In summer of 2019, the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior announced that collective herding lands in a Atlas Mountain town would be leased for agricultural production. The lands would continue to belong to an ‘Ethnic Collective’ recognized as the lands’ legal owner during the French Protectorate (Bouderbala 1996), but the leasing would prevent shepherds from grazing on rangeland commons; instead small monthly payments would be provided to rights-holders from its rent. Despite the effective privatization of the lands (Mahdi 2014), some in the community hoped this leasing might enable more ‘equal’ access to the commons, offering not only equality of opportunity (Robbins 1994) in a context of growing local wealth inequality – where cash-poor rights-holders had largely been unable to benefit from their inheritance without capital to invest in industrial feeds and other inputs – but offering uniform ‘shares’ in the form of rent payments. What’s more, following years of activism by disenfranchised women rights-holders (soulaliyate) across Morocco, a 1919 collective land law was amended to require women to benefit from compensation in the case of the sale or lease of lands (Berriane 2015) as individuals. These payments would be received by daughters as well as sons: in shares equal to those of their brothers.
Three years later, however, after numerous attempts to source adequate groundwater resources, the plan was abandoned. In contrast with ongoing efforts to divide and individually title Moroccan collective lands (Balgley and Rignall 2021), these commons were instead slated to be the site of numerous collective income-generating schemes, accessible only to rights-holders of the lands. This paper uses this failed privatization and the discourse around it as the grounds for an extended case analysis (van Velson 1967) to examine the contested nature of collective ‘rights’ - as access to the means of production, to secured income, or to waged labor opportunities. In doing so, it considers tensions between rights to commons as a means of production, inherited through family and accessible through familial labor, and as representing possible capital, which might be invested in alternative, non-agrarian, livelihoods by individual rightsholders, or used ‘to sit’. Considering this debate, I examine the impact of this legislation not only as redefining who qualifies as a legal rightsholder, but as a lens to consider broader tensions of pooling and obligation within lineage groups, as well as within households and families.