Conflict analysis of Morocco

Since the onset of the Arab Spring, Morocco has experienced protests about a diverse range of economic, political, and social issues. King Mohammed VI responded rapidly to the early protests, implementing a new constitution in 2011. However much of the literature suggests that, to date, these reforms have had a limited impact. Moreover, there have been rising levels of unrest in Western Sahara, which is increasingly being seen as a potential threat to regional security.

Morocco faces a diverse range of interrelated security threats. Key drivers of conflict and potential drivers of conflict highlighted in the literature are:

  • Political system: Despite constitutional reforms in 2011, the King retains a significant amount of power. This has led to calls for further-reaching political reforms.
  • Economic challenges and corruption: Inequality and youth unemployment are seen as significant problems. Moreover, corruption is considered widespread. The government has launched programmes and initiatives in order to address these issues, including a number of infrastructure projects. However, these have had a limited impact, and analysts argue that they do not appear to be benefiting those who are in most need of assistance.
  • Salafism: Evidence indicates that Salafists are becoming increasingly involved in Moroccan politics. However, there continues to be a threat from Salafi-Jihadists in the region. AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) have called for Moroccans to carry out terrorist attacks. Domestic Salafiya-Jihadiya cells also pose a security threat.
  • Western Sahara conflict: There have been increasing levels of ethnic unrest in Western Sahara. Pro-independence protests have also been on the rise. New approaches to the conflict are being trialled in a bid to end the stalemate, but some argue a rapid resolution of the conflict is unlikely.
  • Organised crime: Research suggests that Morocco is a significant producer of cannabis resin, even though its production is declining.

International and local responses to conflict in Morocco include:

  • Political reform: While the 2011 constitutional reforms address a broad range of issues, a number of analysts argue that these reforms do not go far enough. Moreover, implementation of the reforms laid out in the new constitution has been slow.
  • Economic development programmes: The government is undertaking a range of programmes to improve socio-economic conditions in Morocco, and in Western Sahara.
  • Efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict: These have been unsuccessful to date. This is largely due to the entrenched positions of the parties to the conflict. The UN has tried a number of new approaches to resolving the conflict in recent years, but they have had limited success.
  • Counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation activities: The Moroccan government has launched a number of counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation policies and initiatives. These have been relatively successful, and there have been very few terrorist incidents in Morocco since the 2003 bombings in Casablanca.

Practical recommendations from the literature include calls for:

  • local and international actors to focus on political reform
  • support for development programmes and economic initiatives
  • preparations to be made for Western Sahara’s autonomy, although opinion is divided on whether political change or economic development should take precedence
  • steps to be taken to increase moderate Salafi involvement in political life.

Suggested citation

Strachan, A.L. (2014). Conflict analysis of Morocco. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.