Morocco boycott revives debate over business, politics links

Afriquia is one of three well-known brands being boycotted following criticisms over links between the country's business and political elite. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 May 2018
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Morocco boycott revives debate over business, politics links

RABAT: More than a month after its launch, an unprecedented boycott campaign in Morocco against three well-known brands has revived criticism against links between the country’s business and political elite.

Spreading like wildfire across social media, the campaign is targeting Afriquia service stations, Sidi Ali water and Danone milk — leaders in their sectors — and calling for a drop in prices.

Despite brand communication efforts to curb the campaign, AFP saw its popularity in cafes, shops and deserted Afriquia petrol stations in several Moroccan cities.

Some 57 percent of Moroccans are actively engaged in the boycott, according to a survey of 3,575 mostly middle class Moroccans published this week in the country’s L’Economiste newspaper.

The Afriquia group belongs to billionaire Aziz Akhannouch, the richest man in Morocco, minister of agriculture since 2007 and head of the National Rally of Independents (NRI) technocrat political party.

The boycott carries “a symbolic message from the middle class” against the marriage between political power and big business, political analyst Aziz Chahir told AFP.

Ahmed Bouz, another political analyst, said the campaign shows “awareness of the need to separate politics from business.”

The Moroccan press frequently covered conflict of interest throughout the 2000s, placing a sharp focus on the royal family and the National Investment Company — since transformed into a holding company and renamed Al Mada.
The enrichment of the country’s ruling elite resurfaced in 2011 as the popular revolts of the Arab Spring swept across the region.

Consitutional reform that year fueled hopes for change, but the current government — formed in 2017 by the Islamist PJD party — brought in more technocrats and businessmen, along with accusations of conflict of interest.

Moroccan media and activists accuse Trade Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy — who heads one of the country’s largest conglomerates — of helping to pass a favorable tax provision for the transfer of his Saham insurance company to South African giant Sanlam.

Elalamy says he has complied with the law and asked for an inquiry into the transaction to prove his innocence.

“Nothing in the law prohibits businessmen from holding government positions,” Abdelali Benamour, head of Morocco’s Competition Council, told AFP.

Fouad Abdelmoumen of Transparency Moroc said: “The state has not put in place mechanisms that define conflicts of interest and that contain excesses.”

Excessive profits in big business — especially fuel distributors like Afriquia — has also stoked anger among Moroccans.

A mid-May parliamentary report on the evolution of fuel prices since their liberalization in 2015 caused an uproar.

The final version of the report — its most glaring figures redacted — put the sector’s profit margins above $1.5 billion ((€1.3 billion).

The alliance between business and politics appeared again in headlines Tuesday, when Salaheddine Mezouar — former finance minister, trade minister and head of the NRI — was elected head of Morocco’s private business sector.


OPEC oil ministers gather to discuss production increase

Updated 19 June 2018
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OPEC oil ministers gather to discuss production increase

  • Analysts expect the group to discuss an increase in production of about 1 million barrels a day
  • The officials were arriving in Vienna ahead of the official meeting Friday

VIENNA: The oil ministers of the OPEC cartel were gathering Tuesday to discuss this week whether to increase production of crude and help limit a rise in global energy prices.
The officials were arriving in Vienna ahead of the official meeting Friday, when they will also confer with Russia, a non-OPEC country that since late 2016 has cooperated with the cartel to limit production.
Analysts expect the group to discuss an increase in production of about 1 million barrels a day, ending the output cut agreed on in 2016.
The cut has since then pushed up the price of crude oil by about 50 percent. The US benchmark in May hit its highest level in three and half years, at $72.35 a barrel.
Upon arriving, the energy minister of the United Arab Emirates, Suhail Al Mazrouei, said: “It’s going to be hopefully a good meeting. We look forward to having this gathering with OPEC and non-OPEC.”
The 14 countries in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries make more money with higher prices, but are mindful of the fact that more expensive crude can encourage a shift to renewable resources and hurt demand.
“Consumers as well as businesses will be hoping that this week’s OPEC meeting succeeds in keeping a lid on prices, and in so doing calling a halt to a period which has seen a steady rise in fuel costs,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK
The rise in the cost of oil has been a key factor in driving up consumer price inflation in major economies like the US and Europe in recent months.
Already US President Donald Trump has called on OPEC to cut production, tweeting in April and again this month that “OPEC is at it again” by allowing oil prices to rise.
Within OPEC, an increase in output will not affect all countries equally. While Saudi Arabia, the cartel’s biggest producer, is seen to be open to a rise in production, other countries cannot afford to do so. Those include Iran and Venezuela, whose industries are stymied either by international sanctions or domestic turmoil. Iran is a fierce regional rival to Saudi Arabia, meaning the OPEC deal could also influence the geopolitics in the Middle East.