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05CASABLANCA1304 2005-12-19 17:39:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Casablanca
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1. (C) Summary: Casablanca,s senior urban managers are
increasingly active and focused in their efforts to deal with
the challenges posed by poverty and hopelessness in the
city,s poorest neighborhoods. Their strategy is to counter
the active Islamist presence by providing increased services,
support, and presence -- where very little existed before the
Casablanca bombings in 2003 ) for the population. Though
they are optimistic and determined, and have found strong
support from King Mohammed, none suggest their efforts will
lead to quick success. End Summary.

2. (C) Ground zero for the Moroccan government,s efforts
to deal with the Islamic extremist threat is Sidi Moumen, the
district where many of those responsible for carrying out the
May, 2003 Casablanca bombings came from. It remains a very
poor neighborhood, with some 300,000 inhabitants who live in
slums (&bidonvilles8 in the local parlance) or near-slums.
The GOM strategy to deal with the extremist threat spawned by
the poverty and hopelessness of its large urban underclass
has several layers, among them local, district-specific
initiatives aimed at filling the vacuum in services and
support for the poor, which Islamist groups, some with
extremist goals, are also trying to fill.

3. (C) During a recent round of meetings with
Casablanca,s governors, we had a chance to discuss some of
the on-the-ground efforts of city leaders who are responsible
for the day-to-day management of issues at the level of the
city,s eight prefectures. One of those governors, whose
jurisdiction covers Sidi Moumen in the district of Sidi
Bernoussi, was Hassan Ben M,Barek. M,Barkek is in his
mid-fifties, French-educated, and has risen through the
greater Casablanca bureaucracy in a succession of staff jobs.
He is sharp, activist, practical, and unpretentious. His
selection as governor in 2000 reflects the strong confidence
in his experience and capabilities by the new team brought in
by the King to manage the city after the 2003 bombings.

4. (C) Ben M,Barek operates in a new bureaucratic
framework with considerable less autonomy then Casablanca,s
prefecture governors once enjoyed. He reports to the Wali of
Casablanca, a trusted advisor to the King, former Minister of
Finance, and agile businessman, who the King appointed this
year. Together with his fellow governors ) most of whom
echoed the views of Ben M,Barek on dealing with the
influence of extremists in the slums -- the Wali has
responsibility for coordinating efforts throughout the city,
and for delivering instructions from the King, and filtering
advice to the King on what have become issues which are
directly linked to stability in the Kingdom.

5. (C) Inside of his office, Ben M,Barek had a stack of
recent, poster-size satellite photos of his prefecture. Each
was overlayed with notations describing and locating various
NGO and other private projects underway or planned. On his
desk, he was proud to display the &master plan8 for his
prefecture ) a well-organized, tabbed three ring binder with
details on the multiple government sponsored projects aimed
at the poorest neighborhoods in his district. Summarizing
his strategy, he explained that the projects were his
&weapons8 in the &war8 for the hearts and minds of those
in his prefecture.

6. (C) Ben M,Barek was adamant that he would win against
extremists, who he openly acknowledged were in competition
with him. &The people will go in the direction of which
side meets their basic needs ) shelter, education,
electricity, water, and other services. We are going to do
that.8 He explained that, until the last couple of years,
there was a vacuum in Sidi Moumen. Islamic groups had
stepped in to fill part of it, meeting some of the service
needs of the population. This is no longer the case,
however. &They will be easy to defeat ) all it requires is
time and resources. The people just want to know that
someone is looking after their needs.8 Another governor
told us that he is in active competition with Islamist
groups: &they are there ) we see them in the same
neighborhoods every day.8

7. (C) When we asked hether the budgets he had were
sufficient to mov ahead with all of his plans, Ben M,Barek
was moe cautious. &It,s ok, but not perfect. But you

have to work with what you have.8 He was optimistic,
however, that more funding was on the way. His district has
been showered with royal attention. Since the Casablanca
bombings, he said, the King had made five visits to Sidi
Moumen. &He knows the neighborhoods, knows the territory.
He understands what needs to be done.8 NGOs, the World
Bank, as well as many other domestic organizations have come
to review projects and funding needs.

8. (C) Comment: What is clear is that the city,s
leadership has recognized the consequences of problems in
Casablanca,s poorest neighborhoods and has a strategy and
the will to address them. What is less clear is that they
have the resources to do so, or that overcoming extremist
Islamist challenges, at a local level, will be as
straightforward a task as Ben M,Barek suggests. Progress is
being made, but winning will be a longer-term effort. As
one governor put it, the effort is still in its infancy. He
recounted his satisfaction when, the previous evening, he
went to the poorest area of his district and inaugurated a
new soccer field for teens. When he saw the hundreds of kids
gathered, and their happiness at having a place to come to
play, he told us he turned to his chief of staff and said
&we,ve occupied the territory ) that is a step forward.8