King Mohammed VI came to power 20 years ago, following the death of his father, King Hassan II, in July 1999, after ruling for 38 years. Towards the end of his reign, King Hassan II had begun to make liberalising reforms, appointing left-wing opposition figure and human rights lawyer Abderrahmane Youssoufi to head the government in 1998. The new king continued in a liberalising direction; for example, by putting in place an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights abuses in the 1956-99 period, and implementing a new, more liberal version of the kingdom’s family code, called the Moudawana, in 2004.
Against the backdrop of widespread political unrest in the MENA region, the king also put forward a new constitution in 2011, which included, among other changes, appointing a member of the leading political party as prime minister, and putting in place new institutions to combat corruption.
The country has seen substantial socio-economic changes during the current king’s reign, including many notable improvements in socio-economic indicators, though challenges remain. GDP per capita, in constant prices and purchasing power parity terms, has risen by more than two-thirds over the period. Furthermore, the national literacy rate rose from 41.6% in 1994, five years before King Mohammed VI’s accession, to 71.7% in 2015. Youth literacy is much higher than the national literacy rate, at around 90%. This is thanks in large part to a steep rise in primary school enrolment in recent decades, suggesting the overall rate should continue to rise as the population ages (see Education chapter).
More dramatically still, the proportion of the population with access to electricity hit 100% in 2016, up from 67.8% in 1999, according to the World Bank. Unemployment has decreased simultaneously, from 13.9% in 1999 to around 10% throughout 2018, though this fall was already under way when the king acceded to the throne, with the indicator having peaked at 22.9% in 1995. Progress has proven difficult to sustain, however, with unemployment stubbornly stuck around the 9-10% mark for nearly a decade and current levels of economic growth – which averaged 3.4% over the five years to 2017 – below those widely thought to be necessary in order to bring about major improvements. Youth unemployment remains a particular challenge. The unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds stood at 27.3% in 2018. Youth unemployment is concentrated in particular in cities, and the urban youth unemployment rate has continued to rise in recent years, from an average of 32% in the 2007-12 period to 42.8% in 2017.
High youth unemployment is likely to be one of the factors underpinning another recurrent challenge, namely intermittent bouts of socio-economic unrest, as witnessed most recently in the form of the Hirak Rif, or Rif Movement, in northern Morocco in late 2016 (see overview), and prior to that during the 20th February Movement protests in 2011.
In a series of recent speeches, the king has called for improvements in education and training provision, as well as greater efforts to secure jobs for young Moroccans, in order to address such challenges. These calls have been reflected in recent policy changes, among them an increase in education spending in the 2019 budget, and plans to overhaul the professional and vocational training system (see Education chapter).
Outside of domestic politics, major events in the early years of the king’s reign included the signature of an association agreement with the EU in 2000, which saw the establishment of a common free trade area for manufactured goods. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, the kingdom took a supportive stance in the so-called War on Terror, which saw it awarded major non-NATO ally status in 2004.
The king has been the public face of the country’s recent attempts to strengthen its ties with Africa, leading a series of trips to sub-Saharan states largely in order to sign economic and investment agreements.
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