of territorial development, reflects the divisions imposed on the territories by post-colonial policies. In 2006, the state acknowledged in an official document its responsibility in this matter:
However, diagnoses have been known for a long time, particularly with regard to territorial imbalances. Several indicators show this, beyond the glaring contrasts between cities and countryside. National production remains concentrated around the major economic poles. Nearly 40% of the national wealth is concentrated in 1% of the territory, including rural areas. More seriously, 77% of the territory contributes only to 10% of national added value. In addition, the activities remain strongly concentrated on the coast, from Tetouan to Agadir: it is the Tangier–Safi axis that houses the bulk of the human and economic settlements and thus constitutes the first development pole of the country. (Le Maroc possible Report 2006, 62)
The recent events of the Rif and, to a lesser extent, those of Jrada in the east or those of Immider in south, prove that the 20 February Movement does not represent the single peak of protest mapping in Morocco. Of course, highly critical of the subtle marriage between money and politics, the activists of this movement have made freedom and political reform of power the principal cornerstone of their protests.
The above-mentioned peripheral protests challenge the other side of the coin, that is, the monopolized control of the resources used in the logic of the prevarications of the authorities. However, the awareness of this parameter and its use in the discourse of protest reflect the perception that the political origin of inequalities is the keystone of activist engagement. With the frequency of protest against the Singaporization of development (Geertz 1977), imputed by the activists, against neo-patrimonial consumption (Médard 1990), the calls to mobilize against the economic logic of patrimonialism and clientelism are increasing in intensity and the socioeconomic claims take the form of the ratchet effect.
However, if this perception has reached a point of expression, culminating in recent uprisings, the premise of this political consciousness was previously launched in the wake of events that ruthlessly shook the cities of Sefrou, Taza and Figuig, Bni Bouaayach and others. This means that this is a new process in the evolution of social conflict in Morocco, although the authorities are used to minimizing its effects as they consider it a storm in a teacup.
The criticism of the monopoly of resources found its ultimate expression in the boycotting of some products following online calls to blacklist three economic brands: mineral water (Sidi Ali), diesel from Afriquia stations, and milk (Central). It seems, currently, that the facts are moving towards a new sequential cycle of protest that is centered on the demand for the distribution of resources rather than formal democratization.
The vitality of peripheral movements is reflected, from the point of view of political culture, in the registers of freedom and autonomy of the subjects favored by the decline of patronage–clientelism as an instrument of the exercise of power (Leca and Schemeil 1983). The mobilizations are also articulated on a demographic basis (Hougua and Sghir 2019), made up of young people at university possessing cultural capital and enjoying a more or less mobilized identity.
Short- and long-term determinants of protest mobilization in Morocco
Political societies differ according to the potential repression they employ in response to civil disobedience repertories (Bourdeau 2004). In practice, however, states adjust coercion according to two protest-specific parameters: the intensity of the mobilizations and the level of radicalization of the demands. The modern history of Morocco displays a subtle marriage between the carrot-and-stick approach in confronting social groups capable of challenging the resources monopoly. This fact concretely expresses the Darwinian theories of power (North, Wallis, and Weingast 2009; Vanhanen 2003).
The repression of protests forms part of the neo-patrimonial state coercive apparatus. However, it starts to weaken over time. Morocco’s scores, on the political terror index of Gibney et al. (2017), demonstrate the tendential decrease of the extrajudicial penalty (Figure 7). The temporal evolution of the index shows peaks that characterized the lead years before weakening under political alternation (1998–2003) to stabilize thereafter at around the value 3 of the index.
Unlike democratic governments where the electoral cost of demobilization by the authorities is carefully observed, the value of power in Morocco is measured by the ability to demonstrate and use force against protest overflows. Goldstone (2016, 36) states in this context: “Where institutions are flexible, as in modern democratic states, pressures can usually be absorbed through electoral realignments and policy changes. Where institutions are relatively inflexible, as in hereditary monarchies or empires with traditional systems of taxation, elite recruitment, and economic organization, the result is more likely to be revolution or rebellion.”
