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Posted on September 9th, 2012, by

Historically, Morocco and Tunisia were closely intertwined and since the ancient times their development was closely related to each other.

Moreover, during a considerable part of their history, both countries were under the control of other countries, which proved to be stronger and more powerful, while some of them, such as the Roman Empire, were the major world’s power. As for the modern history of Morocco and Tunisia, it should be said that they gained their independence only in the middle of the 20th century, since both countries used to be under the control of France, which was the major power in the North Africa region.

In such a way, both Morocco and Tunisia have the common history, which to a significant extent, determined the similarity between the two countries. On the other hand, the colonial past of Morocco and Tunisia influenced consistently their current socioeconomic and cultural development. In this respect, it should be said that both countries have considerable difficulties in overcoming socioeconomic backwardness resulting from their colonial status in the past. At the same time, both countries aim at the consistent, qualitative improvement of standards of living.

In this respect, it should be said that Morocco and Tunisia have already achieved a considerable progress in their socioeconomic development, but one of the major problems of both countries at the present epoch is the problem of the development of democratic institutions and the protection of human rights and liberties in Morocco and Tunisia. In actuality, in spite of the efforts of the local authorities as well as public movements, which though are underdeveloped compared to well-developed, democratic countries, the current situation concerning human rights in Morocco and Tunisia are far from perfect. To put it more precisely, the facts of the violation of human rights are still widely spread in both countries, while the level of democratization of Morocco and Tunisia is still relatively low. This is why these countries can hardly be viewed as truly democratic, though the general direction of the development of Morocco and Tunisia aims at the further democratization of countries.

In such a context, the position of women in Morocco and Tunisia is particularly difficult, especially compared to well-developed democratic countries, including their former metropolitan France, or such countries as the US or countries of the EU. In actuality, the position of women in Morocco and Tunisia is quite controversial since, on the one hand, they have already started to improve their social status and role in the society and family, while, on the other hand, women are still predominantly underrepresented in both countries that naturally deprives them of an opportunity to influence directly the national policies concerning gender-related issues as well as the general development of countries. However, it is obvious that the current position of women in Morocco and Tunisia is determined by multiple factors, including socioeconomic development of countries, their cultural background, the development of democracy and the role of feminist movements in these countries as well as public organizations at large.

The socioeconomic development of Morocco and Tunisia

In actuality, Morocco and Tunisia are independent states that conduct independent policies or, at any rate, attempt to do this. In this respect, it is important to precise the fact that the colonial past of Morocco and Tunisia defined the socioeconomic development of both countries for decades ahead. In fact, even though both countries gained formal independence in the mid-20th century, when France granted them with political independence, Morocco and Tunisia apparently lacked the real independence as nation states. What is meant here is the fact that Morocco and Tunisia apparently lacked the experience of stat construction and, when they gained the independence, they faced serious challenges in the development of truly independent states.

Having scarce experience as independent states, Morocco and Tunisia attempted to combine local cultural traditions and political models and experience of leading states of the world. In this regard, France as the former metropolitan state, which controlled both Morocco and Tunisia, was taken by both countries as a model for their sociopolitical development. It is worth mentioning the fact that the influence of France in Morocco and Tunisia remained very significant even the countries got the formal independence. Before the independence the colonial administration ruled both countries and defined its policies, while local authorities performed rather formal functions since they did not have the actual authority and could not conduct policies regardless of the position of France. As a result, as France and French administration withdrew from Morocco and Tunisia, local authorities proved to be unable to mange countries effectively.

In such a situation, both Tunisia and Morocco soon slipped to radicalism, which was constantly nourished by radical Islamists who were very influential in both countries. In this respect, it is important to underline the fact that both Morocco and Tunisia are predominantly Muslim countries, which are the major religions of the local population. Obviously, in the situation when the countries faced serious socioeconomic problems and political authorities could not lead the countries to a better life, the local population naturally started to support local religious leaders, some of which tended to the radicalization of traditional Islamic concepts and ideas.

