This piece is part of a four-part series published by the Middle East Institute in cooperation with Arab Barometer analyzing the results of the sixth wave of the Arab Barometer surveys.
As soon as the first signs of the health crisis caused by COVID-19 appeared in North Africa, Morocco took swift and decisive action, implementing health, economic, security, and social measures at the end of February 2020. These actions explain the largely positive perception among Moroccans of the state’s handling of this difficult situation, a challenge unlike any since the Arab Spring in 2011.
The findings of the fourth part of the Arab Barometer1 survey’s sixth wave, carried out in May 2021, confirm that the spread of COVID-19 (43% of respondents) and the economic situation (33%) are still the main challenges for Moroccans, the same ones that emerged in previous editions of the survey’s sixth wave. Going forward, 18% of respondents expressed deep concern and 33% expressed mild concern that the virus will continue to spread and infect many people across the country in the coming six months.
Around a quarter of Moroccans (23%) said that the government’s quick reaction to the pandemic is the reason why they are not worried about its outbreak — the highest among the seven countries included in the sixth wave. The government’s performance in managing the COVID-19 crisis has helped to boost trust in it: 25% said they feel a great deal of trust in it, while 23% said they feel quite a lot, according to the survey. This performance also improved overall satisfaction with the Moroccan government: 16% said they were completely satisfied and 54% said they were satisfied with the work of government authorities.
According to the survey, 10% of respondents said they had already taken the vaccine. The state’s outreach campaign, as well as people’s high hopes that the vaccination drive would lift the lockdown and curfew imposed by authorities, explain why 56% of respondents said they were very likely to get vaccinated if it were free of charge, while 20% said they were somewhat likely and only 10% said they were very unlikely to do so. After a 6.3% drop in GDP in 2020, the vaccine is seen as the only way to save the Moroccan economy.
Moroccans are more concerned by the impact of COVID-19 on the disruption of children’s education, the effects on psycho-emotional state, and the increased cost of living caused by the pandemic at 24%, 21% and 17%, respectively. This may be due in part to the duration of the lockdown imposed by the authorities at the start of the pandemic: At three months, it was one of the longest COVID-19 quarantines imposed globally in 2020.
State support and the economy
As for state social support for families, 41% of respondents said they were subsidized, 6% received food, and 51% did not get any aid. Most of the aid came from the fund created on March 13, 2020 on the king’s instruction to address the effects of COVID-19, by collecting donations from businessmen, governmental and non-governmental institutions, foreign governments, and citizens. The fund received MAD 33.7 billion ($3.75 billion) by July 2020. In fact, this was the first time that the state provided direct financial support to a large number of citizens, given that subsidies used to include only a few groups. This support in the first months of lockdown played a key role in restoring trust in the government, and it also explains the decline in social protests in recent months.
Through the Special Fund for the Management of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the government paid private sector employees registered with the National Social Security Fund (CNSS) MAD 2,000 and citizens active in the informal sector and registered with the Subsidized Health Insurance Scheme (RAMED) MAD 800 for households of at least two persons, MAD 1,000 for households of three or four, and MAD 1,200 for families of more than four. This aid was paid for three months from March 2020, and for a few more impacted sectors later on, such as tourism.
Other than direct aid, the Economic Oversight Committee also implemented fiscal measures aimed at exempting from tax any additional contributions from employers to their employees affiliated with the CNSS, up to 50% of their average net monthly salary. This support doubtless affected Moroccans’ assessment of the economic situation during the survey.
In general, Moroccans’ sense of how the economy is faring is shaped by daily life and the stability of markets (controlling inflation rates) regardless of other macro-economic indicators. Respondents assessed the current economic situation as very good (11%) and good (52%), the highest rates across the seven surveyed countries. Furthermore, 44% and 23%, respectively, think that the economic situation will be “much better” or “somewhat better” over the next two to three years. The majority of respondents stated that it was never true that they “worried our food would run out before we got money to buy more” (64%) or that “the food we bought did not last and we did not have money to get more” (58%).
Over the past two decades Morocco has maintained price stability compared to other countries in the region, and during the last 10 years inflation did not exceed 2% thanks to the central bank’s strict monetary policy. Morocco has one of the region’s most stable monetary policies, at a time when inflation rates and high living costs have led to social unrest in many countries since 2011. Generally speaking, Moroccans are satisfied with the country’s economic performance due to the stability of basic commodity prices in recent years.
Still plenty of room for improvement
Satisfaction with the general economic situation may be reassuring now, but it is not a reason for the government to rest on its laurels. Citizens’ demands in other areas prove that satisfaction and trust in the government are not very high, especially when it comes to education reform, job creation, and the fight against corruption. In this regard, 20% of respondents said that reforming the education system should be the government’s first priority to improve the economic situation, while 44% said that it should focus on creating more jobs. As far as the fight against corruption is concerned, satisfaction is still low: Nearly two-thirds of Moroccans believe that corruption within state bodies and organizations is widespread to a large (19%) or a medium extent (42%). By contrast, 39% think that the government is working to crack down on corruption to a large extent, against 33% who think it is doing so to a medium extent and 15% to a small extent.
Rachid Aourraz is an economist and co-founder of the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA), as well as a senior analyst. In addition, he is also a Non-Resident Scholar with MEI’s North Africa and Sahel Program. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images
1. The survey included Morocco, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, and Tunisia.