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.


Once mighty US retailer Sears files for bankruptcy

Updated 15 October 2018
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Once mighty US retailer Sears files for bankruptcy

  • Sears had been drowning in debt and reportedly could not afford a $134 million repayment
  • Started in 1886, the company was a pioneer of departmental stores that catered to everyone

WASHINGTON: Sears, the venerable US chain that once dominated the retail sector but had been in decline since the advent of the Amazon era, filed for bankruptcy Monday and announced it was closing almost 150 stores.
With a history that stretches back to 1886, the company was a pioneer of departmental stores that catered to everyone and by the mid-twentieth century had built a vast empire that stretched across North America.
But it has closed hundreds of outlets in recent years amid a retail shakeout caused in part by the rise of Amazon and other e-commerce players.
“The Company and certain of its subsidiaries have filed voluntary petitions for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York,” a statement by Sears Holdings Corporation said.
Sears had been drowning in debt and reportedly could not afford a $134 million repayment that had been due on Monday.
Edward S. Lampert, Chairman of Sears Holdings, said the insolvency filing would give the company the “flexibility to strengthen its balance sheet” and enable it to accelerate a strategic transformation.
The company said it intended to reorganize around a smaller store platform, a strategy it said would help save tens of thousands of jobs.
But it announced it would close 142 unprofitable stores near the end of the year, in addition to the previously announced closure of 46 stores by November.
While retaining his chairmanship, Lampert will step down as CEO, with the role handled by other senior executives as part of a new “Office of the CEO.”
Sears added it had received commitments for $300 million in debtor-in-possession financing and was negotiating for an additional $300 million.
Sears is far from the only brick-and-mortar outlet to fall by the wayside as more consumers do the bulk of their shopping online.
In March, iconic Toys “R” Us announced it was shuttering all of its US outlets while other big names such as Macy’s and JC Penney have also been forced to close numerous locations and lay off workers.
American shopping malls in turn have been forced to turn to a new generation of stores, food and entertainment including players that began online, as well as gyms and video game bars like Dave & Buster’s.