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05RABAT1250 2005-06-15 17:03:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

GEEKS AND GEEZERS: MOROCCO'S GENERATIONAL DIVIDE

Tags:   ECON EFIN EAID PGOV KMPI MO 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: A new generation of Moroccan leaders is
emerging, characterized by their formative Anglo-Saxon
experiences, entrepreneurial and pro-American outlook, high
levels of education and technical skills, and strong,
well-informed political opinions. They are eager, even
impatient, to both succeed and make a contribution to
Moroccan society. Their dreams and ambitions are now running
head-first into the entrenched interests of Morocco's older,
more established generation, the self-defined business and
government elites. Post believes U.S. assistance programs
should be focused to provide younger, reform-oriented
Moroccans with venues and outlets for their energies. Beyond
macro-level support for overall economic reform efforts and
job creation, Post believes the USG should reach out to the
younger generation through the creation of alternative fora
and associations, enhancing access to alternative media, and
expanding exchange programs. END SUMMARY.



2. (U) This cable is based loosely on the book "Geeks and
Geezers," by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas (Harvard
Business School Press, 2002). Bennis and Thomas analyzed
shared and divergent values and traits among leaders in
America over two distinct generations. This cable applies
that analytical process to Moroccan society, with a
particular focus on economic and business leaders. This
analysis is based largely upon anecdotal evidence, drawn from
discussions and meetings with Moroccans over the past two
years.



--------------------------


The Geezers


--------------------------





3. (C) Morocco's older generation (50 years plus) of elites
is characterized by palace connections, French education,
big-business interests, and a conservative outlook. On
issues of reform, they prefer a gradualist approach and to
work within the system (a closed-door process). Geezers
control much of Morocco's key industries, including banking
and financial services, telecommunications, mining, and
agribusiness. These men were born under French colonialism
and came of age during the long reign of Hassan II,
accumulating their assets, status, and influence in that era.
Consequently, they are defined by entrenched interests and
believe in preservation of the status quo. At best, their
outlook and mentality helps ensure stability and continuity.
At worst, they often display a frustrating lack of
initiative, bureaucratic inertia, and outright resistance to
reform efforts or even newer ways of doing things. Many of
the Geezers entered government and now occupy positions at
the subministerial level and above. Often, they move between
the private sector and government in a revolving-door process
best described as "cozy." Prominent Geezers include:

-- Mourad Cherif, early sixties, Chairman of the state-owned
firm OCP, former Chairman of the state firm ONA, and a former
Minister of numerous Ministries including Housing and
Employment, Foreign Trade and Investments, and Finance.

-- Mohammed Karim Lamrani, mid-80s, Chairman of Sfipar
Holding, former Prime Minister and King's Counselor.



4. (C) However, the characteristics of this generation are
best embodied by 74 year old Othman Benjelloum, Director
General of BMCE bank and chairman of other financial and
insurance sector concerns. Benjelloun is one of the
smartest businessmen in Morocco; in fact, contacts claim he
"could make money regardless of the business environment."
There is in fact a widespread perception in Morocco that he
prefers to keep the economy restricted so he can boost his
own profits. Many believed that he was the force behind
attempts to keep the Moroccan insurance sector closed to U.S.
companies. When laws liberalizing the sector were being
debated in parliament (and foreign firms still not allowed to
own majority stakes in insurance companies), Benjelloun
bought up most of the smaller firms, leading to his current
dominant market share. One he gained control, Benjelloun
advocated for liberalization of the sector, with the
suspicion that he wanted to cash out by selling to a large
foreign company. Benejelloun was also behind the now defunct
U.S.-Morocco Council on Trade and Investment, to which he
contributed large amounts of his own money (some estimates
were as high as USD two million). Many in the business
community believed he used the Council (which helped identify
investment opportunities for U.S. companies) to funnel
projects to his own bank.



