“Independent” Civil Society’s Struggle for Impact

“Independent” Civil Society’s Struggle for Impact

Kathya BerradaKathya Berrada19 April 201941min13420
While the 2011 constitution seems to represent a “paradigm shift” towards a greater partnership between the Moroccan state and civil society organizations (CSOs), authorities’ recent crackdown on independent CSOs indicates a strained relationship between the two.

While the 2011 constitution seems to represent a “paradigm shift” towards a greater partnership between the Moroccan state and civil society organizations (CSOs), authorities’ recent crackdown on independent CSOs indicates a strained relationship between the two.


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In late January 2019, world renowned intellectual Noam Chomsky joined about 3000 people[i] in signing a petition denouncing the Moroccan authorities’ decision to dissolve “Racines”[ii] – a Moroccan based civil society organisation (CSO) working in the cultural sphere. The decision to dissolve this CSO came after it hosted a talk show in its Casablanca office to discuss the current political situation in Morocco. The Moroccan authorities have, however, considered the setup of the talk show as “going against public morals”[iii]. The dissolution of Racines has indeed gained national and international media coverage. Beyond the media interests in this issue, the decision to dissolve an independent CSO highlights one facet of a complicated relationship between the Moroccan state and civil society organisations (CSOs). The relationship has fluctuated between periods of restrictions and periods of prudent openness. The new Moroccan constitution of 2011 strengthened the position of civil society in what seems at first glance as a “paradigm shift” towards more partnerships between the state and CSOs. A deeper look, however, reveals that the relationship between independent CSOs and the government is rather strained.

Today, the emergence and development of a balanced relationship between CSOs and the Moroccan state remains particularly relevant. Within the current context of social protests, political apathy, and the citizens’ lack of trust in the state, CSOs have a critical role to play in terms of advocacy for structural changes. However, the main challenge that faces CSOs is their capacity to take part in the public decision-making process. For instance, In Jerada – as it is the case in the rest of Morocco – the bulk of CSOs in the last few decades relate to the implementation of micro socio-economic development projects, while their role as active participants in the decision-making process is rather limited. To overcome those challenges and transcend their current peripheral role, CSOs in Morocco are asked to rethink their own managerial and governance structures.

In this regard, both the macro environment within which CSOs operate, as well as the latter’s internal challenges, need to be addressed in order to concretely strengthen their position and see them emerge as a strong party in the decision-making process. The difficult climate of social dialogue between the population and policy makers in Jerada indicates that CSOs are not yet efficiently playing their role in conveying and proactively advocating for local socio-economic alternatives and as such are not yet integrated within the decision-making process.


Jerada, latest development: Back to Black 

The dissolution of Racines is just the latest example of a growing tension between the state and civil society. It’s been noted that the trend of repression started in 2017 with the Rif protests and then in Jerada since 2018, in what became known in Morocco as Hirak. In its report published in late January 2019, Human Rights Watch denounced severe restrictions on the freedom of associations in the relationship to both the Hirak of the Rif and that of Jerada[iv]. The report, contested by the Moroccan government, came in a period where a group of detainees in the Hirak of Jerada went on a hunger strike to denounce their detention[v].

In January 2019, the court of first instance in the city of Oujda sentenced eighteen protestors in the Hirak of Jerada to up to four years of prison sentences[vi]. The charges as stated by the court were related to the obliteration of public properties, participation and invitation to join ‘unauthorised protests’’[vii]. Following a mass protest in March 2018, local authorities in Jerada arrested 95 protestors from which 25 have been brought to justice so far, and others were released shortly after their detention. However, in the absence of a long-term socio- economic vision for the region, those prison sentences will only fan the flames of anger and frustration among the local community. (see MIPA’s report on Jerada Beyond the Mine) [viii].

