Saturday, March 24, 2012

Parliamentary Assembly of the Euro-Mediterranean Union and "Le Maroc qui Bouge"

This morning as I was jogging down Boulevard Mohammed V, I was surprised to see a row stretching several blocks of tourist vans and buses outside of Parliament. Upon the windshield of each car was an official looking piece of paper that said that it was the "8ième édition de l'Assemblée Parlementaire de l'Union Euro-Méditerranée" (8th annual Parliamentary Assembly for the Euro-Mediterranean Union). The assembly, which is having conferences today and tomorrow in Rabat, will be discussing ways in which the European Union and North Africa can work together to improve overall economic and sociopolitical stability in the region as well as with their global allies.  More specifically, they will be talking about ways that parliamentary deputies can support their colleagues whose home countries are undergoing a democratic transition as a result of the Arab Spring. Another major talking point will be about the role that North African economies have in reviving economic growth in the European Union. With the most recent commercial agreement signed between Morocco and and the European Union earlier this year, the EU believes that the key to ensuring a bright future in Europe is by improving their relationships with their neighbors on the other side of the Mediterranean.

Since arriving in Morocco last August, I have noticed an undeniable shift of perspective - whereas in previous decades it had always been North Africa looking for cues and guidance from their colonial patriarchs like France, Spain, and Italy, the tables have now been turned. With the European Union struggling to stay afloat amidst its severe economic crisis as sociopolitical morale hits an all-time low, it is time for the once "top-dogs" to look to their developing southern neighbors for guidance and support. In January of this year, Stephan Füle, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, visited Morocco. After his visit, he concluded that the country was going in the right direction and was very pleased with its reform developments made so far. Morocco is one of the fastest growing developing countries in the world, and it is no secret that there is serious consideration on both sides to make it one of the first "Arab" countries to join the European Union.

However, with anything growing at the speed that Morocco is, growing pains are inevitable. In the last two years a beautiful new bridge was built to connect Rabat and Salé, its neighbor across the river. A tramway was built (with intention to further expand its route in the near future) in Rabat was a safe and efficient way for commuters and students to get around the city. Morocco Mall in Casablanca opened earlier this year and is the first world-class mall in Africa (It also has two Starbucks Coffees and an aquarium). A high-speed TGV-style train line opened between Casablanca and Tangiers. Every time I revisit cities across the country I am immediately struck by how much it has developed since last time I was there - roads are wider, new luxury hotels and condominiums are built, new glossy car models fill the downtown road systems. Moroccan development is moving at a high velocity and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Even though the major cities are receiving serious makeovers, it only takes a train or bus ride to remember that Moroccan progress is by no means all-encompassing. On the train ride between Rabat and Tangiers for instance you pass mostly through farmlands and small villages with tin-roofed clay houses and sheep scattered about in the fields. The closest taste these communities have to the development witnessed in the major cities is through their satellite televisions. As the sun was going down, we passed by a small town about 30 minutes outside of Asilah where it seemed like the entire town was sitting along the hillside waiting for the train. We heard faint cheering and saw them all waving to us as we sped past. It was a beautiful sight. Despite their remote positioning, the villagers recognize the train as a symbol of progress and hope for the country. Everyday, they watch the train come and go along the tracks carrying families, businessmen and women, and tourists from city to city. Even though they aren't passengers aboard, the train helps them stay connected to "Le Maroc qui bouge" (Moving Morocco).

With Morocco's impeccable geopolitics, and social, political, and economic stability, it is no surprise that Morocco is becoming an important regional player. While many other countries in the MENA region continue to be engulfed in sociopolitical upheaval and Europe in the midst of an economic downfall, Morocco is rising to the occasion as a beacon of hope in the darkness. I just hope that as Morocco continues to develop and become increasingly involved in European and Western politics that it doesn't leave behind a part of itself in the process.