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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Moroccan king targets slums
By Sebastian Usher
BBC, Morocco

King Mohammed VI launching the housing project
King Mohammed has called for a 'holy war' on slums
King Mohammed VI of Morocco has given a new boost to efforts to eradicate the shanty towns that blight the country's main cities.

On a tour of the north of the country, the king presided over the start of building work on new housing projects for slum dwellers in Tangier.

The poverty of the Tangier slums has made them a breeding ground for the twin challenges to the Moroccan state - Islamic extremism and drug trafficking.

The lavishness of the inaugural ceremony was in stark contrast to the hopeless poverty the new housing projects are meant to redress.

Flanked by soldiers from the Royal Guard and the cream of local dignitaries, King Mohammed inspected several sites that should soon provide decent housing for a few of the tens of thousands of the poor living in illegal, makeshift shacks around Tangier.


The housing projects are part of a programme to provide 100,000 affordable new homes in Tangier.

Building site
Residents of the new houses will have more space

The idea is not just to rehouse the poor but to reconnect them to Moroccan society.

Their squalid living conditions make the young in particular easily susceptible to being drawn into the drugs trade or the grip of Islamic extremism.

Both threaten the state - the drugs networks providing an alternative economy and power base that in the north rivals that of the authorities, while the dangers of Islamic militancy hit home with last May's bombings in Casablanca.

Two years ago this week King Mohammed called for a holy war against the social conditions that create the slums.

Now, with the start of the campaign for the local elections on 12 September, there is much talk by the political parties of the importance of making the local state apparatus genuinely accountable for everyone in the community.

But the main parties are having difficulties in finding anyone to stand for election in the shanty towns, so marginalized have they become.

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