Following the protests, scores of civil society activists called for the need to tackle the situation via the elaboration of overarching socio-economic alternatives rather than repressive measures against protestors. In 2018, a coalition of 21 civil society organisations called for the release of the Jerada movement[ix] detainees. The Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) also denounced the heavy presence of police forces and called for the end of ‘militarization’ of the region[x]. Additionally, La Confederation Democratique du Travail (CDT) (The Democratic Confederation of Labour), one of the largest labour unions in the country, called for a revision of the sentences which it views as severe, and highlighted the need for concrete socio-economic alternatives for the region[xi].

Such criticisms and calls indicate that civil society organisations are monitoring the government’s responses to social protests. However, it is also important to question their role in proactively conveying the grievances of local populations and actively taking part in proposing and advocating socio-economic alternatives rather than just asking for government plans.


From National to Local Social Protests

The Hirak of Jerada is far from being an isolated social protest movement in Morocco. Over the last decade, the country has witnessed a number of social protests throughout its different cities and regions. While both the Hirak of Jerada and the one of the Rif have received large media coverage, other social movements are taking place regularly around the country. The number of sit-ins and mobilizations cumulated to a total of more than 18000 protests in 2018[xii], while their number did not exceed 5000 a decade ago[xiii].

Figure 1: Evolution of the number of protests in Morocco (2008-2018)


Source: Author’s compilation

The above chart reflects a growing frustration inside the country that has been exacerbated during the years following the 2011 political protests, echoing the mobilization movement of the Arab Spring in many countries from the region. Different political and independent forces mobilized in Morocco on 20 February in 2011. While social justice was just one of the major demands, the movement articulated the rest of its demands within political lines, urging for constitutional changes and questioning the traditional power structure in Morocco.

The Moroccan state’s tactical moves, such as drafting a new constitution in 2011 and holding early legislative elections, has weakened the 20 February movement[xiv]. However, as it is the case with all major protests, it is difficult to talk about an explicit end. In a hostile political environment, which has become hardly receptive to grievances, the initial forces behind the 20 February movement have been deployed elsewhere in other forms of mobilization and collective actions which has significantly increased[xv]. Beginning in 2014, demands expressed in sit-ins and protests in the country have been of social and not of political nature, most of them have been sectorial, specifically education and healthcare. Additionally, protests are no longer exclusive to Rabat (the Capital of the country) but rather scattered across the country. Local social protests are taking place in regions as far as the southern village of Imider in the province of Tinghir.

Both the Hirak of the Rif and the one of Jerada belong largely to this new category of local protest movements. The death of a fishmonger in Al Hoceima in October 2016, and the one of two miners in Jerada in January 2018, triggered large local protests that unveiled decades of socio-economic marginalization in both regions.

While there is a tangible proliferation of social protest movements, there is also a real decline in terms of the engagement within political parties. It is estimated that only 1 percent of youth belong to political parties[xvi]. The low voter turnover in the legislative elections of 2011 and 2016 are respectively 45.4% and 43%, indicating an apathy and mistrust when it comes to the capacity of political parties in bringing about meaningful socio-economic changes. According to the Arab Barometer in 2017, “Parliament and political parties are the least trusted political institutions: 25 percent of Moroccans trust the parliament. Only 10 percent of Moroccans trust political parties, compared to 86 percent who trust them either not much or not at all. Similarly, few Moroccans trust politicians. Asked to rank politicians’ honesty on a 7-point scale (with 7 being the most honest), more than half of Moroccans nearly two-thirds (63 percent) rated politicians’ honesty at 3 or below.” [xvii]

The declining place of political parties and the spread of social protest movements question the role of civil society in Morocco as an active participant in the decision-making process. The role of civil society in Morocco can take various forms in expressing the grievances of local populations, promoting meaningful reforms and rethinking political engagement. CSOs in Morocco often have been associated with the implementation of small-scale development micro-projects or some forms of human right activism. While those roles are important, CSOs in Morocco can also play additional roles as active stakeholders in the public decision-making process.


Development of civil society, context and challenges

Following the independence of Morocco in 1956[xviii], the development of civil society was largely hampered by restrictive and authoritarian policies. It was only during the 90s that Morocco relaxed its laws that relate to the freedom of associations. As a result, the number of CSOs in Morocco has significantly increased and expanded even further with the launch of the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) in 2005. Today, their number exceeds 160,000 organisations according to the Minister in Charge of Relationship with Civil Society and Parliament[xix].