5. (C) Brahim Zniber (another prominent Geezer), is the
mid-sixities patriarch of a family business that runs Celier
de Meknes (arguably the best quality wine in Morocco). In
addition to his state-of-the art vineyard, Zniber also has
business interests in bottling, textiles, agriculture,
banking, and insurance. This Geezer has long been a good
contact of Post and favorably disposed towards the United
States, hosting several U.S. Ambassadors at his winery and
sending his children to U.S. schools. It thus came as a
surprise to many during the FTA negotiations when he
published an editorial in the leading business newspaper,
L'Economiste, arguing against concluding the agreement.
However, the substance of the editorial revealed much about
his generation's outlook: while claiming that the agreement
would benefit him personally, he advocated a conservative,
cautious approach and criticized the speed of the
negotiations and the proposed tariff reduction timelines. He
argued that Morocco was not ready for an FTA and held out the
possibility for such an agreement in the indefinite future.



6. (C) Hassan Chami, in his late sixties, is the current
President of the Confederation General des Enterprises du
Maroc (CGEM), the Moroccan business association. He is the
former Minister of Industry and Commerce and received his
under graduate degree from the prestigious French national
engineering school L'Ecole Nationale Des Ponts et Chaussees,"
in 1961. Rare for an accomplished businessman in 2005, he
speaks no English. While he has created many enterprises
over his long-career, Chami's start-ups took place during a
decidely non-entrepreneurial period in Morocco. Indeed, it
is through CGEM that the Geezers exercise their control over
the private sector and Morocco's business community. One
visitor compared a meeting with CGEM to a visit to an
all-male retirement community. Because of CGEM's inertia and
conservatism, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in
Casablanca recently ended its collaborative relationship with
CGEM, although the specific reasons for the split remain
unclear. Post was exposed to CGEM's lack of progressive
thinking during a trip to Marrakech by Ambassador Riley in
early May. At a lunch meeting intended to investigate areas
of cooperation between the Embassy and the Marrakech Chapter
of CGEM on economic reform and job creation, the local
officials offered up thread-worn ideas. While CGEM promised
to submit a formal written recommendation for possible
collaboration within one week's time, Post has yet to receive
any proposal from the CGEM.



--------------------------


The New Geeks


--------------------------





7. (SBU) In contrast, Morocco's Geeks (35 years and under)
are characterized by U.S., Canadian, or UK educations,
entreprenuership efforts, and a progressive, modern outlook
bordering on impatience. Unlike the Geezers, the ranks of
the Geeks contain a fair number of women. They are extremely
well read and informed on international issues. With
Moroccan press somewhat limited in scope and quality, this
generation has turned to the international press, which they
devour, particularly through the internet. As a result, they
are highly political and opinionated. Another defining
characteristic of this generation is that they have generally
eschewed Government service. While some Geeks are playing an
influential role in the GOM at the working-level (such as
Houdda Marrakchi on Minister-Delegate for Foreign Affairs
Fassi Fihri's staff and Aziz Bouzzaoui of the Office Marocain
de la Propriete Industrielle et Commerciale), the majority of
the younger generation have opted for private sector careers.
They view business as more dynamic and the venue through
which they can have the greatest impact.



8. (SBU) While they have intensely strong (and overwhelmingly
negative) views on U.S. policy in the Middle East and in
Iraq, they are fervently pro-American. It is an outlook
based largely on their experiences in the U.S. (particularly
through education or exchange programs) and on their
favorably views of U.S. economic and business models,
especially when contrasted with the French model that
continues (through the Geezers) to dominate Moroccan society.




