Samia Errazzouki, “Working-Class Women Revolt: Gendered Political Economy in Morocco.” The Journal of North African Studies Volume 19, Issue 2 [Special Issue on Women, Gender, and the Arab Spring, edited by Andrea Khalil], March 2014.
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this article?
Samia Errazzouki (SE): I was in Morocco when Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire and many in Morocco, at the time, were anticipating what would follow suit. Not too long after Bouazizi’s self-immolation, on 21 February 2011, Fadoua Laroui, a single mother whose application for public housing was rejected, set herself on fire in front of a municipal office. Her self-immolation took place in the context of a broader call for mobilization in Morocco under the auspices of the 20 February Movement. A little after a year had passed, in March 2012, Amina Filali, a young girl who was forced into a marriage with her rapist, died after she swallowed rat poison. Within a period of just over a year, the suicides of two disenfranchised women in Morocco triggered nationwide outrage, international media coverage, and debates in parliament.
However, existing literature that situated their public suicides was constrained within a neotraditionalist discourse that failed to move beyond cultural or religious explanations for their circumstances. For example, some of these explanations blamed “Arab” and “Muslim” patriarchal culture as the sole reason for why these women were driven to suicide. Other reactions focused simply on the “sinful” act of committing suicide, while failing to recognize the disenfranchisement that drove them to end their lives in such a public manner.
I wrote this article in an attempt to situate the circumstances of these disenfranchised working-class women within a broader political economic framework that considers factors such as the implementation of neoliberal economic policies and the entrenchment of a patriarchal authoritarian regime. With Morocco as the region’s highest borrower from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), political economic literature has tended to assess the neoliberal economic policies that led to income inequalities, poor rural development, high illiteracy rates, widespread unemployment, and an entrenched authoritarian regime that has amassed a great amount of capital, among other factors. This literature, however, tends to gloss over the gendered aspect of these policies and the ways in which they impacted the average Moroccan woman who is situated outside the circle of wealth and power.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the article address?
SE: This article engages the work of scholars who examine the intersectionality of neoliberalism and authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa, and how these forces have shaped the lives of women, such as works by Mervat Hatem and Valentine Moghadam. Their works serve as important starting points for understanding the convergence of these forces in the region. My article moves their work forward by applying it to a specific case and context: the role of working class women during the first two years (2011-2012) of Morocco’s version of the uprisings.
The article also maintains a critical approach toward the liberal discourse of the regime, which has framed political reforms such as the personal status code law reforms and the 2011 constitutional reforms. This discourse has treated these reforms as being major strides, when in actuality, these reforms have failed to change the reality for average Moroccan women. These reforms have also failed to democratize the Moroccan state; instead, they have reinforced the monarchy’s hegemony in less visible ways, since it has been the main actor negotiating the terms and conditions of these reforms. Broadly speaking, this article addresses the political economy of gender relations in Morocco within the context of social mobilization. Quite simply, it goes beyond the tired questions that have reappeared in light of the uprisings, such as “Are Arab women oppressed?” and “What is the status of Arab women?”
J: How does this work connect to and/or depart from your current research?
SE: The research I am currently working on looks at the political economy of gender relations in the broader Maghreb region following the colonial period. As such, this article is directly connected to my research, in that it applies a broader theoretical approach to a specific moment in Morocco. I hope to develop this article further in my MA thesis, which I am in the early stages of beginning at Georgetown University, by applying this framework to Algeria and Tunisia.
J: Who do you hope will read this article, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
SE: Having a foot in both journalism and academia, I hope the readers of this article will be from both worlds. I think the article is unique in that it addresses a historical trajectory and builds upon existing scholarship, while also discussing specific current events. With the advent of the 20 February Movement and the 2011 constitutional reforms, the past two years in Morocco have been the subject of ongoing literature, both in scholarship and in the media. While this literature has broadly addressed the implications of the past two years, there has been a dearth of writing on the political economic developments in Morocco that long preceded the period of the regional uprisings that began in December 2010. These developments include the state-led policies that liberalized the Moroccan economy following the implementation of numerous structural adjustment programs that can be traced back to the 1980s.
I hope that by situating gender relations within this context, this article will spark more debates on what role political economy plays in gender relations, not just in Morocco, but throughout the rest of the region as well.
J: What other projects are you working on now?
SE: I am currently working on an edited volume that looks at the impact of the uprisings on countries in the Maghreb that did not experience a change in regime, mainly Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania. The overarching question being addressed in this volume is how the uprisings in the MENA region influenced policies and actions in the aforementioned countries—countries that have been largely characterized as “exceptions to the ‘Arab Spring.’” Jadaliyya’s sister publishing press, Tadween, will be publishing the volume.