Protest mobilizations most often have multifactorial roots that must be recorded over time to understand them as a product of a dynamic cumulating in feelings of discontent against the established order. However, the best explanatory model is one that looks at structural factors and focuses on a small number of variables. This methodological orientation is illustrated by the protest dynamics examined in the short and long terms in the light of repressive policies and the CPI. These two factors allow one to understand the parameters linked to the political economy and the forms of coercion put in place by the Moroccan state against the acts of resistance that are expressed periodically.
To estimate the long-term determinants of protest action in Morocco, we used a co-integration analysis based on the ARDL model without a trend or a constant. Table 2 illustrates the results achieved. It shows that the coefficients of both variables (repression and CPI) have positive signs and are significant at p = 0.001. Thus, the repression and general level of prices of goods and services consumed by households have a positive impact on protest mobilization with long-term elasticities, respectively equivalent to 0.85 and 0.89. This means that a 10 percent increase in the repression index and the CPI leads, all things being equal, to 8.5 percent and 8.9 percent increases in long-run protest mobilizations.
It is also possible, from the long-term relationship chosen, to estimate dynamic equations in the form of error-correction models that describe the short-term evolution of protest mobilization. The short-term dynamic effects are presented in Table 3.
At first sight, the error correction coefficient, also called the retract force coefficient, is negative (–0.97) and highly significant. This result indicates that there is an error correction mechanism with a convergence rate to the long-term target (97 percent per period). In the long term, the differences (deviation from long-term equilibrium) are corrected, leading the variables included in the model to evolve together.
The ECM estimate shows that repression has a rather negative impact on protest mobilization at the 5 percent threshold. The estimated elasticity of this variable is in the order of –0.36. This elasticity is much lower than the long-term elasticity of 0.85. The coefficient of the dummy variable is significant at 1 percent, and shows a short-run negative effect of the change of political conditions (Islamists’ arrival to power), which has resulted, in the short term, in the weakening of the mobilization of protests. The coefficient of the break variable has the expected sign and indicates the positive effects, in the short term, of the emergence of the 20 February Movement on the following protests.
From a statistical point of view, the demobilizing effect of repression reflects the truth of things in the space of protests. The intervention of security forces, the arrest of activists, and the bringing of leaders before the criminal justice system end up, in the short term, by expelling activists from the public space.
Apart from the 20 February Movement, which was slowly extinguished after the regime’s political maneuvers, the terrorist attack on Argana coffee and the widespread media coverage of the distressing humanitarian consequences of the Arab uprisings in Syria, Libya, and Yemen put on hold the post-peripheral mobilizations following repressive practice.
However, forced demobilization does not imply the burial of discontent in the register of hidden resistance or the disappearance, in the long term, of social aspiration to protest. Beyond the immediate deterrence of recruits, repressive practice tends, in the Moroccan context, to generate unknowingly a remarkable increase in protest mobilizations. Without realizing it, the officials responsible for the repression induce a perverse effect in absolute contradiction with the initial rationality of the coercive acts.
The results of the ARDL approach reflect this delicate situation by providing evidence of the validity of Francisco’s Backlash Hypothesis in the Moroccan context. The designers of the responses to protest mobilizations seem to ignore the perverse effects of the dictator’s dilemma and the illusions it produces. Francisco (2004, 62) notes: “Dictators and their agents regularly make assumptions or simply take actions to preserve the stability of their country. Serious and effective repression, they believe, will deter public protest. Additionally, they assume that known dissident leaders foment most protest. Therefore, arrest all the dissident leaders and no protest emerges.”
The political functioning of the sovereignty power technology (Foucault 2004) would have to determine the inclusion of repressive conception in this first-order illusion. The authorities are unaware that the imprisonment of the activists enhances them, displaces the tactics of resistance, and changes the repertoires of protest action.
