Moroccan civil society and its result, the associative sector, did not come into being overnight. By the end of the 1980s, there were at least 17,000 NGOs in Morocco. However, these organizations were not able to realize their full potential nor were they able to establish their own autonomy vis-à-vis the government because of a lack of resources and appropriate training. Organizations were limited to acting as instruments for the intervening parties in an elite political scene, satisfying certain social needs and neutralizing the potential empowerment of opposing political parties.
For many decades, international support for the Moroccan associative sector remained insignificant as international organizations feared that by supporting local opposing political parties, they would antagonize the Moroccan government. Moreover, the government tried to limit the various organizations’ autonomy. Instead of encouraging them to develop, the government tended to manipulate them for their own purposes. The last decade has witnessed a considerable change in the associative sector and its relationship with the government. Civil society is now blooming and with it the need to strengthen the associative sector’s efforts. In 1996, Espace Associatif was established to help strengthen and train members of the numerous nascent NGOs.
Social, Economic and Political Developments
While Morocco’s GNP ranks it among many rising economy countries, certain social indicators place it with sub-Saharan Africa. In the 1997 UNDP World Report on Human Development, which ranks countries according to a combination of three indicators (literacy, life expectancy rates and purchasing power), Morocco ranked 123rd out of a total of 174 countries included in the report, behind Iraq, Algeria and Egypt. National statistics hide significant urban-rural disparities, preventing the achievement of a more equitable society for all Moroccans. The most recent studies conducted show that while almost 100% of urban dwellers have access to a safe drinking water supply, only 14.3% of rural populations enjoy the same service.
If urban-rural disparities are great, the disparity between rural men and women is possibly greater. While legal gains are being made regarding the status and rights of women, the gains have yet to reach rural areas. According to recent studies conducted by UNICEF, 89% of rural women are illiterate, only 22% of rural girls go to school. More qualitative studies confirm that women are members of Moroccan society who work the hardest, earn the least and are the least educated. Therefore, NGOs have a lot of work in front of them. Espace Associatif aims to unite NGOs working in development and human rights work in order to make a greater impact.
The various initiatives undertaken by NGOs has thus far multiplied and expanded in scope. Their work ranges from defending human rights to economic development, including activities in health, education, environment and culture. The potential influence and power of the associative sector is immense.
NGOs have become more legitimate on the national and international scale while, simultaneously, the extent of their activities and success of their projects are becoming more and more visible to the public eye.