9. (C) One Geek, Abdelmajid Iraqui al-Housseini embodies
these tendencies. In his early 30s, Iraqui received his MBA
from the University of Michigan and went on to work for CMS
Energy in Detroit and later to become Chief Financial Officer
of CMS's Jorf Lasfar Energy Company. He is well known to
Post for his active involvement in the American Chamber of
Commerce and support of Free Trade Agreement (FTA) outreach
activities. Iraqui once helped convince a borderline-Geezer
to attend an International Visitor (IV) program. The
selected participant had balked at traveling to the U.S. in
response to the visa application questions and expressed
anger at some USG policies in the Middle East. The Geek
encouraged the Geezer to attend, stating, "that's exactly why
you should go." Iraqui also displays the fascinating social
phenomenon of a Moroccan experiencing culture shock upon his
return from the United States. To Embassy contacts he often
bemoans the lack of initiative and drive of older Moroccan
employees at Jorf Lasfar and has pushed for such initiatives
as TQM and Six Sigma. During a reception on Casablanca, one
Geek (who manages a call center) criticized the
Administration's foreign policy in one breath, then,
expressing his frustration with the business climate in
Morocco said "I'd let George W. Bush run this place!"



10. (SBU) Indeed, these Geeks are often active in venues such
as the American Chamber of Commerce, particularly on working
groups such as AmCham's FTA Committee. While often brought
into the AmCham fold by virtue of their employment or
association with American firms, the Geeks stay on due to the
opportunities for interaction with Americans in a forum of
shared business and social values. Indeed, Geeks often
comment that they feel more at home among the AmCham members
than in Moroccan business associations.



11. (C) The importance of U.S. experiences to shaping this
generation's world view and outlook cannot be overstated. In
fact, formative U.S. experiences can even counteract previous
influences. Ali Kettani is a Geek in his early 30's and is
the managing director of the private equity firm Lighthouse
Investments. While Lighthouse has not yet realized its lofty
ambitions, Kettani has impressed with his slick, CD-ROM-based
marketing campaign. Like his close friend Majid Iraqui, he
is active in AmCham. While Kettani received his business
education in Paris, he points to his years on Wall Street as
the formative experience of his life. Kettani claims to draw
more on his Wall Street years than his French management
education in running his firm. Indeed, the flip side of
their pro-American disposition is that these young leaders
often express an underlying anti-French bias. They
frequently blame Morocco's economic doldrums to an outdated
French system of business that has left the country
ill-equipped to face globalization. More significantly, the
view the French business model and its continuing influence
as one of the leading obstacles to their own economic and
social advancement. Specifically, they cite the difficulties
of accessing credit and financing through the banking sector
and the roles that connections and influence (rather than
merit and competitiveness) play in determining success in
Morocco.



12. (C) These young Moroccans are also true patriots. For
the first time in several generations, young Moroccans
educated abroad are returning home rather than staying abroad
for lucrative job offers. They have been inspired by the
reform program launched by King Mohammed VI and attracted by
the potential opportunities of the FTA. They often return
with dreams and ambitions, with a new understanding of "what
is possible," full of confidence, and armed with skills and
techniques that they believe can apply to Morocco. These
Geeks truly want to make a difference, contribute to Morocco,
and improve their country. Unfortunately, an emerging
characteristic among Geeks several years into their return to
Morocco is frustration. While displaying the natural
impatience that defines their generation across countries and
cultures, many are growing angry that the structural reforms
have not matched the rhetoric. As one Geek related to
Econoff the list of reform programs and initiatives, he
stressed that much of Morocco's economic life is still
controlled by the elites behind closed doors and palace
walls.



13. (C) When channeled in a healthy way, these frustrations
have led Geeks to create alternative fora and venues for
their activities, such as young entrepreneur associations and
social clubs. Many Geeks in regions we have visited over the
past two years participate in local Chambers of Commerce,
Industry, and Services (CCIS) rather than local CGEM chapters
for reasons of both conscious choice and outright exclusion
by CGEM. One promising and ambitious effort is the
Morocco-American Circle (MAC), an association of Moroccan and
American alumni of U.S. universities. While thus far a
social club, the MAC Board members have big plans to promote
economic reform, civil society, and create jobs. The Board
has already meet with Econoffs and USAID to discuss possible
funding for their efforts. Based in Casablanca, MAC already
has formalized plans for starting a chapter in Rabat.



