Saturday, December 22, 2012

How is Morocco shedding away foreign Investments

As I landed a couple fo hours ago in Casablanca coming from Dubai, I couldn't help but have some reflexions on the horrid customer service provided in the Moroccan airport. Coming across an exasperated businessman from Bangladesh, I realized that such lack of consideration for the customer is not only a failure to comply with the rules of decency every airport ought to implement, but also a grave attack on potential foreign investments that are a crucial component for recovery in the current shaky economic conditions...

How is Morocco shedding away foreign Investments

In these times of financial and economic uncertainties, the world is striving to power boost growth and encourage investments in order to cut loose the ongoing nightmares of the ailing banking system and its repercussions on the world finance. Yet, as these efforts to encourage a quick recovery are spreading, and indeed populating most of world leaders speeches and TV apparitions, one country is lacking behind: Morocco.

Although most observers might claim otherwise, Morocco’s approach and methodology in restructuring its economy and lifting the purchase power of its citizen is all but comprehensive and sound. The gross mistake the Moroccan authorities have been conducting throughout the years, and more acutely now, is that the government tries to induce a top down growth through encouraging multibillion dollars investments instead of building a strong investment base powered by the middle class and small businesses. The last visit of the king to the Gulf countries, a recurrent theatrical play where the monarchy squeezes billions of dollars from the Gulf royalties whenever the domestic economics are not adding up, is an astounding example of such state practice of top down investment. Channeling investments and projects by Gulf corporations to Morocco might be of short-term benefits since it creates direct jobs in construction or tourism; yet, most of these foreign ventures end up frozen due to the absence of consumers of such products, and deficiency of completive small businesses that can create the necessary environment for a full investment to operate. What I mean by completive small businesses are those enterprises that offer services and products that a Hotel cannot offer, as simple as that. Luxurious resorts and Hotels are a product locals cannot afford, a fact not hard to miss on since the market these investments target are foreign. This poses the question: will a businessman, celebrities or high-income consumers visit Morocco on the sole basis of staying in a luxurious hotel? What draws outsiders are unique travel experiences that are prosperous for them to initiate potential ventures, that is to say a compelling cultural setting, the existence of advantageous telecommunication services and infrastructure, the flourishing of small businesses that offer skilled technicians and resources and the presence of quality transportation firms. Thus begging for Gulf investments without laying the foundations for these very ventures to thrive is pouring water on the sand. A state that cannot cope with rainfalls, rising criminality, poor consumer purchase power, degrading middle class and fiscal irregularities and fraud is far from succeeding in getting the economic house back in order through a couple of foreign investors.

Another flaw in Moroccan approach to economic growth is the discrepancy in treatments offered to foreign investors. While western investors are treated with the greatest forms of respect and privilege, Asian entrepreneurs are disregarded as casual travelers who have to pass through the hardships and tortuous airline and airports process, a process that the Moroccan airports made the worst possible in any sovereign nation. Lost luggage, hours in line for the passport checks, empty cubicles meant to be filed by airport officers and no regards for customer service… many of the realities of Moroccan airports that would push away any investor from thinking about traveling to Morocco. These are the basic services that a state should prioritize if it seriously considers drawing foreign cash to the mainland.

Successful investment strategies are those that care about the small businesses, encourage entrepreneurship and facilitate foreign knowledge and expertise flow to the domestic market. If a nation cannot offer decent treatment for travelers and outsiders going through its airport –travelers who after all are walking wallets that can be tapped into -, then there is no premise for talking about economic recovery through foreign investments. It is saddening to see on one hand great nations deploy resources, efforts and time to empower small businesses as the ultimate path to recovery, and on the other hand witnessing one’s country waste money in lobbying and embassy held dinners to attract investments that will not impact the domestic economic landscape, because the state didn’t care enough to build a favorable base for these investments to flourish upon. The true change starts from within, not through aesthetic appliances to hide inherent flaws in the domestic scene, thus if Morocco is to ever join in the global effort to regenerate wealth and growth, it should start by permitting small businesses -domestic and foreign- to prosper, not by helping them financially, but simply through fulfilling the tasks every state is elected to accomplish in the first place.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi

Saturday, December 15, 2012

International Affairs on the Edge Mag 2

Our Magazine's 2nd edition is now live! Check it for the latest articles published in the Blog.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Egyptian Politics: between the immature and the unorganized

Egyptian Politics: between the immature and the unorganized

The recent tragedy unfolding in Egypt in the aftermath of the presidential decree is a critical sign of Egyptian politics’ immaturity. An immaturity not only due to the young democracy that is taking shape in Egypt, but also due to the inexperience of the ruling party that has shouldered political responsibility and state management for its first time.