Naturally, the radicalization of society of both Morocco and Tunisia contributed to the social and political instability. Consequently, basic democratic institutions and principles could not develop normally in Morocco and Tunisia, which have never experienced being democratic states in the past. The local population readily supported movements and leaders which promised well-being for all people and, at the same time, readily violated basic human rights and liberties oppressing the opposition. In such a context, till present days, democracy is underdeveloped in both countries, while the protection of human rights and  liberties is still questioned by many international organizations, such as eth Amnesty International,  as well as political leaders of democratic countries[1].

On the other hand, it is necessary to take into consideration local specificities which influence the political life of Morocco and Tunisia and their democratization. For instance, Morocco is still a monarchy, though the power of the monarch is limited and defined by the Constitution[2]. At this point, it should be said that the monarchy is a tradition state form for Morocco since, even being under the French control, Morocco maintained the monarchic rule, though the monarch rather performed a role of a puppet in hands of French puppeteers than a true ruler of the country. In this regard, Tunisia is different from Morocco since this country is a republic, which also has its own Constitution[3]. At the same time, the different government forms do not necessarily mean that political systems are totally different. In stark contrast, the Constitutions of both countries were created on the basis of European Constitutions with implementation of local cultural norms and traditions. In fact, both Constitutions provide citizens of Morocco and Tunisia with basic human rights and liberties that makes them similar. In addition, the political system of Morocco and Tunisia implies the division of powers between three branches: legislative, judicial and executive, which are supposed to control each other.

However, another remarkable feature, which actually makes both Morocco and Tunisia similar, is the fact that the formal division of power and the declared protection of human rights and liberties by the state are rather the declaration of intentions of the state to build up a democratic state in Morocco as well as in Tunisia. But, in actuality, the situation with human rights and liberties as well as the division of powers is far from perfect. To put it more precisely, according to numerous reports of international organizations aiming at the protection of human rights worldwide, human rights and liberties are still violated in both countries. In this respect, it should be said that it is not only political liberties and rights that are often violated by the ruling elite, but it is also other basic human rights, including the freedom of press, which are still violated in Morocco and Tunisia[4].

In addition, it is important to point out the poor education in both countries. In actuality, the level of education in Morocco and Tunisia is very low, especially compared to developed countries. As a rule, to get a high qualification, students from Morocco and Tunisia have to go to developed countries, mainly France, where they get their higher education[5]. However, it does not mean that any student in Morocco or Tunisia has an opportunity to go abroad and get a higher education in France, for instance. In stark contrast, it is rather a privilege of the elite than the accessible opportunity to all students. In this regard, Morocco and Tunisia are very similar since the most prospective students who have an opportunity to study abroad flee their motherland with uncertain perspectives concerning their return back to either Morocco or Tunisia. As for students that study at Morocco and Tunisia, their qualification is considered to be approximately at the similar, but low level compared to the qualification of specialists graduating from European Universities[6].

Obviously, the poor education and numerous political problems aggravate the socioeconomic problems of Tunisia and Morocco. In actuality, the national economies of both countries traditionally stumble because of the almost permanent political crisis and poor opportunities for the rapid acceleration of economic development by means of the introduction of new technologies or due to the development of knowledge-based industries, for instance. At the same time, speaking about the current economic development of Morocco and Tunisia, it is necessary to remember about their colonial past and post-colonial economic development.

In this respect, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that after gaining the political independence neither Morocco nor Tunisia had become truly independent economically. What is meant here is the fact that, during the colonial epoch, national economies of Morocco and Tunisia were severely exploited by the French. As a result, when both countries gained their independence, their economies were still oriented on France that naturally made them economically dependent on this country and allowed France to influence national policies in Morocco and Tunisia. However, what was more dangerous for the national economy was the mainly agricultural orientation of national economies of Morocco and Tunisia.