Figure 2: Evolution of the number of CSOs (2000-2019)

Source: Author’s compilation

Moreover, the 2011 Constitution included provisions that aim to strengthen the position of civil society by asserting the principle of freedom of association. In this regard, the constitution states that non-governmental organizations are to participate in the preparation, implementation, and evaluation of state institutions (Article 12). The state is obligated to create institutions, such as consultative bodies that engage non-state actors in these functions (Article 13). Article 13 is yet to be enacted via the implementation of the corresponding bodies.

While the constitution provides, theoretically, a larger room for the work of CSOs, the reality on the ground is sometimes inconsistent with the constitutional prerogatives, such as the case of the dissolution of Racines in December 2018, which was confirmed in April 2019 by the court of appeal in Casablanca[xx].

The change in the corresponding culture and authorities’ practices may take more time than constitutional amendments and will only be the result of long-term dialogue between the different stakeholders. As such, and following the adoption of the 2011 constitution, a national dialogue on civil society was launched in 2013 at the behest of the government[xxi]. The dialogue was set as a mechanism geared towards promoting a national debate on issues relating to civil society and paving the way to a long-term partnership between the state and civil society. Following more than 16 meetings both in Morocco and abroad, the commission in charge of the initiative made its findings and recommendations available to the public in 2014 drafted in a text called “the National Chart on Participative Democracy’’[xxii]. As highlighted by this commission, the major challenges facing CSOs in Morocco were articulated around the following axes:

  • External challenges: challenges that relate to a legal environment that is not adapted for CSOs freedom and independence. For instance, CSOs face a number of bureaucratic red tapes such as delays in providing “legal” recognition, or delays in providing approval of authorities to organize public events. The latter is more proof that the 2011 constitution articles pertaining to the work of civil society are yet to be translated into a real culture of freedom of associations.
  • Internal challenges: those underlining weak institutional capacities and bad governance.

However, it should be mentioned that this national dialogue was boycotted by a number of CSOs which grouped themselves in what was named “La Dynamique de l’appel de Rabat’ (The Dynamics of the Rabat Appeal). This counter initiative totaling more than 3000 CSOs considered the national dialogue initiative in a unilateral move from the government whose aim was to keep CSOs under control[xxiii].  This initiative lobbied instead for the need to enable CSOs to play a counter power role; it also called for the need to have more transparency when it comes to public funding for CSOs and especially when it comes to the status of public utility (Non-Profit status), which it viewed as extremely hard to obtain given the blatant discriminatory dealing that characterizes its granting process where equity is not observed[xxiv].

In term of scope, and as it is the case in most of the developing countries, CSOs in Morocco are mostly active within the framework of socio-economic development. As such, they are generally linked to projects of international organisations such as UNDP or UNESCO. Some of them are also in charge of carrying out projects of different government departments such as the one of Sport, Youth and Culture. A smaller number of CSOs are working on questions of human rights, in which individual and public liberties and women’s rights are important prerequisites for democratization.

Additionally, CSOs still have a hard time ensuring sustainable funding and are generally dependent on short-term grants for the implementation of specific projects. According to the 2017 Civil Society Sustainability Index,[xxv] the overall level of public funding allocated to associations by ministerial departments, government establishments, and government enterprises was estimated at 6.423 billion dirhams (approximately $681 million) in 2017. However, such government funding is earmarked to projects in specific regions and the funding is attributed following call to bids. Yet, there is little evidence on how these public funding for CSOs is spent and whether it respect standards of transparency and efficiency.

As such, international funding remains crucial for many “independent” CSOs. As noted in the Civil Society 2017 suitability index, international funding comes primarily from three sources: the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe, foreign embassies, and foreign foundations. The EU, for instance, directly supports projects on various topics including democracy, human rights, migration, and gender issues, with an average annual contribution of EUR 15.5 million. However, reliance on project-based international funding limits the sustainability of CSOs’ activities due to its short-lived nature. In addition, international funding opportunities often have complex requirements that are difficult for small CSOs to meet.

