ANALYSIS: Deadly food stampede exposes Morocco's hidden poverty

5:56 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments


MARRAKESH, Morocco – They began gathering at 2am on Sunday to wait in line for cooking oil, sugar and flour that a local imam and his association were distributing at the market in Sidi Boulaalam, a village near the coastal city of Essaouira.

Later that morning, when the group began handing out the free food, the crowd that had gathered quickly became violent and turned into a stampede. Fifteen women died as the imam and others stood by and watched.

“The main concern of the distribution managers was to film the distribution,” a woman cited by the local media said. “People were asking the organisers to intervene to help the victims, but they did not pay attention to these calls and continued to film."

Police are still investigating what exactly provoked the stampede in this tourist city known for Argan oil production, a widely-used ingredient in beauty products.

They have since summoned and subsequently released the imam, Abdelkbir El Hadidi, a well-known figure with a significant internet following.

Still, many observers believe focusing on the food distributors ignored the desperate conditions of the people that led to the deaths.

“They’re looking for culprits to satisfy public opinion,” said Fouad Abdelmoumni, an economist and activist who was jailed under Hassan II, the current king's father.

Some have linked the deaths to wider dissatisfaction with poverty, human rights abuses and the grand infrastructure projects the government has embarked on since the Arab Spring.

According to the World Bank, Morocco has eradicated the extreme poverty that many of its citizens have known for generations.

While the official poverty rate fell to less than 5 percent in 2014 - the most recent data available - almost 16 percent of the country’s 35 million inhabitants live on just $3 a day, according to the World Bank. Unemployment stands at 10 percent, according to government statistics and is much higher among young people. A third of the population still cannot read or write.

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