CASABLANCA, Morocco — Violent protests over the cost of bread prompted the Moroccan government to annul a 30 percent price hike linked to soaring global grain costs.In the past, bread riots were violently repressed in Morocco and the continuation of this trend could point to a return to the social instability of the 1980s and earlier. Morocco is relatively unique among Arab countries in being extremely exposed to rises in fuel and other prices, with the resulting pressure on the state budgets and on social peace. As in Egypt, which remains much, much more subsidized than Morocco is, there has been a grassroots movement growing over the past two years against the cost of life. Drawn largely from the ranks of the left (notably ATTAC Maroc) and associated with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH from its French acronym), in a sense it has been more active on this crucial issue than Islamist parties such as the PJD or movements like Adl wal Ihsan. Last May, five protesters from the AMDH were given a ridiculous three-year sentence for chanting slogans hostile to the monarchy, one of the many signs that Morocco has not entirely stopped the bad old practices of the Hassan II regime.
Protesters clashed with police, cars were torched and buildings damaged in the demonstrations Sunday in Sefrou, 120 miles east of the capital Rabat. Some 300 people suffered injuries, Moroccan newspapers reported Tuesday. The state news agency said more than 30 people were arrested.
The government held an emergency meeting Monday, and Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa ordered the price hike canceled, the Interior Ministry said.
Amid rising world prices for wheat, the government authorized a bread price rise of 30 percent on Sept. 10, soon before the start of Ramadan. Moroccan consumption of breads and pastries rises sharply during the Muslim holy month, as families hold large feasts after sundown to break the all-day fast.
A situation like the current one, with genuine economic pressures on a technocratic government keen to balance its budget and on a population finding it ever harder to make ends meet (just as the small upper middle class is encouraged to consume ever more -- there are advertisements for bank loans to buy plasma screen TVs all over the place in the big cities -- could develop into a very serious issue for the new government of Abbas al-Fassi. No doubt Morocco will be appealing to major grain producers to provide some relief.