Financial sustainability challenges negatively impact the capacity of CSOs to invest in the development of long-term human capital. In this regard, the contribution of civil society to GDP hardly exceeds 1% while it represents only 0.2% for the labour market, while the number of employees declared to the Social Security fund (CNSS) has reached 20,000 employees per 2,000 associations out of a total of more than 160,000[xxvi]. This is translated concretely by difficulties to retain qualified managers, which compromises the capacity to shift toward more professional modus operandi.

Those challenges ultimately impact the capacity of CSOs in Morocco to actively take part in advocacy and decision-making processes. According to the Ministry in Charge of Relationship with Civil Society, it is estimated that less than 15% of CSOs in Morocco are capable of engaging in advocacy[xxvii].


Local CSOs in the context of social mobilization: back to Jerada

It is difficult today to assess whether CSOs’ play an active role in defending the socio-economic rights as stipulated by their new constitutional prerogatives. In the case of the protest movement in Jerrada in 2018, some CSOs have been mobilized to defend the detainees of the Hirak and have created a coordination committee. The committee called for the liberation of the detainees and insisted that the social protest movement in Jerada was legitimate with a clear objective to denounce the poor living conditions in the region. This clearly highlights that human rights issues are still part of the concerns of Moroccan CSOs. However, such late call to action represents more of a reactive rather than a proactive approach.

To understand the role of CSOs within the context of the Hirak of Jerada, the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA) conducted in September 2018 a field study based on in-depth interviews with ten local participants who civil society actors and ordinary citizens.

The findings indicate that the initial activities of CSOs in Jerada were articulated around the work of labour unions. As a mining city, the workers at the coal mines organised themselves in labour unions. At later stages, new CSOs emerged to help fight silicosis, a disease linked to inhaling chemical substance in the mining process.

Starting from 2005 the number of CSOs in Jerada has significantly increased with the launching of the INDH, echoing what happened in other parts of the country. Those newly created CSOs were in charge of helping local communities start micro projects. Since that time, hundreds of new CSOs were created in Jerada but only three to four of them are considered to be active according to the study.  in this regard, one interviewed participant claims that “the increase in the number of local CSOs in Jerada was purely of quantitative and not qualitative nature. This increase did not translate into better organisation and services”.

While interviewed participants agreed that the local CSOs are positively contributing to some micro projects, they assert that technical challenges are jeopardising their work. Those challenges are linked to their lack of managerial and communication leadership which makes their work very occasional and cyclical. As such they are perceived mostly as doing charity work rather than adhering to a long-term sustainable local development vision. They are also not perceived as playing an active role in the decision-making process.

Within the context of the Hirak, interviewed participants considered that CSOs’ role would have been to engage in mediation between the local population and the authorities. According to the study, this mediatory role was not properly played by CSOs, political parties and the authorities, who have not been willing to engage with each other. According to one interviewed participant in the study, the lack of communication and coordination between CSOs and decision makers in Jerada compromised any change for developing the region.


Toward a more impactful role in the public decision-making process

Within this changing context marked by the multiplication of social movements and a crisis of trust in both the state and the political parties, CSOs have an important role to fulfil. This role should transcend the mere implementation of micro development projects to a playing more active role in advocacy and decision-making processes.  In order for CSOs to play this role, today there is a vital need to overcome internal challenges that limit their capacity to actively take part in the decision-making process in the country.

More concretely, to improves their internal capacitates, CSOs should:

  • Professionally manage their activities: this include better communication with local communities and clearer articulation of goals (as most of them have generic goals articulated around a broad understanding of socio- economic development). Managing activities in more professional ways will endow them with the capacity of sustaining their work rather than engaging in ad hoc cyclical activities.
  • Strengthen their internal governance structures: CSOs in Morocco are generally the kind of “one-man show”, i.e. linked and directly associated with their founders rather than their activities. This raises the issue of transparency in terms of managing funds. To overcome such limitations, CSOs should be more transparent and adopt good governance practices. Engaging in such reforms will enable CSOs to attract and retain qualified staff and increase their chances to get access to funding. Both elements are determining factors for CSOs’ capacity to advocate and emerge as an important player in the decision-making process.

