Eye Witness

July 16, 1999

It is a year since King Hassan II of Morocco decided to appoint exiled socialist opposition leader Abderrahame Youssoufi as prime minister. Youssoufi's first act on return from France was to form a broad coalition government, including traditional Istiqlal, the Democratic Left, close allies of the king and members of his own party.

The past year has brought varying responses to this experiment in switching from one form of governing coalition to another. Many academics have been frustrated at the lack of progress on social, economic and political reform and the failure to meet even their modest hopes of economic liberalisation and integration into the world economy.

Mohamed Mezzine, professor of modern history at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdullah University in Fes, said Youssoufi has yet to set his agenda. "We all felt the time was right for Youssoufi to have a say in government. He'd been in opposition for more than 30 years. But the pace has been very slow - people want something tangible.

"Many of the problems are structural and cannot be resolved in a year. We are on the right course," he said.

The shift in government was marked in more confident public expression of controversial ideas. Moroccan television almost totally excluded women and subjects that concerned them. This is changing, according to Zakia Salim, a sociologist at Fes. "For the first time in Moroccan history, there is an open debate on TV about women's issues. Programmes produced by women are watched with the most interest. There has also been a huge leap in the number of women we can see on television."

Ms Salim works as a volunteer at a centre that promotes women's businesses, providing information and training to young women seeking work.

Some of them are less optimistic. Fatima Raouane is a qualified analyst of chemical compounds in textiles but has not worked since leaving university.

"There's little chance of getting a job. Unless you have the money to buy a position in the company, all the doors are closed," she said.

Sylvia Smith

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