For instance, even at the present days, the Tunisian economy is mainly oriented on the production of textile, olive oil and carpets[7]. As for Morocco, this country is also mainly oriented on the exploitation of natural resources it posses. To put it more precisely, the main exporting industry of Morocco is the mining of phosphates and the production of cannabis. In such a situation, both countries simply export their natural resources and agricultural products that increases their dependence on the situation in international markets in respective industries. However, it is worth mentioning the fact that Morocco’s second largest source of income is from nationals living abroad who transfer money to relatives living in Morocco[8]. This trend is not so significant in Tunisia.

At the same time, it is important to underline that in the late 20th century the early 21st century, Morocco and Tunisia started to develop the tourism industry which could boost the development of national economy and accelerate the economic progress of both countries. At this point, it should be said that it is mainly to the development of tourism Morocco and Tunisia have managed to improve consistently its socioeconomic development and accelerate the growth of GDP (see Table 1 and 2). For instance, the per capita GDP of Morocco has increased from USD 1649 in 2003 to USD 2316 in 2007, while the per capita GDP of Tunisia has increased from USD 2525 in 2003 to USD 3390 in 2007 (Table 1 and 2). In such a way, the growth of per capita GDP in both countries clearly indicates to the positive trends in national economies and to a substantial growth of standards of living in both countries. At the same time, the difference in per capita GDP in Morocco and Tunisia reveals the fact that there a significant gap between the level of GDP in the two countries. To put it more precisely, even though the total GDP of Tunisia is lower compared to that of Morocco, the higher per capita GDP clearly indicates to the fact that Tunisians are more productive or, at any rate, their standards of life are higher compared to the standards of life in Morocco.

However, it is hardly possible to speak about a significant difference in the standards of living in Morocco and Tunisia because both countries suffer from a huge gap in the level of income. What is meant here is the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor in two countries is enormous. As a result, the overwhelming majority of both countries live in poverty or, at least, approaching the level of the middle-class, while a few rich receives exorbitant incomes. This income inequality contributes to the growing social tension which can have a negative impact on the development of national economies and this problem is common to both Morocco and Tunisia.

The status and position of women in Morocco and Tunisia

Naturally, the socioeconomic development of Morocco and Tunisia could not fail to affect the status and position of women in these countries. On analyzing the status of women in Morocco and Tunisia, it is necessary to take into consideration historical and cultural factors which are as significant as, or even more significant than socioeconomic and political factors. To put it more precisely, historically, women played secondary role in Tunisian and Moroccan societies. This tradition is explained by the socioeconomic dominance of men, who actually controlled practically all spheres of socioeconomic life of the society, while the role of women was restricted by the domain of the family and household. In such a situation, Tunisian and Moroccan women could not play any significant social role and, therefore, their participation in political and socioeconomic life of their countries was minimal. Moreover, until the present epoch Tunisian and Moroccan women were even deprived of the right to vote and, therefore, they could not participate in the political life of their countries at all.

In addition, it is necessary to remember about the impact of Islam which was and still is the dominant religion in Morocco and Tunisia. In fact, traditionally Islam supported the patriarchal principles and relations within the society. In such a way, it is possible to estimate that Islam laid the ideological foundation to the current position of women. On the other hand, it does not mean that Islam justifies the inferior position of women in Tunisia and Morocco as well as in any other country of the world. Instead, it just maintains traditions and norms which have persisted in these countries for decades and centuries, increasing the rigidness of national culture and traditions of Morocco and Tunisia and enhancing existing biases and prejudices in regard to women. In such a way, it proves beyond a doubt that the status of women in Morocco and Tunisia is lower compared to the social status of men, who are traditionally perceived as leaders in Moroccan and Tunisian society.

However, at the present epoch the position of women has started to change and modern women are willing to change their social status and improve their current position. In this respect, Morocco outpace Tunisia since the position of Moroccan women is better compared to the position of women in Tunisia. At any rate, the social consciousness of Moroccan women stimulates their struggle for their rights, while Tunisian women and Tunisian society at large seems to be unprepared at the moment to radical changes in gender roles and position of women in the society.

