Morocco's election leaves slum dwellers uninspired

By @ibtimes on

As a group of young men stood chatting in the Douar L'Koura slum in Morocco's capital, another man rushed up and warned them the police could soon be on their way. I just assaulted someone with a knife, he said.

Morocco votes Friday in a parliamentary election which the authorities say is a big step towards democracy and testimony that this north African kingdom is responding to the Arab Spring uprisings by embracing reform.

It is an election that has inspired little interest in Douar L'Koura, a neighbourhood were people are focussed more on their daily preoccupations: crime, miserable housing conditions, and the struggle to earn enough to live.

This election will be no different from the others, nothing has changed, said Redouan, a 21-year-old who was one of the circle of friends chatting as they leaned against an old hut. Same faces, same names. Same political parties.

Morocco has a youth unemployment rate above 30 percent youth, about 8.5 million out of its 32 million population below the poverty line, and high levels of illiteracy - many of the ingredients that led to revolts this year in other Arab states.

For many in this underclass, the election feels as if it is taking place in a different world.

It will produce the most representative government yet after the ruler, King Mohammed, backed constitutional reforms, but it is still being contested by parties which are all linked to the establishment and which have so far failed to tackle the problems of the poor.

Redouan said he was a supporter of the new constitution adopted this year, under which the king ceded some of his powers to elected officials.

It shows that we will live in a democracy like in the United States of America, he said, before adding: But our reality is very miserable, like in Somalia.

RAINWATER FLOODING

The problems in Douar L'Koura are typical of those faced in poor, urban neighbourhoods across the country.

One of the oldest slum districts in Rabat, it lies near the Atlantic shore. The name translates as City of the Ball which local people say comes from a patch of land where residents play soccer.

The slum dates back to the beginning of the last century, when people arrived from rural areas. Initially they lived in tents and then moved into shacks built out of clay and tin sheets where they still live today.

One road was blocked with stones which residents had put there to try to divert rainwater and stop it running into their houses. A 40-year-old woman called Fatima, who works as a cook, was clearing the stones away.

She said she had no lavatory in her shack, and had to go to her aunt's house every time she needed to use the toilet. Nobody cares about us, she said.

The Moroccan government last year unveiled a plan to eradicate slums in 70 cities and move the residents into apartment buildings.

Slum clearance moved high up the political agenda after a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Morocco's commercial hub, Casablanca, in 2003 killed 45 people.

The bombers had links to radical Islamist groups and 14 of them were from slums in the city.

Under the program, over half of the residents in Douar L'Koura have been given apartments, but the way it was administered has caused anger.

The government allocated one apartment for each shack in the slum, but local people say that many shacks are home to several families, and that each of these should be re-housed in their own accommodation.

Others said the re-housing scheme was coming too late. I have lived here since I was 68, said Abdurahman, an 85-year-old suffering from Parkinson's disease. Now I don't care if they give me a house of not.

For people in Douar L'Koura, Friday's election, even if it represents a step closer to democracy, is not enough to dent decades of anger and disaffection with the people who govern them.

We are waiting for nothing from this election. We do not want to go to the ballot boxes, we need work to live in dignity, said a man called Hassan Azzizi.

(Editing by Christian Lowe)

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