Aziz Akhannouch
عزيز أخنوش
ⵄⴰⵣⵉⵣ ⴰⵅⵏⵏⵓⵛ
Fumio Kishida and Aziz Akhannouch before the funeral of Shinzo Abe (1) (cropped).jpg
Aziz Akhannouch in 2022
17th Prime Minister of Morocco
Assumed office
7 October 2021
MonarchMohammed VI
Preceded bySaadeddine Othmani
Leader of the National Rally of Independents
Assumed office
12 October 2016
Preceded bySalaheddine Mezouar
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests
In office
6 April 2017 – 10 September 2021
Prime MinisterSaadeddine Othmani
Preceded byHimself (as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries)
Succeeded byMohamed Sadiki
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries
In office
15 October 2007 – 6 April 2017
Prime MinisterAbbas El Fassi
Abdelilah Benkirane
Preceded byMohand Laenser
Succeeded byHimself (as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests)
Personal details
Born1961[1]
Tafraout, Morocco[2]
Political partyNational Rally of Independents (2007–2012, 2016–present)
Other political
affiliations
Independent (2012–2016)
SpouseSalwa Idrissi Akhannouch
Children3
Alma materUniversité de Sherbrooke
OccupationBusinessman, Politician
Websitewww.akwagroup.com

Aziz Akhannouch (Tachelhit: ⵄⴰⵣⵉⵣ ⴰⵅⵏⵏⵓⵛ, romanized: Ɛaziz Axnnuce; born 31 December 1961)[3] is a Moroccan politician, businessman, and billionaire who is currently the Prime Minister of Morocco since his government took office on 7 October 2021.[4] He is the CEO of Akwa Group and also served as Minister of Agriculture from 2007 to 2021.

Akhannouch's leadership has been characterised by inflation (throughout less than 200 days into Akhannouch's time in office),[5][6] corruption[7] and several controversies, as well as repression of the press which he has negative relations with,[8] and suppression of dissenting opinion and imprisonment of opponents.[9] It has been suggested that Akhannouch may have been elected by election fraud and vote buying, as the previous party, the PJD saw its support collapse from 125 to just 12 seats.[10] This led to several popular boycotts and campaigns against his business and presidency such as the #Degage_Akhannouch campaign.[11][12]

Early life and education

Akhannouch was born in 1961 in Tafraout and raised in Casablanca. His mother and sister were survivors of the Agadir earthquake from a year earlier that killed ten of his family members: they were reported to have been left buried beneath rubble for several hours before being rescued.[13]

In 1986, Akhannouch graduated from the Université de Sherbrooke with a management diploma.[14]

Business

He is the CEO of Akwa Group, a Moroccan conglomerate particularly active in the oil and gas sector.[3] Forbes estimated his net worth as $1.4 billion in November 2013.[15] Akhannouch inherited Akwa from his father.[15] In 2020, he was ranked 12th on Forbes's annual list of Africa's wealthiest billionaires, with an estimated net worth of $2 billion.[16]

Political career

From 2003 to 2007, Akhannouch was the president of the Souss-Massa-Drâa regional council.[14] He was a member of the National Rally of Independents Party, before leaving it on 2 January 2012.[17][18] On 23 August 2013 he was appointed by King Mohammed VI as Minister of Finance on an interim basis after Istiqlal ministers resigned from Benkirane's cabinet, a position he kept until 9 October 2013.[14] On 29 October 2016, Akhannouch rejoined the RNI after being elected the president of the party. He took over Salaheddine Mezouar's position, who had resigned.[19]

On 27 July 2016, Akhannouch met with Jonathan Pershing, Special Envoy for Climate Change for the United States. They spoke about preparations for the 2016 United Nations Conference of the Parties.[20]

In March 2020, through his company Afriquia, a subsidiary of the Akwa group, Akhannouch donated roughly one billion dirhams ($103.5 million) to a COVID-19 pandemic management fund founded by King Mohammed VI.[21][22]

Prime Minister of Morocco (2021—present)

In the 2021 general election, his party placed first, winning 222 seats of the 435 seats. On 10 September 2021, he was appointed as Prime Minister by King Mohammed VI, succeeding Saadeddine Othmani, and was tasked by the King to form a new government.[4][23] The Islamist party that headed a ruling coaliltion in the country for the past decade, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), saw its support collapse, from 125 to just 12 seats. It had alleged "serious irregularities" amid the voting, and inculpated the National Rally of Independents of vote buying.[10] "We're very concerned as we watch the progress of the national election. We've seen several irregularities," the party said.[10]

Akhannouch announced the formation of an official coalition government alongside the PAM and Istiqlal parties on 22 September 2021,[24] thus officializing his status as Prime Minister of Morocco.

