March 11, 2011


The Moroccan exception, and a king's speech: Morocco is not immune to the forces of change sweeping across the Arab world. But the response of its head of state reflects its distinct political character (Valentina Bartolucci, Open Democracy)

First, Morocco is a monarchy whose King Mohammed VI is widely believed to act as the guarantor of political stability and social cohesion, and arbitrator between opposed factions. The consequence is that very few people in Morocco want to depose the king or seek outright revolution. Rather, people have generally demanded constitutional reforms that would limit the monarch’s powers (as well as other measures such as more transparency and less corruption in government).

Second, the king combines in his figure the highest political and religious authority - a unique status embodied in the formula amir al-muminine (Commander of the Faithful). A leader who is considered a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed himself is ultimately untouchable.

Third, since Mohammed VI’s accession in 1999 Morocco has already undertaken limited democratic reforms, notably of the Moudawana (family code). Stephen O Hughes writes that soon after coming to power the new king “impressed many with his willingness to listen, his interest in advanced technology, his relaxed manner when not surrounded by courtiers, and his sympathetic concern for social betterment of the poor” (see Morocco Under King Hassan [Ithaca Press, 2001]). His attention to social issues even earned him the nickname “king of the poor”. This popularity is further owed to an effective strategic approach in defusing the ostensible threat of political Islam, something that has also won praise from western observers (see Nelcya Delanoe, "Morocco: a journey in the space between monarchy and Islamism", 5 February 2003)

Fourth, there is an overall sense that Morocco is still “exceptional” within the Arab world - its people believed to be moderate and peaceful Muslims, devoted to their king, and deeply hostile to violence. These perceptions mix with self-perceptions to affect the collective mood, though they are quite compatible with demands for reform (see Laila Lalami, “Morocco's Moderate Revolution”, Foreign Policy, 21 February 2011).

These ingredients of Moroccan political reality were on display when King Mohammed VI told his people that by 30 June 2011 a committee reporting to him would propose significant changes to the country's political and judicial system. They include the appointment of the prime minister by parliament (rather than, as at present, by the king himself); moves to guarantee judicial independence; the introduction of direct elections at a local level; and constitutional amendments that would guarantee more civic and gender rights. All this, the king said, would amount to "comprehensive constitutional reform".

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 11, 2011 6:50 AM
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