On analyzing the changes in the position of Moroccan women compared to Tunisian women, it is possible to refer to two fields: politics and economy. In actuality, Moroccan women have made a considerable progress in this regard in recent years, while Tunisian women have failed to improve their position in the national politics and economy consistently. To put it more precisely, today, Moroccan women have larger opportunities to earn money and increase their income that will definitely provide them with ample opportunities to become more independent of men. For instance, specialists[9] argue that micro-credit firms in Morocco provide rural women with more opportunities to earn income to support their families and, today, micro-credits draw more women than men that indicates at the high economic activity of women in the country. As for Tunisia, their involvement in business and economic activities is still very low and they are more concerned with their families and households than with job or business opportunities.

At the political level Moroccan women are also in an advantageous position compared to Tunisian women. The latter are underrepresented in the political life of the country and their participation in national politics is minimal. In contrast, Moroccan women struggle for their political rights and attempt to gain their own place in their national politics. For instance, recently, the Moroccan government has offered financial incentives to parties fielding female candidates. In such a way, the government attempts to stimulate political parties to the involvement of women into the active political life of the country and to increase their representation in national politics[10].

At the same time, it does not necessarily mean that Tunisian women are absolutely unwilling to improve their position or that the Tunisian society is against such improvement. In stark contrast, specialists[11] argue that 78% of Tunisians and 71% of Moroccans generally agree that women should have the same legal rights as men. Furthermore, 84% of Tunisians and 84% of Moroccans believe that women should be allowed to vote without interference from the part of members of their families, while 82% of Moroccans and 76% of Tunisians agree that women should be allowed to have any job outside the home that they are qualified for[12]. Finally, 75% of Moroccans and 70 % of Tunisians support the right for women to occupy political office[13].

Conclusion

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of Morocco and Tunisia is, to a significant extent similar, due to the similar history, culture and the level of socioeconomic and political development of these countries. At the same time, these countries face similar problems they have to solve in order to become prosperous, wealthy and democratic countries. In such a situation, the development of national economies is very important because they create the basis for positive socioeconomic and political changes. In addition, the public movements are also very important since they can protect human rights and improve the position of deprived categories of the population. In this respect, the position of women was traditionally difficult because they were deprived of basic human rights and opportunities in Morocco and Tunisia and still often remain  underrepresented in the political life of their countries and barely involved in economic activates. However, recently, the position of women, especially in Morocco, has started to change for better.



[1] Danaher, C. Seven Arguments for Reforming World Economy. London: Routeledge, 1999.

[2] Morocco. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 2008.  Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100602.htm

[3] Tunisia. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 2008.  Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100607.htm

[4] Danaher, C. Seven Arguments for Reforming World Economy. London: Routeledge, 1999.

[5] Gomory, R.E. Globalization: Causes and Effects. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

[6] Gomory, R.E. Globalization: Causes and Effects. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

 

[7] Gomory, R.E. Globalization: Causes and Effects. New York: Touchstone, 2002.

[8] Khor, M. Global Economy and the Third World. New York: New Publishers, 2001.

[9] Belhaj, I. Morocco offers financial incentives to parties fielding female candidates. Magharebia in Casablanca. October 17, 2008. Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2008/10/17/feature-01

 

[10] Belhaj, I. Morocco offers financial incentives to parties fielding female candidates. Magharebia in Casablanca. October 17, 2008. Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2008/10/17/feature-01

[11] Rheault, M. Majorities Support Women’s Rights in North Africa. 2007. Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.muslimwestfacts.com/mwf/29101/Majorities-Support-Womens-Rights-North-Africa-110807.aspx

 

[12] Rheault, M. Majorities Support Women’s Rights in North Africa. 2007. Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.muslimwestfacts.com/mwf/29101/Majorities-Support-Womens-Rights-North-Africa-110807.aspx

 

[13] Rheault, M. Majorities Support Women’s Rights in North Africa. 2007. Retrieved on December 1, 2008 from http://www.muslimwestfacts.com/mwf/29101/Majorities-Support-Womens-Rights-North-Africa-110807.aspx

 

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