To ensure such efficient participation in the decision-making process, CSOs should:

  • Proactively participate in the decision-making process: most of the CSOs that are taking part in the decision-making process in Morocco are doing it in reactive rather than proactive ways. Proactively participating in the decision-making process implies regular communication with decision makers via different channels and consultative bodies.

While CSOs have to engage in restructuring themselves in order to build their capacity to emerge as an active participant in the decision-making process, the state is also responsible for enacting the constitutional article 13 to ensuring the concrete establishment of CSOs consultative and network bodies. Such bodies will help CSOs cooperate and coordinate their work which is critical to reach a threshold that is audible for decision-makers.

In broader terms, freedom of association’s principles as outlined in the 2011 constitution should be the major underlining principle governing the relationship of CSOs with the government. The cyclical dissolution of CSOs cannot contribute to the creation of an environment of mutual trust, which compromises the chance to build a long-term partnership between the state and civil society.



[i] As of April 15th, 2019.

[ii] « L’association Racines soutenue par Noam Chomsky, Mathieu Kassovitz et Leila Slimani », Telquel, 24 January 2019. https://telquel.ma/2019/01/24/dissoute-lassociation-racines-soutenue-par-noam-chomsky-mathieu-kassovitz-et-leila-slimani_1626311 (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[iii]“Court Rules to Close Moroccan Cultural Organization, Causing Alarm”, Al-Fnar Media, 28 February 2019,  https://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2019/02/court-rules-to-close-moroccan-cultural-organization-causing-alarm/ (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[iv] Human Rights Watch 2018 Annual report, https://www.hrw.org/fr/world-report/2019/country-chapters/325419 (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[v]“ Trois détenus de Jerada entament une grève de la faim’’, H24 info, 25 January 2019, https://www.h24info.ma/actu/trois-detenus-de-Jerrada-entament-une-greve-de-la-faim/ (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[vi]“Jerrada: 18 manifestants condamnés à des peines de prison allant de 2 à 4 ans”, Huffpost ,18 January 2019, https://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/entry/Jerrada-18-manifestants-condamnes-a-des-peines-de-prison-allant-de-2-a-4-ans_mg_5c41a2e2e4b0a8dbe16ffbb7 (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[vii] See reference in footnote 5

[viii] It should be remembered that the protest movement in Jerada started in December 2017 following the death of two brothers under dramatic circumstances in an abandoned coal mine. Despite government promises to close the mines and to promote other forms of economic activities in the region of Jerada, miners continue to risk their lives daily to retrieve coal in abandoned mines. The latest casualty was reported on the 7th of November 2018 when a young miner lost his life in a mine in Hassi Belal close to Jerada.

[ix]‘’ Des associations appellent à la libération des détenus de Jerrada au Maroc’’, VOA Afrique, 27 April 2018.

