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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Morocco boycott targets cosy business and political elite

57 per cent of Moroccans are boycotting brand leaders in petrol, water and dairy products for price gouging

Consumers in Morocco are boycotting market leading firms with close links to the government for price gouging and excessive profits. Youssef Boudlal / Reuters
Consumers in Morocco are boycotting market leading firms with close links to the government for price gouging and excessive profits. Youssef Boudlal / Reuters

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 per cent 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".

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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.

Constitutional reform that year fuelled 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 favourable 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 liberalisation 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 (dhs 5.5 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.