|Project Details||There are around 4,563 Soulaliyate communities in Morocco, spread over 55 regions. The total area of these collective lands is approximately 15 million hectares, 85% of which is pastoral land, and the remaining is agricultural land. These lands are usually rich in natural resources, and contain stone and sand quarries. In some places, urban expansion has reached collective land, making them part of urban areas, increasing the real estate value of the lands, while the legal status governing the property rights remained unchanged.|
The legal status of collective land in Morocco dates back to the French protectorate, which issued a royal decree in April 27, 1919 to define the status of land that was used collectively by communities (e.g. tribes, villages, ethnic groups), thus allowing the State to interfere in the management of collective land and facilitating the transfer to a capitalist mode of production. Importantly, the 1919 Law does not explicitly state that women cannot benefit from the proceeds of collective land. This decree has since regulated the property rights of such communities over agricultural and pastoral land that they use collectively. These communities are represented by delegates (Na’ib), supervised by the Ministry of Interior (the Directorate of Rural Affairs to be exact) who allocate the land (making a list of rights-holders) and resolve conflicts, mainly according to customs and traditions.
Although the 1919 decree explicitly states that collective land is inalienable (cannot be seized nor sold), various changes were introduced to the law that allowed such land to be rented out or transferred under particular conditions. For example, a law was issued in 19 March, 1951 regarding collective lands within urban premises, stating that they can be sold if the Trusteeship Council approves of the sale price, and on condition that half of the proceeds of the sale be used to buy real estate that will benefit the community or be used to improve agriculture in the remaining of the collective land. Another law issued on 25 July, 1969 changed the way collective land is distributed, establishing an individual form of property distributed to the rights-holders, upon whose death the property is assigned to one heir instead of being distributed to beneficiaries as shares, provided that the rest of the heirs are compensated. With the intense urban expansion of the 70s and 80s, the Ministry of Interior issued Circular No. 333, regulating the protocols of selling collective land to carry out economic or social projects. Despite all these new laws and circulars, the prevailing tradition of excluding women from the right to the proceeds of this land was not affected, and thousands of women continued to be discriminated against when the lands they worked on got sold, while males were compensated with their share. The initial logic behind tribal laws was to preserve the collective ownership of land within the same tribe, fearing that women might marry outside the tribe. It is worth noting that the exclusion of women does not reflect their lack of competence or knowledge in farming, since women’s labor represents 50.6% of agricultural production in Morocco.
The neoliberal trend of the 1990s, mandated by the World Bank, made the predicament of women even worse, where there was a frenzy of large scale land-acquisition, in other words the transfer of collective lands to private or public companies in exchange of compensation to the influenced communities. With the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2004, land acquisition became the means to establish Free Trade Zones, touristic projects, and real state development, and more attention was focused on the abundant communal land. Throughout the years, land was sold to authorities for marginal prices, and consequently sold to developers, who would increase prices and sometimes re-sell the land for 60 times its original price. Of the 15 million hectares of collective land in Morocco, 11,000 hectares were transferred to new owners between the years of 2009 and 2011. This represents land that was sold or rented out via the Directorate of Rural Affairs to public or private companies to use the land for large-scale projects. In exchange, men who were displaced were compensated, while women, especially those who were divorced, widowed, or married to outsiders, were expropriated and forced to move to urban slums.
In some cases the State uses the money earned from such transactions on projects that will benefit the whole community, but in other cases community members are compensated individually for the loss of land in money or plots of land. Community representatives are in charge of deciding who gets compensated by establishing a list of beneficiaries, systematically excluding women, justifying this by saying that custom limits the right of use of the collective land to men, with no opposition by the Ministry of Interior. As such, women suffered dramatic consequences. Not only only did they lose their homes and livelihood, but they were not compensated in any way while their male relatives received substantial amounts of money or equipped plots.