'A lot of graduates in Morocco get to 30 and still don't have a job'
At the top of a four-storey cafe down a back road in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, Rachid Chaoui keeps the array of zips and buckles on his snug-fitting jacket done up to the neck to ward off the winter cold. He sips mint tea and ignores the football match playing on a large flatscreen television set. He is not happy.
"You ask me how I have fun? The answer is that I don't. How can I be happy if I can't find a job, and a job is what gives you value as a person," he says. The 25-year-old would-be archaeologist mulls over with his friends the drama of being yet another unemployed Moroccan postgraduate, studying at university for seven years and not being worthy of a job. "So we keep studying and, when he have to, we protest outside the parliament," says Chaoui.
A glove hides a hand broken by a policeman at one protest that reached the gates of the walled royal compound, Morocco's main centre of power.
Home is a cold, damp, single three-metre-square rented room down the narrow, meandering streets that lead to the centre of the city's ancient medina. "That is not what you dream of when you are studying," says his friend Charifa, a headscarf wrapped tightly around her head as she drinks orange juice.
Her postgraduate degree in biology has also not been enough to get her a job in a country where one in five people under 25 is jobless. "And for girls it is worse. By this stage your family thinks you should be getting married, not still studying or looking for work in a city far from your home."
"A lot of graduates get to the age of 30 and they still don't have a job," says their friend Amine, explaining that they expect the government to stick to a decade-old pledge that all postgraduates would automatically be employed by the state. "And if you don't have a job when you are 30, then society looks down on you."
Entertainment comes from simple meetings with friends. And then there is the cybercafe, where Chaoui checks Facebook and swaps commentaries with unemployed graduates like himself. More than 3 million Moroccans use Facebook. In the summer there is the weekend avalanche of young Rabatis through the tiny casbah and down on to the beach and the cool Atlantic waves.
Football, hip-hop and rap may be the rage among his contemporaries, but Chaoui prefers to keep studying. Then there are the visits home to his family further north up the coast in Kenitra. They keep asking anxiously why they still have to support their son. "After a while this affects everything," he says. "It is hard to look at anything positively."
Tunisia and Egypt are being watched intently in and Facebook groups have called for nationwide protests on 20 February. Rachid and his friends hope all this will help concentrate the minds of the government in finding them work as civil servants. "There is nothing new for us about demonstrating," says Charifa. "We were doing that well before Tunisia and Egypt."