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Morocco: Therapy Abroad, Apathy at Home

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Morocco, Elections, Governance, International Relations, Politics, Travel

The global economic downturn seems to be affecting tourism worldwide, a sector upon which the Moroccan economy is heavily dependent, when it doesn't simply rely on agriculture.

Earlier in March this year, the Moroccan authorities have come up with a novel idea and launched an advertising campaign targeting main western markets to attract more travellers. Road shows [1] were organized across western European countries. A website [2] available in three different languages (French, Spanish and English) was created with a fashionable, trendy design and eccentric format, purporting the concept of Morocco as a healing destination. The site lists a series of imaginary modern diseases that may occur as a result of current insecure economic times and proposes Moroccotherapy [2], humorously, as an efficient treatment.

The ad seems to have struck a chord with blogger The View From Fez [3]:

The Morocco Therapy website is beautifully designed and comes with its own doctor. It is available in English, French and Spanish. After an introduction by the good Doctor Karam, you are invited to take a rather bizarre test to see just what ails you. Then it is on to the diseases.

Targeted markets are democracies where arguably authoritarianism is no longer a “disease” that needs treatment.

Beyond the clichés, and with the forthcoming communal elections [4] due in June 12 fast approaching, many bloggers reveal less glorious aspects of their country's political realities.

The Maid -- Ouarzazate, Morocco by Cromacom in Flickr [5]

The Maid — Ouarzazate, Morocco by Cromacom in Flickr

Fatima [6], nicknamed La Marocaine, interviewed by fellow Moroccan blogger Le Politiquonaute Marocain [7], expressed deep concerns about the prospects of democracy in her country – the official line being the country is in a transition period and a rhetoric that hasn't changed in 10 years:

Transition. Ce mot me rappelle une citation de Hervé Serieyx “nous sommes toujours dans une période de transition entre deux périodes de transition” ! […]
[S]ur le fond, le pouvoir est toujours concentré entre les mains du roi. Alors transition démocratique je veux bien mais la transition est censée avoir un horizon et pour le cas du Maroc, j'ai peut-être raté un épisode, mais je ne le vois pas.

Transition… This word reminds me of a quote by Hervé Serieyx: “We're always in a transition period between two transition periods.” […]
Basically, power remains concentrated in the hands of the monarch. Therefore, call it democratic transition if you like, but this is supposed to have a horizon. So, in the case of Morocco, unless I've missed an episode, I don't see any.

Many analysts, including Reporters Sans Frontières [8], have recently deplored the steady decline in the country's freedom spaces. Blogger Taha Balafrej [9] quotes a report labelling Morocco as an authoritarian country:

C’est le classement 2008 de The Economist Intelligence Unit [10]qui le dit !
Sur 167 pays examinés, le Maroc figure à la 120ème place, dans la catégorie régimes autoritaires. Les trois autres catégories sont celles des démocraties pleines, des démocraties avec des défauts et des démocraties hybrides.

It's the Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of democracy 2008 [10]that reveals it!
Out of 167 countries, Morocco ranks 120th, in the category of authoritarian regimes. The three other types of regimes are full democracies, flawed democracies, and hybrid regimes.

Other bloggers go as far as calling for a boycott of the next polls. Abu An'naji [11] is one of them. Under the title “I Boycott, Then I Exist“, the blogger defiantly sends a message to electoral officials:

لم تتركوا لنا الخيار، لقد أصبحت قضية كرامة أن نقاطع و ألا نشارك ككومبارس في مسرحيتكم الرديئة….المقاطعة خيارنا و حقنا.

You didn't give us the choice; It is a matter of dignity that we choose not to participate and not to play a cameo role in this parody… Boycott is our choice and our right.

This sentiment is similar to the position expressed by Mimoun Um Al'id [12] who comments sarcastically:

هذه الأيام نسمع كثيرا أن لنا حقا لا يجب أن نفرط فيه , و يحثنا المخزن [أو النظام] على أن نمارس هذه الشعيرة الوطنية , لماذا لا يختار هو بنفسه من” يمثلنا ” ويرضاه لنا دون أن يزعج نفسه و يتحمل مشاق المجيء إلى هذه المداشر البعيدة النائية , فكثيرة هي الحقوق التي لم نستفد منها و
لا بأس أن نتنازل أيضا عن هذا الحق التافه

We hear a lot those days about a right we have, that we shouldn't neglect, and the Makhzen [the Moroccan regime] keeps exhorting us to practice this national ritual. Why didn't they [the government] choose whom they see fit as “our representatives” and avoid for themselves the hardship of coming to our remote villages. We haven't benefited from many of our rights and we're prepared to give up this trivial one too!

But not all bloggers agree with the boycott approach. In an interview with Politiquonaute [13], award winning blogger Larbi [14], and one of the most influential Moroccan bloggers, pleads for a change from within the system:

[M]on rêve c’est d’être un jour maire d’une petite ville (genre Oued Zem ou Ksar Lekbir :) pour la transformer et mettre l’action des élus locaux au service des citoyens pour améliorer leur quotidien.
A y réfléchir sérieusement, un élu local ou un maire à plus de possibilités d’agir et changer les choses au niveau de sa commune. Et j’irais même jusqu’à dire plus qu’un député au parlement qui, au niveau national et en l’état actuel des institutions ; n’est là que pour la figuration politique.

My dream is to become one day a mayor of a small Moroccan city (like Oued Zem or Ksar Lekbir) to be able to transform it and direct the actions of local representatives for the benefit of the citizens in order to improve their daily lives.
When you seriously think of it, a local deputy or a mayor have more opportunities to act and change things at the level of their community. And I'd go as far as to say that they have more possibility than a national deputy who -with the current state of affairs- is reduced to play the role of a political dummy.