In addition to editing Jadaliyya’s Maghreb Page and working on Jadaliyya’s monthly audio podcast, both of which are always ongoing projects, I am also continuing my freelance writing and pursuing my MA at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.
J: How would you like to see this article affect the discourse regarding reform in Morocco, or around political economy in the region more generally?
SE: Dominant discourses on reform in Morocco have tended to uncritically embrace the regime’s rhetoric and point to measures of political liberalization as “exceptional” in the region. This article is one of many that refute such discourses by pointing to clear indicators on the ground, such as the Moroccan regime’s violent repression of peaceful protests. I see this article as part of a growing trend of critical voices in and from Morocco. With regard to political economy in the region, I hope this article will encourage taking a closer look at the political economy of gender relations within authoritarian contexts.
Excerpt from “Working-Class Women Revolt: Gendered Political Economy in Morocco”
During May 2011, just a month before the draft constitution was made public, video footage circulated widely of riot police violently dispersing protests across the country, from Rabat to Casablanca, and other cities in the northern region. One particular video sparked outrage among Moroccans, where a police officer attacked a woman carrying a child in her arms with a truncheon in the working-class Casablanca suburb, Sbata. The violent attack against the woman was caught on video and disseminated across multiple social media platforms and stood as a testament to multiple issues.
This woman`s presence stood as a threat to the state in multiple ways: she was, firstly, a woman; secondly, she was quite visibly a working-class woman; and thirdly, her presence in an anti-government protest was an expression of her dissent towards the political and economic order. Most importantly, as she stood there withstanding blows from police truncheons while holding a child, her public presence demonstrated a clear break from the norms of her prescribed class membership in Morocco. As a working-class woman living under an authoritarian system which has institutionalized state patriarchy through placing men at the central point when positioning women, her act of defiance strikes multiple levels of the status quo (Hatem 1987).
The symbolic nature of the police officer charging at her repeatedly resonated not just with members of the February 20 Movement but drew media attention and sympathizers from across the political spectrum. The act of a man violently projecting state authority upon a working-class woman protesting, inscribed gender into the social tensions that unfolded. What the video also illustrates is an example of just one of the entrenched hierarchical spectrums of power that cannot be broken down with mere constitutional reforms or minimal changes in subsidies and public wages—as the Moroccan regime attempted to implement in order to quell an uprising. For this reason, it is necessary to contextualize and revisit the plight of working-class Moroccan women.
When examining dissent in Morocco, it is imperative to incorporate gender into the lens of mere opposition against the regime. Incorporating the plight of working-class women who face multiple forces of oppression that operate beyond the state apparatus provides a more nuanced picture of Morocco`s experience of the regional uprisings that overthrew neighboring regimes. Not limited to the woman who faced the police truncheon in Sbata, there have been other instances where working-class women proved that their grievances target the authoritarian neoliberal order and not just the regime. The public manifestation of their plights, such as the self-immolation of Fadoua Laroui and the suicide of Amina Filali, illustrates how their plight has been used as a mobilising force that united Moroccans across the political spectrum. In February 2011, Fadoua Laroui, a single mother whose application for public housing was rejected, set herself on fire in front of a municipal office in Souk Sebt, approximately two hours away from Casablanca. A little over a year later in March 2012, Amina Filali, a young girl who was forced into a marriage with her rapist, committed suicide by swallowing rat poison. The names of women like Fadoua Laroui and Amina Filali do not simply denote the tragic deaths of two Moroccan women. Their names are associated with a greater struggle that transcends anti-government movements and exposes the closeness with which neoliberalism, state patriarchy, and authoritarianism operate as components of the Moroccan regime. Simply drafting a new constitution or electing a new parliament cannot resolve the forces that oppress working-class women. The entrenchment of these forces is embedded within the fabric of society and collectively poses a significant obstacle to working-class women.
 Hatem, Mervat. 1987. “Class and Patriarchy as Competing Paradigms for the Study of Middle Eastern Women.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 29 (4): 811–818.
[Excerpted from Samia Errazzouki, “Working-Class Women Revolt: Gendered Political Economy in Morocco," The Journal of North African Studies Volume 19, Issue 2 (March 2014), by permission of the author. © 2014 Informa UK Limited, an Informa Group Company. For more information, or to read the full article, click here; to subscribe to The Journal of North African Studies, click here.]