Women in Morocco are at the forefront of resistance to destruction of traditional practices of holding land in common, according to a recent article in the New York Times. The Moroccan state is in the process of privatizing tribal common lands — known as Sulaliyyate — in the name of economic efficiency. The Morocco Free Trade Agreement with the United States has accelerated the government’s privatization program as foreign investors seek to acquire land. The trade off between social welfare and trade liberalization should be familiar to every American who has not been asleep in the 30 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect thirty years ago.
The women must fight on several fronts. On the first, they are trying to defend against encroachment on their rights to hold and use land in common for agriculture and pasture. On the second, they are fighting to have their voice heard when it has historically been silenced. Finally, on the third, they are fighting for equal inheritance rights to a stake in the ownership of the land, which have traditionally been limited to men.
Souad Eddouada, a professor at the University of Kenitra who specializes in gender studies, said: “All over the country, women are at the forefront because they are less vulnerable to police brutality and incarceration. They became very successful in their fight. They had to leave their homes and were supported by the men.”
In a Fight for Land, a Women’s Movement Shakes Morocco, New York Times. The Times points out that the women’s activism is consistent with constitutional reforms codifying greater rights for women in a society where gender inequality is often stark, but they still face an uphill battle.
In a country where the monarchy worries about social stability and popular unrest, His Majesty might be well advised to review the history of the enclosure movement in early modern England. Large landowners acquired and enclosed common lands in the name of increased agricultural production, depriving the populace of their livelihoods and forcing them into urban slums. In Scotland, the “clearances,” in which Highlanders were driven off their land to make way for sheep, reached near genocidal proportions and impelled mass migration to the New World.
Not surprisingly, the efforts at enclosure met with popular resistance, including violence in some cases:
Commoners responded by organizing vigilante bands which committed ever more brazen acts of resistance. One masked gang, whose leader styled himself King John, on one morning in 1721, killed 11 deer out of the Bishop’s Park at Farnham and rode through Farnham market with them at 7 am in triumph. On another occasion when a certain Mr Wingfield started charging poor people for offcuts of felled timber which they had customarily had for free, King John and his merry men ring-barked a plantation belonging to Wingfield, leaving a note saying that if he didn’t return the money to the peasants, more trees would be destroyed. Wingfield paid up. King John could come and go as he pleased because he had local support — on one occasion, to refute a charge of Jacobinism, he called the 18th century equivalent of a press-conference near an inn on Waltham Chase. He turned up with 15 of his followers, and with 300 of the public assembled, the authorities made no attempt to apprehend him. He was never caught, and for all we know also eventually became a chief constable.
Simon Fairlie, A Short History of Enclosure in England. It was only through harsh repression in the form of the “Black Acts” that popular resistance was quelled. Equally significant for modern Morocco, where the bidonvilles are overflowing, is that the destruction of the commons created a large and restive underclass deprived of their former means of subsistence and absorbed only by the expansion of urban slums that provided a cheap source of labor in the form of their miserable inhabitants. In light of the relatively high level of unemployment in Morocco, it is doubtful that this safety valve exists.
It might behoove the kingdom to heed the voices of its women.