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Middle East Roundtable / Edition 4 Volume 1

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What did you do today, to promote peace?

In the Moroccan interest

an interview with Aboubakr Jamai

Aboubakr Jamai is editor of
Le Journal Hebdomadaire and Assahifa al-Ousbouiya, published in Casablanca, Morocco.

BI: There is a huge gap in population growth rates between southern Europe and North Africa. Where is it leading?

Jamai: I'm not sure the problem is really the demographic gap, but rather the lack of economic growth in the southern Mediterranean. As for the Maghreb, Tunisia and Morocco, the population growth rate has been reduced substantially. In the Arab world the problem is more in Saudi Arabia. Yet even in Morocco the population growth rate is stronger than the economic growth rate.

BI: How do you assess the European Union's attempts to prevent illegal migration from North Africa: the financial investments, legal measures and police actions?

Jamai: To begin with, it is difficult to give a direct answer because it's hard to pinpoint the most salient factor in the lack of economic growth. For sure in Morocco we have a serious problem of lack of investment; not the lack of foreign investment but rather national investment. So we're dealing with a problem of the credibility of our government toward its own business community. Having said that, there were wise criticisms directed [also] toward the EU, because it is considered that the Europeans are not giving sufficient money to facilitate the adjustment of our economies to the free trade agreement without disrupting the social fabric of our society.

BI: Free trade has made things worse?

Jamai: Our economy is opening up gradually, but the European competition means that our economies aren't competitive enough, leading to more bankruptcy and layoffs and more migration pressures. To adjust, we need money to restructure before being able to compete with EU industries. I think the social ills in our country translate into terrorism. They are not the only factor behind terrorism, but they are important.

BI: Southern Europeans complain of heavy illegal migration from and via Morocco. What is Morocco doing about this?

Jamai: I'm not trying to whitewash what we're trying to do, but except for the Atlantic and Mediterranean we don't have natural borders with our black African neighbors; they have to come through Algeria and Mauritania. Still, the Moroccan authorities are not really fighting illegal migration [of Moroccans]. The receipts from our laborers abroad are the biggest source of hard currency for Morocco. Socially speaking these people in Italy, France and Spain are sustaining many people back home. So it's in our interest to have as many workers abroad as possible.

The illegal immigration networks in Morocco are linked to the drug trafficking networks. The drug and migration traffic is centered in north Morocco, which has a history of conflict with the central government. That region is also very underdeveloped and overpopulated compared to central Morocco. There is a lack of will [in the Moroccan government] to fight [the traffic], because to do so will cut out a main source of revenue, which could lead to unrest and even an uprising. The cooperation with the EU must address these problems too; we must find new sources of revenue for these people in the north.

This whole system is extremely hypocritical. We should be talking about not only the free circulation of goods but of human beings as well. Many industries in Italy and Spain need the kind of labor our people provide. If there were no demand, there would be no supply.

BI: Southern Europe is now increasingly importing manpower from Eastern Europe; there is less demand for Moroccan manpower.

Jamai: The long term solution is for our country to provide enough growth to absorb our youth. In the short term, even if Europe opens its gates this won't solve all our problems. But it is important for our civilization to have people interacting with others through immigration. This helps close the gap intellectually and morally. From that perspective it is important to keep the doors open, taking into account local European conditions. I find there is a lack of leadership in Europe to convince the population you need this.

BI: Now Moroccan migrants are suspected of terrorism in Spain--the Madrid bombings. How will this affect relations?

Jamai: When you have terrorist attacks like these the first reaction is for the [Spanish and Moroccan] police and secret services to cooperate, and this is welcome. But in order to uproot terrorism and "dry the swamp" you have to go to the roots, which are ideological but also socioeconomic. This means that now in a very negative manner Morocco is at the center of western attention as a producer of terrorism. While the numbers [of terrorists] are small vis-a-vis 30 million Moroccans, still, all the Casablanca suicide bombers were home grown and never even left the country. [Not surprisingly], the Madrid bombers come from north Morocco.

Moroccans are now playing an important role, at least as foot soldiers, in al-Qaeda. We have to address the reason: 40 years of bad governance, lack of economic growth. To dry the swamp we need to usher in a real era of reform, thinking how to integrate Islamists into mainstream politics, open up political space for them in order to win their hearts and minds.

The breeding ground is a large portion of the population that simply does not trust the government. And the United States with its democratization message has absolutely no credibility. There is a perception of imbalance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Iraq. The question of the credibility of the message is extremely important.

The challenge:
Trans-Mediterranean migration
Crossing the Sahara is turning into a huge, continental business...

A migration dilemma
In Spain, Moroccans are at the bottom of the list of sympathy towards foreigners...

haZfonbonim & the South:
Demography of the Israel-Palestine conflict

"Northern" Israel is sitting next to a demographic "southern" time bomb in the Gaza Strip...

Bitterlemons-international.org aspires to engender greater understanding about the Middle East region and open a new common space for world thinkers and political leaders to present their viewpoints and initiatives on the region. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at ghassan@bitterlemons-international.org and yossi@bitterlemons-international.org, respectively.

hagalil.com 22-03-2004



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