greener pastures

Morocco: Is the reformist ‘Red Prince’ ready to fall in line?

By Nina Kozlowski

Premium badge Reserved for subscribers

Posted on July 17, 2023 08:41

jad20230712-mmo-maroc-retour-prince-moulay-hicham-1256×628-1689228592 © Prince Moulay Hicham at the seminar on the integration of marginalised peoples in economic and financial circles, in Skhirat, 14 January 2015. Jannat/EFE/SIPA
Prince Moulay Hicham at the seminar on the integration of marginalised peoples in economic and financial circles, in Skhirat, 14 January 2015. Jannat/EFE/SIPA

King Mohammed VI’s cousin could be inaugurating a vast property project in Rabat, suggesting he has shelved his ambitions to reform the monarchy.

Has Moulay Hicham, Mohammed VI’s cousin, received the green light from the throne to lay the foundations for a vast real estate project on the Akrach Plateau in Rabat?

In a short video published on 7 July, Moroccan online news site Le Desk revealed that the prince had “unearthed an old project from the 2000s” – a green, smart city that he wants to build on this plateau, where he would own 3,000 hectares inherited from his late father, Moulay Abdallah (brother of Hassan II).

The news website concluded that the man, also known as “the Red Prince” because of his reformist stance towards the Moroccan monarchy, had finally “fallen in line”.

Last year, Prince Hicham created a limited liability company (LLC), Société d’aménagement et de développement du plateau d’Akrach (Sadpak), as published in the Bulletin Officiel dated 27 July 2022, specialising in the development of housing estates and investment in real estate, industrial and hotel projects.

At the time, Le Desk – whose managing editor, Ali Amar, published a book in 2015 entitled Moulay Hicham: itinéraire d’une ambition démesurée (Moulay Hicham: The itinerary of a Disproportionate Ambition), which discusses Hicham’s financial difficulties – reported that the prince had joined forces with a certain Hicham Qadiri and had entrusted Sadpak’s management to Karim Laghmich, former managing director of the Société d’aménagement et de développement de Mazagan, a subsidiary of the OCP group.

Childhood friend

Qadiri, a businessman married to Lamia Boutaleb (CEO of Capital Trust, former secretary of state for tourism and member of the RNI), is a childhood friend of Prince Hicham. At the end of 2001, in the midst of global paranoia following the 11 September attacks in New York, Qadiri staged a “hoax” aimed at Abdelkader Laâlej, a Casablanca industrialist, by sending him a threatening letter allegedly containing anthrax.

The joke – in poor taste – went viral and Qadiri was eventually sentenced to eight months in prison (and released after 30 days). It was evident that Qadiri harboured a nagging grudge against Prince Hicham, who allegedly encouraged him to make the joke but did not support him during his legal troubles.

Today, all seems to have been forgiven.

Though Prince Hicham created Sadpak, the nature of his business project is causing confusion, with some announcing the construction of a “green and intelligent city” on a 3,000-hectare site on the Akrach Plateau, a project that appears more complicated than completed. The Akrach Plateau is around 1,200 hectares in size, of which Prince Hicham jointly owns 700 hectares with his brother, Prince Moulay Ismaïl, and his sister, Princess Lalla Zineb.

However, Prince Hicham owns 3,000 hectares in Aïn Aouda, a small town around 30 minutes from Rabat. This is where, in 2007, he planned to build his “new town” through the Société d’aménagement de Bab Zaers.

At the time, those involved in the project were forecasting a population of 80,000 within 15 or 20 years. In the end, the banks did not commit.

Last land reserve

Akrach Plateau is another story. It is Rabat’s last reserve for urban expansion within the city walls. With no more land available within the administrative capital, the area has been coveted for years by the public authorities.

Since the 1990s, there has been one development plan after another, to no avail. In April 2022, the councillors of the Rabat municipality adopted the first part of the plan, which was approved in 2019. Since then, nothing has materialised.

This is a complex project is overseen by the Rabat prefecture and the ministry of the interior as most of the land available on Akrach Plateau belongs to private individuals – the heirs of Moulay Abdellah, for example, but also the former mayor of Rabat from 1995 to 2009, Omar Bahraoui.

The big question is who will be responsible for servicing the site, such as providing road infrastructure, water and electricity.

“It is clear that the latest development plan favours large landowners who will be entitled to villas or four-storey apartments, while small landowners, often rural dwellers, will see the biggest buildings – the least profitable for them – built on their land, like Rabat’s largest mosque, largest avenue and a congress centre. It’s all quite explosive, not to mention that Rabat no longer wants to develop social projects,” says a source on the local council.

Green light from the Palace?

There are some indications that Prince Hicham and his family have been given the green light by the Palace.

Surely the floodgates have finally opened

“The prince came back to Morocco during the pandemic. Several of his investments abroad over the past decade had not borne fruit, so he wanted to refocus his business on the family legacy in Morocco, particularly the property business,” confided a source we spoke to, asking to remain anonymous.

“The condition was that he keep a low profile in politics and the media, which he did. If things have never moved on Akrach Plateau for so long, it’s precisely because part of the land belonged to him. If he has set up his company, it’s surely because the floodgates have finally opened.”

There's more to this story

Get unlimited access to our exclusive journalism and features today. Our award-winning team of correspondents and editors report from over 54 African countries, from Cape Town to Cairo, from Abidjan to Abuja to Addis Ababa. Africa. Unlocked.

Subscribe Now

cancel anytime