Morocco: An Alternative to Iran?

A recent article by Anne Applebaum, published under two separate titles in the Washington Post (“Morocco, an Alternative to Iran) and Slate (“Morocco Makes Peace With Its Past”), has caused quite a stir amongst Moroccan bloggers, as well as on Twitter and in forums. The article, which suggests Morocco as a model for democracy coexisting with Islam to be used in Iran, has been criticized for going too easy on the Moroccan regime, as well as for projecting Western values onto both countries.

Moroccan author Laila Lalami blogged her frustration with the article, saying:

Her contention that protesters outside Parliament were “politely” waving signs is bizarre. If she had spent any kind of time, day after day, watching what happened to them, she wouldn’t be praising their politeness or the police’s restraint. The elections themselves are really nothing to write home about: turn-out was low and the results were, as usual, entirely unsurprising. If this is what she qualifies as “transformation from authoritarianism to democracy” then Lord help us all.

On the Morocco Board forums, where Applebaum's original article was posted, many readers took issue with the article. One reader, Adiloss, seemingly agrees with Lalami:

It seems the journalist tourist is misled by some appearances. It's true that demonstrators in front of the parliament are often not disturbed by the police. They have been there even for months for some of them, but nobody cares.
The journalist didn't happen to pass by in one of those hot violent days were police officers can break the head of anyone they can lay hands on, even non demonstrator passers can be subject to violence and degrading verbal insults by police forces.

Lalami also commented on Applebaum's contentious statement that in Morocco, “though there is clearly a fashion for long, flowing head scarves and blue jeans, many women would not look out of place in New York or Paris,” stating:

It almost never fails. When a Western reporter goes to Morocco to write about the process of democratization, the resulting article will inevitably mention sartorial choices and give them positive or negative values. Jeans = good. Jellabas = bad. At Slate, Anne Applebaum visits Morocco and finds that many women “would not look out of place in New York or Paris.”

Another statement by Applebaum with which readers took issue was: “One thinks wistfully of the shah of Iran and of what might have been.” One Morocco Board reader, who calls himself Moroccan Patriot, decried the statement, saying:

Nothing this woman wrote is accurate. She might as well be a reporter for FOX news.

Morocco has serious issues that do not need 100 years to solve. They need those who are currently in charge to simply decide that they want to ENFORCE the current laws on the books.

There is NO accountability and NO uniform enforcement of the laws currently on the books. This is not an accident, this is by design. While certain degrees of this exist in all societies, it is seldom as blatent and in your face as it is in Morocco.

When you say things like, “think whistfully of the shah of Iran and what might have been”, you become very clear about your stated goal, the demonizing of Iran.

Of course, there were also those for whom at least pieces of the article rang true. Maghreb Blog commented:

A flattering portrait of Morocco in today's Washington Post. Anne Applebaum sets the kingdom as a model for “slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders — the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman — and a set of family laws that strive to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.” As I opined elsewhere, it would be a stretch claiming that Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, as the monarch still holds vast executive, legislative and discretionary powers.

Mazagan, yet another Morocco Board commenter, on a piece I wrote in response to Applebaum's piece (“Poor Alternatives“), compares the two viewpoints and finds both lacking:

In one, Morocco is the picture perfect Oriental student in line with the West marching orders and the FMI directions, in the other it is simply the lackey of the Imperialism and the oppressor of peoples’ freedom.

Moroccos’ [sic] reality does not fit perfectly in either prism. The electoral process has suffered a major setback, being recuperated by the oligarchy. Still within the country, there is still very healthy civic and political debate taking place.

Only time will tell, as Morocco's new political officers settle into their positions and its bloggers continue to analyze their governance.


  • I agree with almost all your statements and comments about my country. Almost because there is one step you didn’t make. The strong influence of religion on the behaviour of people; The wrong or flawed knowledge of Islam is impacting on the way politics, business, education are conducted…Great efforts are beeing made to build infrastructure: roads, ports, but education indicators are very low and as a result the civic sense is lacking, the sense of common interest is ignored. Efforts for building a country are real, but much more is needed to build a strong and sensitive society.

    You touched some problems Morocco is facing but you forgot the most difficult and critical one: justice. Even in the King’s speeches, this problem is pointed as a major obstacle to enter modernity, or to to say the less to drain investment…

  • Mounhim Tahtahi

    In agreement with the previous poster, I have to elaborate on the justice in Morocco. I don’t know how it is in other parts of Morocco, but in the North (Tangiers, Tetouan) the justice is so corrupt. It’s worse than many south american nations. In those nations it’s mostly the guilty one, paying a lot of money to avoid prosecution. In Morocco (at least the North) they enjoy playing with innocent people. As soon as you get in the hands of justice, because a convicted or prosecuted suspect has mentioned your name, e.g. the suspect has phoned you or he has met you in the last month, it’s enough for the mentioned person to be considered a suspect too. Even though there is no statement indicating so, or any sustaining evidence.
    From that point the mentioned person becomes a suspect and the only way to avoid prosecution is to pay a lot of money. If you don’t you end up in prison; the judge will make up something to convict you for.
    I have seen it happen, some had enough money and have spent a few months in terrible jails. But some don’t and they stay there for even years until some pardon comes from the king.
    You are safe in Morocco as long as your name never has been mentioned by anyone in any way. As soon as your name appears and the police or justice smells money to get, they won’t let you out of their claws until every part of the judicairy chain has been paid up till the judge.
    It is disgusting, so many lifes destroyed or traumatised by some greede elements that don’t give a **** about ethics, morality and justice.
    It is a long way until Morocco becomes a decent nation. With or without a constitutional monarchy.

  • I’d love to know her reactions after all this “levée de bouclier” against her article.

    @Taha: I completly agree with your statement about Justice in Morocco but I think it’s a matter of a political will to introduce reforms in this domain. Will we have a new royal commission to work on that like the one for the education ?
    Will we have some courageous reforms from the minister (the rafi9) in charge ?

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