--------------------------


Tensions


--------------------------





14. (C) Relations between the generations are generally
cordial as the Geeks resign themselves to expressing their
frustrations to other Geeks and like-minded American
interlocutors and the Geezers assume a benevolent,
patriarchal attitude toward the young upstarts. However,
tensions between the two often break into open conflict as
the Geeks try to show initiative and the Geezers attempt to
reassert their authority and control. This Spring, a
business conference (that EconCouns spoke at) jointly
organized by a Fez young entrepreneurs organization and the
local chapter of CGEM was derailed because of a perceived
slight. The CGEM leadership objected to the use of the young
entrepreneurs' logo and relative placement of CGEM's and the
youth organization's names on the conference invitations and
program. While the catalyst for the dispute was the
seemingly trivial issue of logos, for the Geezers the
initiative and independence shown by the young entrepreneurs
was a direct threat to their control of Fez's business life.
For the Fez Geeks, the message was clear: CGEM did not view
itself as an equal partner.



15. (SBU) One possible bridge between the generations are
forward looking Geezers like Saad Kettani. Kettani
(late-fifties) is the chairman of Wafa Assurance and
maintains board membership on the other organizations in the
Wafa group of companies including credit and real estate. He
was appointed by the King to lead Morocco's failed bid to
host the 2010 World Cup. Kettani has impressed Post and
Washington visitors with his long-range outlook, pro-U.S.
disposition, and support for deep economic and political
reforms. Saad Kettani's children study at U.S. universities,
he is helping to create a new generation of Moroccan Geeks.



--------------------------


Recommendations
for Engagement


--------------------------





16. (C) Our interactions with Geeks in Morocco over the past
two years have led to the following conclusions and
recommendations:

-- Enhance Exchange Programs. Our experience with Moroccan
Geeks shows that U.S. education or experience is vital and
can have a profound, long-term impact on our Public Diplomacy
efforts. We should look to opportunities to increase
business, educational, and cultural exchanges through IV
programs, university scholarships, and other means. While a
long-range and relatively costly approach, Post has reaped
the benefits of university scholarship programs from a
generation ago. Many of the members of the GOM's
Agricultural FTA negotiating team were U.S. educated, which
helped facilitate at times tense and difficult discussions.

-- Streamline and Regularize Entry and Departure Procedures.
At the same time, Geeks who frequently travel to the U.S.
regularly complain about perceived lack of customer service
at ports of entry and unclear or inconsistent arrival and
departure procedures. New York's JFK Airport is a frequent
target of criticism and many have taken alternative routings
to avoid JFK.

-- Access to Alternative Media. Tech savvy Geeks don't just
surf the web for entertainment; they use it to inform and
educate themselves and establish connections. Efforts to
help bridge the digital divide in Morocco could spread the
benefits that the Geeks now have to a broader segment of
Moroccan society. Access to alternative media goes a long
way to combatting misperceptions and sharing ideas.

-- English Language Training. Moroccan Geeks speak the
language, both literally in terms of English language
abilities and figuratively in terms of understanding culture
and applying American standards and business practices. They
are comfortable in both cultures and provide an ideal bridge
between the two. Like Exchange programs, today's Geeks prove
the long-term benefit of English language training.

-- Creation of Alternative Fora. A Geek once told Econoff
that the Geezers "couldn't die off fast enough." As
entrenched interests will continue to reassert their control
for the foreseeable future (particularly through exclusionary
tactics), we should help create venues for the Geeks to
express their views, share ideas, and network. Successful
attempts will provide the younger generation with a sense
that they have a voice, albeit a separate one. More
importantly, when the Geeks establish organizations such as
MAC on their own initiative, it is in our interest to provide
them with robust support.
RILEY