On 7 October 2021, Akhannouch assumed office as the new Prime Minister.[25][26]

In late October, Akhannouch represented King Mohammed VI at a Green Initiative event in Saudi Arabia, and was criticized by Moroccan citizens for wearing a pin of the MENA region that excluded Western Sahara.[27]

In September 2022, Akhannouch attended the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.[28]

On 11 October 2022, Akhannouch met with Prince Guillaume, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg along with his business partners in Rabat,[29] in order to boost economic trade between Morocco and Luxembourg.[30][31]

Controversies

17 billion case

In 2015 and 2016, after the Moroccan government decided to liberalize fuel prices, the fuel companies decided to collude with each other and not reduce prices. Among those companies was the Akwa company, owned by Akhannouch.[32]

The profits of these companies amounted to about 17 billion dirhams (around US$1.75 billion), and several parties described them as immoral and illegal profits on the back of the Moroccan people. There were still several demands to restore them, whether in Parliament or in the media.[33][34][35][36]

During the period following the case, the president of the Competition Council, Driss Guerraoui [fr], prepared a report on Akhannouch's illegal profits, and submitted it to King Mohammed VI.[37] In March 2021, Guerraoui was relieved of his position and replaced by Ahmed Rahhou.[38]

Press relations

As of 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture spent several million dirhams annually in massive advertising in the country's print press.[8] If a newspaper criticized Akhannouch or his Maroc Vert plan, it immediately saw the Ministry's advertisements cut off, along with those of the Akwa group.[8]

In 2017, Akhannouch sued three journalists from the Badil news site for having criticized him. He demanded that they pay him 1 million dirhams.[39]

2018 boycott

In the spring of 2018, Morocco was shaken by a boycott movement launched against Centrale Danone, Sidi Ali (mineral water) and Akwa's subsidiary Afriquia. These three brands, leaders in three basic products – milk, water and fuel – were accused by the population of charging very high prices. The movement became extremely popular, leading to reactions from the government.[11][40][41]

According to the French think tank School of Thought on Economic Warfare (EPGE), which investigated the boycott movement, it would be a campaign of disinformation “hierarchized therefore orchestrated by a precise political agenda”. This destabilization initiative would even have benefited from a substantial budget, with for example between 100,000 and 500,000 euros for the purchase of online space to disseminate the ideas of the movement. To this must be added expensive donation campaigns to the poor to mobilize public opinion. According to the same study, the movement of Al Adl Wa Al Ihssan would be behind this boycott campaign with the aim of removing Akhanouch from the political scene.[42]

Akhannouch himself said he "ignored" the boycott campaign while speaking to Jeune Afrique, accusing opponents of "exploiting Moroccans' hardship for political goals".[12][43]

On 17 November 2018, the King reacted by appointing Driss Guerraoui as president of the Competition Council.[44] In 2020, the Council recognized that the three brands targeted by the 2018 boycott campaign had reached an agreement on prices.[45]

Milan comments

In December 2019, during a meeting in Milan with Moroccans living in Italy, Akhannouch declared, "Whoever believes that they can come and insult the institutions of the country has no place in Morocco. Whoever wants to [live] in Morocco must respect its motto and its democracy. Insults will not move us forward. And excuse me, but it is not justice that should do this job. […] We must re-educate Moroccans who lack education."[46] The remarks triggered strong reactions from Moroccan politicians and netizens as well as a call for the resuming of the 2018 boycott of his companies.[46] TelQuel attributed his comments in relation to the arrest & prosecution of a Moroccan YouTuber after he published a video criticizing King Mohammed VI's speeches.[46][47]

Vote buying and election fraud

The Islamist party that headed a ruling coalition in the country for the past decade, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), saw its support collapse, from 125 to just 12 seats. It alleged "serious irregularities" amid the voting, and inculpated the National Rally of Independents of vote buying. "We're very concerned as we watch the progress of the national election. We've seen several irregularities," the party said.[10]

