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By Jamila Waadallah
A predator is a being that preys on the weak – it devours and destroys. Think bloodsuckers, buzzards and sharks. It seems harsh to liken any one person to a definition like that. Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent, authors of The Predator King: Plundering Morocco, have no trouble drawing the connection, however. In their book, they explain the "predatory activities" of Morocco's king, Mohammed VI, whose economic machinations have made him rich at the expense of his own country.
Such a publication comes at a cost, though; the book has since been banned in Morocco and the authors face similar restrictions. Graciet, who once worked as a journalist on the opposition newspaper Le Journal Hebdomadaire, is no longer allowed back into the country. Eric Laurent, even though he co-authored La Mémoire d’un Roi, the memoirs of Hassan II, Mohammed VI’s father, is likewise barred from Morocco.
Not that the facts they published were anything new to Moroccans--the local press had revealed much of them during the 2000s--but Graciet and Laurent turned them into a book published by Seuil last March in France, thus exposing the monarchy's hidden truth to the Western audience, long accustomed to see Morocco as a poster child for democratic aspirations. That, for Morocco's royal palace, is an unpardonable offense.
Graciet and Laurent cite a Forbes' 2009 report, "The World's Richest Royals," that shows Morocco's king taking precedence over the Emirs of Qatar and Kuwait to clinch the seventh place spot. With a fortune estimated at over $2.5 billion, he was the only royal to increase his wealth during a year of plunging stocks and sub-prime crises. While his money-making skills resulted in economic gains, they seem to have been limited to the personal sphere. At the time of the report, over 5 million Moroccan citizens were living on $1.20 per day, the poverty level had exceeded 18%, and the country ranked 126th out of 177 countries in terms of human development. The Predator King points out that some of the monarchy's economic know-how could have helped prevent the dramatic disparity between rich and poor that increased during the reign of Mohammed VI.
Nonetheless, Mohammed VI had persuaded the population that his predecessor's "years of lead" were over and that he would be the « king of the poor. » Yet that title sounds odd when you donate 15 million euros to the Louvre in Paris. In The Predator King, Mohammed VI's aloofness is laid bare to the Western public: he is virtually nonexistent in the international scene, and absent for the most part from domestic endeavors--and has abstained from all interviews with Moroccan journalists as well as refusing to hold press conferences. This is juxtaposed with his tight control and hyperactive involvement in his business affairs and, the authors say his "treatment of the country as a captive market subject to his will."
The king derives a good portion of his wealth from the Société Nationale d'Investissement (SNI), an enormous company that controls big chunks of many major economic sectors in the country: banking, agriculture, distribution, construction materials, mining, telecommunications, real estate, energy, etc. Mounir Majidi, the king's private secretary, spearheaded the concept of "national economic champion"--which makes the king, through SNI, a resource tycoon while his country struggles to make ends meet.
As if preying Morocco's private economy was not enough, the state pays king Mohammed VI a monthly salary of $40,000--that's twice as much as the French head of state. In addition to that, the Public Treasury dishes out one million dollars a day for the king's 12 royal palaces and 30 private residences. His royal automobiles are allocated $7,738,200 and his fashion whims take $2,579,400 from the national budget per year. On top of all the bills paid by the state, the subsidized sector guarantees the royal businesses record profits.
The monarchy couldn't cover up all this corruption completely, however and the public did cry out for change. The king acquiesced--or so claimed outside politicos. During his recent official visit to Morocco on April 3, French President Hollande reiterated the myth that genuine political transition had occurred and praised "the process of democratic, economic, and social reform taking place at the king's initiative." But The Predator King shows the democratic transformations to be not much more than lip service. Throughout the book, Graciet and Laurent highlight the ways in which the Moroccan monarchy makes minimal changes for big gains - gains that fill the king's pockets but leave the country empty-handed.