[x]“’ Jerrada: Suite à l’arrestation d’une vingtaine de personnes, des comités de soutien s’organisent”, Huffpost , 19 March 2018, https://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/entry/politique-maroc_mg_5aafcdebe4b00549ac7d8b5b (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xi] ‘’ Maroc : à Jerada, « les gueules noires » ne décolèrent pas’’, Jeune Afrique, 29 Décembre 2017, https://www.jeuneafrique.com/506167/societe/maroc-a-Jerrada-les-gueules-noirs-ne-decolerent-pas/ (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xii] ‘’Transformation Digitale, Vers une redéfinitions des concepts’’, Les Ecos, 05 July 2018, http://www.leseco.ma/decryptages/focus/68040-vers-une-redefinition-des-concepts.html (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xiii] Abdelilah Essatte, “Protests of Moroccan Margin, the credibility Gap”, Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis 02 August 2018,  https://mipa.institute/5845 (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xiv] Mohamed Daadaoui, “Morocco’s ‘Spring’ and the Failure of the Protest Movement headshot”, HuffPost, 24 February 2016. Link: “ https://www.huffpost.com/entry/moroccos-spring-and-the-failure-of-the-protest-movement_b_9287158” (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xv] Mohammed Masbah, “Let it Spoil!”: Morocco’s Boycott and the Empowerment of ‘Regular’ Citizen, Al Jazeera Center for Studies and Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, December 6, 2018. Link: “https://mipa.institute/6216”. (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xvi] Mohamed Younsi,’’Jeunes et Politique”, le 360, 28 septembre 2018, http://fr.le360.ma/politique/jeunes-et-politique-linquietante-desaffection-175310 (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xvii] “Morocco Five Years after the Arab Uprisings: Findings from the Arab Barometer”, Arab Barometer, May 8, 2017.

http://www.arabbarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/Morocco_Public_Opinion_Survey_2016.pdf (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xviii] Despite the fact that civil society is more often associated with modern state, civic associations did not come to Morocco with the advent of French colonialism. Artisans and merchants’ groupings as well as Waqf and Zawya trustees existed in pre-colonial Morocco. Those groupings initially helped Moroccans in the pursuit of common interests and served during the colonisation period as the foundation for political mobilisation against the French and the Spanish occupation of the country.

[xix] La contribution de la société civile à l’effort de développement demeure “faible”, Maroc.ma, 17 Avril 2019. http://www.maroc.ma/fr/actualites/la-contribution-de-la-societe-civile-leffort-de-developpement-demeure-faible (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xx] Salma Khouja, La dissolution de l’association Racines confirmée par la justice, Huffpostmaghreb, 16 April 2019. Link  https://www.huffpostmaghreb.com/entry/la-dissolution-de-lassociation-racines-confirmee-par-la-justice_mg_5cb5a880e4b0ffefe3b6937f  (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xxi] Official website of the initiative: hiwarmadani2013.ma

[xxii], ’’Le Dialogue national sur la société civile propose une Charte nationale de la démocratie participative’’, MAP, 21 March 2014,http://www.mapexpress.ma/actualite/societe-civile-et-associative/le-dialogue-national-sur-la-societe-civile-propose-une-charte-nationale-de-la-democratie-participative/ (accessed: 17 April 2019)

[xxiii]’Dernière ligne droite pour le dialogue national sur la société civile’”, Le Matin, 20 March 2014, https://lematin.ma/journal/2014/concertations_derniere-ligne-droite-pour-le-dialogue-national-sur-la-societe-civile/198992.html (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xxiv] ‘’Feuille de route pour l’engagement de L’UE envers la société civile : 2015-1017”,  Moucharaka Mouwatina, https://moucharaka-mouwatina.ma/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/FEUILLE-DE-ROUTE-DE-LUE-POUR-LENGAGEMENT-ENVERS-LA-SOCI%C3%89T%C3%89-CIVILE.pdf (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xxv]The index report can be found at: https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1866/CSOSI_MENA_Regional_Report_3.pdf (accessed: 17 April 2019).

[xxvi] La contribution de la société civile à l’effort de développement demeure “faible”. Op Cit.

[xxvii] Khalfi: (min bayn 160 alf jamiaa, 15 fi mia fakat kadira ala tarafu’a li faidate al mujtama’a al madani (Out of 160.000 association, on 15% are able to advocate for Civil society), Alyaoum 24, December 2018. Link:   http://m.alyaoum24.com/1182999.html (accessed: 17 April 2019).

Kathya Berrada

Kathya Berrada

Is a research associate at a Moroccan based think tank. Before returning to Morocco, Kathya worked for a rating agency and consultancy firms in France and Belgium. Kathya holds a Master degree in Business from Grenoble Graduate Business School. Her current research interests relate to institutional changes, entrepreneurial dynamics and inclusive economic development in the MENA region.

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