Rising prices and inflation

Throughout less than 200 days into Akhannouch's time in office, he became a target of Moroccans calling for his resignation, accusing him of corruption. The prices of fuel and several essential food products have skyrocketed in recent months, as the price of a 5-litre bottle of vegetable oil increased by 27 dirhams, while the price of 25 kg of semolina, widely used in Moroccan cuisine, increased by 50 dirhams. The inflation affected many vulnerable families, in which more than 430,000 Moroccans lost their jobs.[5][6]

#Degage_Akhannouch campaign

In 2022, as fuel prices continued to rise, an online campaign emerged with tens of thousands of users on Twitter and Facebook using the three French hashtags #7dh_Gazoil, #8dh_Essence and #Degage_Akhannouch ("Get out Akhannouch") to call for an immediate decrease in gas prices, accusing Akhannouch and his company Afriquia of benefiting from the crisis.[12] Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) and former Prime Minister, said that he "didn't support" the online campaign, adding that "only Sidna (our lord) [King Mohammed VI] has the competence (…) to put an end to this cabinet and call for the organisation of early legislative elections".[12][48] Nevertheless, several PJD members participated in the campaign.[12]

Pro-Putin

French politician and former member of the Foreign Trade Committee José Bové claimed that Aziz Akhannouch, then Minister of Agriculture had several meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the afterwards of the invasion of Crimea>. In January 20th, Serhiy Sayenko is supposed to take office as the new Ambassador of Ukraine in the Kingdom of Morocco. He didn't meet him , Even though he acknowledged being in Davos, Switzerland . Some people suspect him being there was just a reason to not take the ukrainian ambassador's credentials so he keep his realtion to Putinism close[1].

Corruption

In a gathering organized by Hamid Chabat in Kenitra on Saturday, the Secretary General of the Istiqlal Party accused Akhannouch of stealing 13 billion Moroccan dirhams intended to go towards gas compensation. In a previous meeting of the Istiqlal Party in Fes, Chabat accused Akhannouch of corruption, indicating that his fortune, valued at almost $2 billion, is equivalent of “all that 30 million Moroccans own”.[7]

Hamid Chabat, criticized the government of Aziz Akhannouch, which he said had broken its promises to citizens of development and reform of their living conditions. He warned of the exacerbation of problems for the citizen and the lack of any reforms or achievements to overcome this.[9]

Condemnation by other parties

"We accuse the National Rally of Independents (party of Akhannouch) of flooding the political scene with money," said Abdellatif Ouahbi, Secretary General of the Authenticity and Modernity Party.[49]

The ruling Justice and Development Party also condemned "the obscene use of funds to lure voters and some polling station supervisors," without naming any party.[49]

The secretary general of the Party of Progress and Socialism, Nabil Benabdellah, also criticized the National Rally of Independents for "giving sums of money, in full view of everyone, to attract candidates from other parties", in an interview given to a local media.[49]

When contacted by AFP, an official of the National Rally of Independents preferred "not to comment" on these accusations already "rejected" by the party in a statement issued.[49]

Letter to the king

Blogger Maysa Salama al-Naji attacked Aziz Akhannouch, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development, and said in what she called an open letter to His Majesty the King: A 400-page report which counts his corruption charges.[50]

Suppression of opposition

Akhannouch has been criticized for suppressing dissenting opinion and imprisoning opponents, while the people called for an end to these grave violations, the repression of human rights activists, the silencing of free mouths, the suppression of free opinion, and the right to peaceful demonstration.[9]

Personal life

Akhannouch is married to Salwa Idrissi, a businesswoman who owns a company active in malls and holds the Moroccan franchises for brands such as Gap and Zara.[15] They have three children ,Soukayna ,Ahmed ,Kenza .[51]

On 21 November 2022, Akhannouch says he tested positive for COVID-19 even some people belive it was fainted to skip PMQs ((Prime Minister Questions)).[52][53][54]

References

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Political offices Preceded byMohand Laenser Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries 2007–2017 Succeeded byHimself(as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests) Preceded byHimself(as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries) Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Rural Development, Water and Forests 2017–2021 Succeeded byMohamed Sadiki Preceded bySaadeddine Othmani Prime Minister of Morocco 2021–present Incumbent Party political offices Preceded bySalaheddine Mezouar Leader of the National Rally of Independents 2016–present Incumbent