Without neglecting the supervisory capacities of the Moroccan state apparatus, in recent years there has been a relative retraction of the preventive police, whose demobilizing effects are confirmed, in favor of the rise of reactive repression (Hafez 2003). The country’s cosmetic espousal of the international human rights agenda probably pushes it to decrease the use of violence, but not with non-conventional protest overflows. This kind of reaction creates what the state mobilizes its security agents against.
As for the CPI, its insignificant short-term effect is not surprising, especially when the increase does not affect the commodities amply consumed by the popular class, such as sugar and tea. It is rather the continuity of price increases that produces the cumulative discontent, hence the long-term significant causal effect of this variable.
In the preceding section, the protest escalations of the interior and the peripheral coastline were noted. Thus, it seems that the rise in consumer prices is felt much more in the long term, with regard to the consequences of social and territorial development policies of post-colonial Morocco (Lazarev 2012). Households in peripheral regions are most vulnerable to price fluctuations. Geographical distance not only amplifies food prices but also economic choices and the labor market are failing in these areas. On the contrary, residents of large urban centers enjoy a diversity of income streams and job offers, higher than those on the periphery. Here, the political regime does not shirk the rule, common to developing countries, whereby importance is given to residents of urban sites close to the center of the power topography (Bezemer and Headey 2008; Wodon and Zaman 2009).
The gradual disengagement of the state and the decline of aid for consumption (Catusse 2013) have violently exposed the lower social fringes at the margins. With the country’s access to trade liberalization and the low level of food production, the authorities are now unable to protect food prices from international market shocks. Economic interdependence and liberalization have put an end to the mechanisms used for stabilizing the food market.
Following the eradication of the 20 February Movement, which manifested middle-class discontent, the state proceeded, under the umbrella of the Islamist government, to eliminate an instrument of economic legitimacy of power, namely the right of the people to a part of the rent. The implicit assumptions of the political contract were thus violated and led to a naked confrontation between activists and the monarchy. The latter is, therefore, directly involved in social conflicts, particularly in the area of economic prevarication. This is evidenced by the rise of dissidents and the use of social networks to discredit the basic values of the political system.
By studying chronologically the short- and long-term determinants of protest mobilizations, this research investigated the impact of some economic and political factors in the Moroccan context. It provided statistical evidence for the involvement of repression in the regeneration of protests in the long term and the successful expulsion of activists from militarized public spaces in the short term. This result confirms that repression leads to a perverse effect that results in the eruption of uprisings belonging to the same family of peripheral protests. The immediate projection of terror on the body of activists contributes to the accumulation of social resentment and radicalizes political conduct.
Since the angle of investigation adopted in this area of the research framework remains limited to the verification of causal relationships, it is plausible that sociographic types of research would better inform about the underlying factors. The examination of the post-repressive psychosocial processes in each protest movement and the subsequent emanations of uprisings, whether in the same movement, or in the protests organized in the same cycle, could throw a light upon the reality of the subtexts of protests.
The CPI demonstrates the influence of protest mobilizations in the long term. However, the appropriation of this factor by the phenomenon of consciousness does not fail to pose difficulties for observers. Price mechanisms are so complex that it is difficult to predict their effects in a variety of contexts. Of course, rising prices can cause long-term social discontent, but this effect should probably be nuanced by taking into account the parameters reflecting purchasing power and the level of unemployment in local and global society. Statistical and comprehensive research would provide valuable insights into the frustrations and feelings of injustice caused by fluctuations in living conditions.
This study is being carried out with the support of the Arab Social Science Council as part of a fellowship provided by the Carnegie Foundation to the Postdoctoral Youth Program in its fifth edition. The attitudes and interpretations developed in this study are the sole responsibility of the author.
The author is very grateful to Professor Ahmed Aghbal for the technical, methodological, and conceptual support provided that helped with the realization of this study. The study was carried out with the support of the Arab Social Science Council as part of a fellowship provided by the Carnegie Foundation to the Postdoctoral Youth Program in its fifth edition. The attitudes and interpretations developed in the study are the sole responsibility of the author.