Last year saw revolutions across the Arab world, but the so-called “Arab Spring” did not topple the king of Morocco. And while the country has seen calls for greater democracy, many Moroccans dream instead of persuading the king to give them a business.
The powerful monarch has given companies as gifts to thousands of his subjects and in a country where unemployment hovers around fifteen percent, such a gift is prized by millions. Popular Moroccan singer Latifa Raâfat is one of almost 4,000 Moroccans given a bus company by the king. The profitable concern operates a coastal route from the big city of Casablanca to the resort town of Essaouira. Moroccan actors, singers, athletes and other friends of the King also received licenses to run transportation businesses.
But famous Moroccans are not the only beneficiaries of the royal largesse. So, in the ancient marketplace of the capital Rabat, poor market traders also dream of a gift from the king as they sell bric-a-brac on their stalls.
“I want a license. Why not?" says Rachid, as he sells his CDs at the open-air market. "It's a dream. I wish I could meet the King and get three or four licenses”.
When the king appears in public, some Moroccans make a habit of throwing hand-written letters at him, begging for gifts. Moroccan economist Najib Akesbi, however, says this is no way to run a modern economy -- that having the king hand out businesses as gifts is something more suited to the middle ages.
"The King controls everything," Akesbi says. "This isn't a democracy. So, before any economic reforms [occur] in agriculture, industry or taxation, there need to be political reforms to make Morocco a true parliamentary monarchy."
Morocco held democratic elections last fall which put a moderate Islamist government in place, but the King still holds absolute power. Some in the new government now want more economic transparency. Transportation Minister Abdelaziz Rabbah says that's why he released the list of Moroccans who had received bus companies as gifts from the King. However, Akesbi says this move towards transparency probably won’t make much difference.
So many Moroccans continue pinning their hopes on the king one day giving them a business too.
Veronica Jean Seltzer and Sara Ait Khorsa contributed to the reporting of this story.