Although not enlisted in the Muslim Brotherhood or in its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, Mr. Morsi showcases all the pathological signs of the Muslim Brotherhood approach to politics and policymaking. The extensive network of the Muslim Brotherhood spans throughout Egypt and the greater Middle East, yet the historical background of the organization doesn’t include in its records periods of time where the brotherhood assumed political office or statesmanship position. Imbued in an activist and underground lifestyle, the Muslim brotherhood drew its power in its ability to mobilize its members and partisans en masse and in short notices, as well as its extensive knowledge of the public opinion’s tendencies and ways to manipulate domestic and foreign events in shaping the street pulse and using it as a leverage to further their agenda and recruitment process.

The issue with underground, and in this case banned groups and congregations, is that ideological battles are their expertise, yet Realpolitik and political practice are not fields of mastery for groups that always strived to assume roles of opposition and state defiance with no intent on engaging in statesmanship and policy making.
The case of the attempt of the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate the Egyptian president Gamal Abdennasser in 1954 is a typical trait of the organization: Although the assassination of the president would not have an impact on the course of policies of its administration, the Brotherhood envisioned such attempt as a show of force to further confirm its defiance and opposition stance against the government. If the Brotherhood had any sense of political engagement, it could have mobilized its extensive human and financial capital to lobby and influence policy makers as a mean to shape policies they see best serve their agenda or that of the Egyptian people.

The same trait of rebellion continued during the Arab Spring and Egyptian revolution, a revolution that remains a standing ovation for the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to mobilize a vast human capital and hijack mass protests through a subtle and swift influence and engineering of the public opinion and street pulse. Yet, as the regime fell down and the prospects of power became apparent for the Muslim Brotherhood, the newly legitimate organization assumed political office through its political party, the Freedom and Justice party, a step that is being considered a true game changer in the history of the Brotherhood. For 84 years of activity, the Muslim Brotherhood assumed state responsibility, a responsibility that extends beyond the operational capability of the congregation given the lack of political experience and exposure to the intricacies of governance and state management.

Although a gloomy prospect for Egyptian domestic affairs, the Muslim Brotherhood remains the only alternative in a political spectrum hugely divided between unorganized and scattered political actors.

Whether liberals, secularists or moderate Islamists, the plethora of political establishments in Egypt is far from displaying the political plurality that is a sign of a healthy democracy. The realities enclosing the various political parties in Egypt attest of their inefficacy and inability to run a consensual government cohesive enough to stand the challenges of the post-revolutionary Egypt. The opportunities that the revolution offered seemed immeasurable in political terms, thus the exponential rise in political formation, parties and groups was a much-expected trend in the Egyptian arena, a trend that not only determined the impossibility of forming a non-Islamist majority government, but also signed the death testimony of the Egyptian pluralistic system of governance.

Although some of the political establishments, in great parts remnants of the old regime, have the ability to govern and to strongly handle the domestic affairs in Egypt, they remain hugely overwhelmed by the far reaching discipline and organization of the Brotherhood, and continue to be seen under a negative light due to their association with the fallen dictatorship.

The way forward in Egypt is to be determined by the willingness of the Muslim Brotherhood to both accept a political compromise and an ideological paradigm shift. The Muslim brotherhood lacks the experience that statesmanship requires, an experience that can be offered by the contesting political establishments pioneered by the secularists and the liberals. Although see as an ideological threat, the Muslim brotherhood can still accommodate the opposite factions in state organs by offering a mutual governance of Egyptian affairs, a mutual governance that can be exploited by the Muslim brotherhood as a temporary venture to gain the political maturity needed for a powerful governing organization. The Muslim Brotherhood will not be able to assume fully its responsibilities towards the Egyptian street unless it decides to relegate its rebellious ideology and its affinity towards opposition for a more governance driven line of thought. It is of paramount importance to realize the necessity that the times of staunch opposition are over, and the era of political practice is on. If the Brotherhood is to persist in its ideological supremacy and political immaturity, it will lose the hearts and minds of the supporters who propelled it to the pic of power, and it will miss on the golden opportunity of transforming its principles, values and precepts into actual enforced policies through the powerful medium of the state and parliament.

Mohamed Amine Belarbi