Moroccans Trust Rights Groups, but Islamists Have Greater Reach
Updated: Nov 10
Our surveys show that the public tends to support human rights NGOs in Morocco. These nonprofit groups are mostly secular, however, and cannot hope to rival the mobilizing power of Islamist civil society groups and political parties without better outreach to the general public. By Azimuth advisors Shannon Golden, James Ron, and Rachid Touhtou of Amideast Education Abroad.
Our team surveyed a representative sample of 1,100 Moroccan adults in the cities of Rabat and Casablanca, along with rural areas situated in a 70-mile arc from each. We wanted to know about public trust in all manner of actors, including local NGOs and human rights groups.
We weren't allowed to ask about public opinions towards Western Sahara or the Moroccan king, and couldn't ask for respondents' religion (even though the vast majority of Moroccans are Sunni Muslims).
Other than that, however, we had free reign to ask about pretty much anything we wanted. We learned that the Moroccans are most trusting of their army, religious institutions, prime minister, and police, and least trusting of the US government, multinational corporations, and the United Nations.
To our surprise, both local and international human rights organizations scored comparatively high (see graph above). Indeed, the words "human rights" seemed to evoke greater trust, as confidence in "NGOs" - without the phrase "human rights" - was somewhat lower.
Moroccan human rights organizations’ face-to-face contact with the broader population is infrequent. Only 7% of our sample reported ever having met a “human rights worker” (non-governmental or governmental), and only 1% reported ever having participated in the activities of, or donated money to, a human rights organization
In comparison, the Justice and Charity Organization (JCO), an Islamist social movement, has sunk far deeper social roots in the country. According to one study, the JCO has up to 500,000 followers (its leaders say the real numbers are even higher). Most observers agree that the JCO has built a broad social base through close, frequent contact with the public, strong ideological principles, and attention to organizational detail.
Unlike the secular Moroccan human rights groups, which focused on elite-level, anti-regime activities during the “Years of Lead,” Morocco’s repressive 1970s and 80s, the JCO spent its time building ties to ordinary Moroccans. It trained leaders, cultivated sympathizers and devoted time and effort to its popular base.
Although local rights groups do enjoy the trust of the Moroccan population, good feelings alone cannot sustain a broad-based human rights movement. To do better, Morocco’s rights groups should cultivate a more robust social base.
An earlier version of this blogpost appeared in Open Democracy.