These things matter everywhere, but more so in a Middle Eastern country without its own oil supply — one that suffers from a 9.9 percent unemployment rate, imports most of its wheat and depends on tourism from belt-tightening Europeans who have their own fiscal problems to contend with.
Morocco’s Islamist government has only been in place for a half-year, so it may be too early to judge its performance. But instead of pragmatic economics, its leaders have focused on ideological priorities, leaving ordinary Moroccans scratching their heads.
First came the telecommunications minister’s proposed ban on live-TV broadcasts of poker and other gambling activity. Saeid Lakhal, a researcher who studies Islamist movements, hit the nail on the head, telling Al-Arabiya that “banning live gambling will not solve any of the problems of average citizens.”
The same minister decided that state-run television should begin broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer, five times a day.
The gambling broadcast ban never got off the ground. Undeterred, the PJD moved at the end of May to ban all alcohol advertising and most drinking in restaurants. Penalties would have included a minimum three months in jail for advertisers; media outlets that dared run a liquor commercial could have been closed for weeks or months.
Fueled by concerns that tourism dollars would dry up as bartenders hung up their aprons, businesses pushed back.
The PJD also found itself defending a Moroccan law that allows a rapist to marry his victim if he wants to avoid prosecution. In one such case, a 16-year-old girl took rat poison and killed herself in March after surviving six months of an abusive marriage to the “husband” who had raped her.
The party’s lone female minister told lawmakers in May that women’s rights groups had “politically exploited … the issue of child sexual abuse” and damaged Morocco’s reputation in the process. She also defended the practice of girls marrying their sexual assailants, arguing that “many advanced countries allow girls to marry at the age of 14.”
Even on those occasions where the PJD has tried to democratize the face of Moroccan government, one thing or another manages to get in the way. In February, Benkirane declared a war on cronyism, promising to rein in a patronage system that awarded perks like taxi and bus licenses to insiders. Instead, he delivered only transparency: The beneficiaries’ names were made public, but they kept their special government favors.
Bill Cosby used to tell a joke about his authoritarian father who would warn his misbehaving kids that “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” With its economy underperforming, its fuel prices increasing and its unemployment rising, Morocco’s Islamist government could find itself on the outs rather quickly.
There’s a lesson in this for the White House, too. Governments that run on promises they never mean to fulfill have short shelf-lives. And leaders who misread their people’s needs can quickly find themselves unemployed.