There’s a lot of change in northern Morocco, once the poorest region in the country but now a hive of development activity.
The coastline near Fnidaq on the road to Tetouan has been transformed. Where not so long ago there was not much at all to see, now you’ll find new marinas, luxury villas and posh hotels.
Follow the coastline in the other direction, toward Tangier, and you’ll find the new port development known as Tangier Mediterranean, a massive industrial and passenger complex, complete with new road and rail transport infrastructure. Further inland, you’ll new free trade zones are being established to tap the Strait of Gibraltar’s strategic geographic location on major east/west and north/south shipping routes, and its proximity to Europe.
The possibilities on offer, not least cheaper labour compared to Europe, have already attracted some major western companies who are setting up here. Think of it as similar to the dynamic evident on the US/Mexico border. Good in some respects, bad in many others.
Make no mistake, there is still a big gap between this new Morocco in the north and the real-life existence of many of its citizens in this region. But there are now many opportunities to be grabbed.
When I was over in Morocco a couple of weeks back, I visited an interesting project set up by the Moroccan government. It’s a state-run catering and hostelry school, designed as a boutique hotel on the outskirts of Tetouan. Here, underprivileged children who might otherwise have few options open to them are learning how to cook and look after guests in the hope that they can find rewarding work in Morocco’s burgeoning tourism sector.
Morocco has so far largely escaped the problems evident in other Muslim countries where communities are seeking greater democratic representation. But the balance is a fine one. Morocco’s King Mohamed VI has promised a wide-ranging constitutional reform to strengthen parliamentary democracy in the country. But in the meantime, street protests in the larger cities have on occasion turned rough.
All eyes are now on the promised reforms and how far they will go. Hopefully it will be far enough. Morocco is beautiful country, its people welcoming and friendly. The investment of recent years has opened up huge potential for development. Any further step toward an effective and representative democracy can only be for the good.