March 14, 2006


Sins of the Father: Reform in Rabat (Jim Hoagland, March 5, 2006, Washington Post)

Any effort to understand that experience starts with Mohammed and his dismantling of much of his father's political legacy: The young monarch has unleashed the most sweeping peaceful political and social reforms of this decade in the Arab world.

Few of his 33 million subjects expected the sovereign, who is 42, to be such a forceful agent for change when he came to the throne in 1999. Educated in the small, extra-elite Royal College in Rabat, Mohammed is known to be intensely shy. He dislikes delivering speeches and is awkward when he does. He does not give substantive interviews to journalists. Moroccan editors have come to understand that his encouragement of greater personal freedom does not extend to reports on the personal lives of the royal family.

But Mohammed has pursued a controlled evolution for his tradition-centered society with surprising determination and skill. Does this stem from courageous commitment to change? Oedipal resentment of an overbearing patriarch? Or political calculation rooted in keen survival instincts? A visitor hears all these, and more, suggested in Morocco.

"He is certainly courageous," says Benzekri, who was surprised to be named by the monarch two years ago to head a high-level investigative commission on human rights, which has staged dramatic televised accounts of the suffering and deaths of political prisoners. "This king also understands that he needs to separate himself from the past."

The publication in January of the commission's final damning report on its review of more than 16,000 cases -- including at least 600 disappearances and secret deaths of activists in detention -- followed a push by Mohammed to modernize the kingdom's family laws and give women more rights.

Speaking as a member of a royal family that traces its lineage to the prophet Muhammad, the king declared that his liberalization of inheritance, divorce and employment laws did not contradict the Koran. "He is a modern man who understands the threat that demographics, youth unemployment and globalization pose to a nation that does not have oil," says one acquaintance of the king. "He has drawn a line between the old ways and his ways."

If there is a larger regional meaning in what is happening here, it is this: The greatest peaceful political change in the Arab world is occurring in a handful of countries where traditional rulers are implementing top-down democratization, which, like Islam itself, emphasizes personal submission to a greater purpose. The Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar lag behind Morocco but are moving in the same direction. Monarchs in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and elsewhere have adopted more rhetoric about freedom, at least when speaking to Westerners.

"Ah, you are so lucky to have a king," one self-styled revolutionary Arab leader said to Moroccan officials recently when they discussed the changes.

The key insight of Jeanne Kirkpatrick's authoritarian/totalitarian dichotomy is that, as a general rule, conservative autocrats allied with the West willingly devolve power to the people once stability is guaranteed.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2006 1:15 PM

Was it good to have a king when the king was an overbearing patriarch reigning over the torture and deaths of thousands of political prisoners, and the oppression of all women ?

When the present king wins praise for dismantling his father's legacy, it strongly suggests that it isn't always good to have a king.

America broke with England not because we hated the idea of monarchy, but because there was no mechanism for replacing a failed monarch.

Posted by: Noam Chomsky at March 14, 2006 2:08 PM


Yes, it was, the difference is that between the Morocco he left behind and Libya.

George wasn't a failed monarch--Parliament had failed to provide for government of America by consent of the governed.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2006 2:12 PM

The Moroccan dynasty is supposedly a rather ancient one, on the throne for several centuries at least. This is a huge advantage -- it has monarchical legitimacy in the eyes of its people, and can get away with doing a lot of liberalizing. The Saudi and Jordanian parvenu kings seem like much more nervous nellies, probably because their grasp on their thrones is both much more recent and (at least in Jordan) the result of Western (British) machinations.

Posted by: Lisa at March 14, 2006 2:31 PM

I don't know which histories oj has been reading, but I'm fairly sure that George III's hamfistedness was a major contributor to America declaring independence.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at March 14, 2006 4:21 PM


It wasn't. Even fairly late in the game most Colonists wanted George as their king but either representation in Parliament or a separate representative here.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2006 5:01 PM

That's what the colonists wanted, for a bunch of reasons. That doesn't mean that Ali isn't right: George had a lot of control over colonial policy. In fact, it was George's exercise of his powers, which had been dormant since the Civil War, that angered the colonists and got them thinking about their rights as Englishmen.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 14, 2006 5:05 PM

Yes, George should have been more aggressive with Parliament and if they wouldn't extend further rights to Americans should have taken their side. There's no reason he couldn't have ended up being king of both an independent America and Britain.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2006 5:13 PM

Except that it was George who thought they had too many fictitious "rights" and wanted to take them away. The whole point of the representation fight was that George wanted freedom to act in the colonies without too much parliamentary interference.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 14, 2006 5:59 PM

Yes, George and the Americans should have been free of a non-representative Parliament.

Posted by: oj at March 14, 2006 6:17 PM