King Mohammed VI of Morocco marks 60th birthday: Diplomacy focus amidst persistent inequalities
As Morocco’s King Mohammed VI approaches his 60th birthday, he commemorates the milestone away from public scrutiny, underscoring the challenges that persist nearly a quarter century into his reign.
Renowned for upholding stability in a tumultuous region, often by curtailing dissent, King Mohammed VI has also spearheaded economic modernization and assertive diplomatic initiatives.
However, these endeavors have yet to effectively combat the deep-seated societal disparities that continue to afflict Moroccan society.
In his most recent address on July 30th, the king advocated for “attaining fresh milestones on the journey of progress and instigating projects of larger scale, befitting the Moroccan populace.”
Since ascending to the throne following the passing of his father, Hassan II, on July 23, 1999, the monarch has firmly directed economic policies, international relations, and defense strategies in his North African realm.
Political analyst Mohamed Chiker observed, “Unlike his father, who played a significant political role, Mohammed VI’s approach is distinctive. He chooses to discreetly guide the nation while controlling the mechanisms of power.”
King Mohammed has led pivotal infrastructure and business ventures over the years, including the Tanger Med industrial port, the monumental Noor solar power facility, and the Tangier-Casablanca high-speed rail connection. He has also propelled the development of Morocco’s automotive and aerospace sectors, alongside recent initiatives like green hydrogen projects and the “Made in Morocco” brand.
In a bid to amplify Morocco’s global influence, he collaborated with Spain and Portugal in a joint effort to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup.
Emphasis on Western Sahara and International Partnerships
On the world stage, Mohammed VI has diversified alliances that were previously concentrated on former colonial power France and other European nations. Morocco’s prominence on the continent expanded after rejoining the African Union in 2017.
Western Sahara remains a central foreign policy priority, with the king repeatedly characterizing the contested former Spanish colony as “the lens through which Morocco perceives its global context.”
A prolonged low-intensity conflict has persisted since 1975, pitting Rabat against Sahrawi separatists supported by Algeria’s Polisario Front.
Morocco has garnered Spain’s backing for an “autonomy plan” that would establish Rabat’s exclusive sovereignty over the vast, resource-rich desert territory. Meanwhile, the Polisario has long called for a UN-monitored referendum on self-determination.
In December 2020, the United States recognized Morocco’s control over Western Sahara, with Israel following suit the previous month. These moves fortified ties with Rabat but also stirred backlash from Algiers.
Societal Inequalities and Economic Challenges
Despite diplomatic accomplishments, Mohammed VI, once dubbed the “king of the poor,” has made sluggish strides in addressing domestic inequalities.
Disparities between the affluent and the marginalized, as well as urban and rural regions, continue to widen in contemporary Morocco.
A 2019 report commissioned by the king to devise a “fresh development model” highlighted growing “inequities,” gradual reforms, and reluctance towards change.
The report underscored that the top 10% of Morocco’s wealthiest citizens possess 11 times more wealth than the bottom 10%.
The amalgamation of COVID-19’s effects and inflation has driven poverty rates in Morocco to levels reminiscent of 2014, according to the government’s High Commission for Planning.
Morocco ranks low on the UN Human Development Index in categories such as education, literacy rates, and gross income per capita.
Despite these challenges, Mohammed VI continues to enjoy widespread popular support as the latest leader of the Alawi dynasty that has ruled Morocco for centuries, tracing its lineage back to Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
Under his guidance, a long-awaited aid project targeting Morocco’s most vulnerable families is anticipated to conclude by year’s end.
In 2004, the monarch endorsed a family code to bolster women’s rights, though it fell short of activists’ comprehensive demands.
However, Mohammed VI’s regime has drawn criticism for curbing freedom of expression, often targeting and even imprisoning critics, journalists, and dissenting online users.
In response to the Casablanca attacks of May 2003, which claimed 33 lives, Mohammed VI reinforced security measures under the pretext of counterterrorism, reversing the liberalization trajectory initiated towards the end of Hassan II’s reign.
Although social media has granted a platform to diverse voices, traditional news outlets either operate under stringent control or are nonexistent.
Political opposition in the nation has been weakened or marginalized.
Historian Pierre Vermeren noted, “Moroccans remain tightly managed.” He attributed this to external shocks and crises, which have hindered economic expansion and left the promise of democratic transition unfulfilled.