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Morocco: The Winds of Change

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

For the past month, Moroccans have taken to the streets to call for a reform of the constitution and for the establishment of a democratic parliamentary system. On March 10, the country's monarch, King Mohammed VI, gave a speech in which he promised revision of the constitution, as well as referendum on further regionalization, guaranteeing the separation of powers and strengthening the role of an elected Prime Minister and Parliament.

Noted Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi published a piece in Le Monde, which was then posted in English on the website of Stanford University, where he is a visiting scholar. In the piece, he concluded:

Young Moroccans continue to protest for democracy, Rabat, Morocco. Image by Zacarias Garcia, copyright Demotix (20/03/11).

Young Moroccans continue to protest for democracy, Rabat, Morocco. Image by Zacarias Garcia, copyright Demotix (20/03/11).

Yet, despite his ensnared speech and his barely credible commission, Mohammed VI has put himself in a difficult position. Whatever the final draft constitution looks like, it will have to be validated through a referendum. If only because of that, the King will be forced to open the system one way or another. Having the “No” campaigners speak on public TV would already greatly challenge the supposedly untouchable “sacredness” paradigm. How can the royal palace admit that some Moroccans may reject a proposition from the Commander of the faithful? Put under pressure, the monarchy is reaching its ultimate contradiction: Sacred or democratic? It is now time to choose…

…Bigger scale protests are scheduled starting March 20. It seems that the government has no good options. Dropping the mask by meeting the demonstrators with brutal repression may well escalate their anger. Up until now, the King himself was spared by the street slogans. This could change, paving the way to an Egyptian-style scenario, indeed the authorities’ worst nightmare. On the other hand, allowing the demonstrations to happen freely would empower the people and encourage them to hit the streets more, thus increasing pressure on the monarchy.

Sooner or later, Mohammed VI will have to make new concessions. When and to what extent? The highly unstable situation makes that hard to predict. One thing is certain: the democratic Pandora’s box is open, and will not be closed again.

Indeed, March 20 marked another day of protest across the Moroccan Kingdom. The peaceful protests, which took place in cities both large and small, were well-documented on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and elsewhere, inspiring bloggers in Morocco and the Diaspora to share their thoughts.

Myrtus, who resides in the U.S., praised her fellow Moroccans, writing:

I believe Morocco's is another one that will go down in history as a peaceful revolution…which is kind of unique in and by itself, because it was set in motion years ago with the new king's reforms and gradually evolved into what it is now, undoubtedly influenced into switching gears to accelerated mode by the winds of change sweeping the region in recent months.

Laila Lalami, posting to Twitter, certainly sees change happening:

You know things are changing in #Morocco when journalists from official agency go on strike–and get support from people they often slander.

Mahmoud Seddik, on his blog Flow of Soul, expresses what he sees as a national frustration:

Short-sighted is he who confines Moroccans demands’ only to the staple food and certain political amendments. As a matter of fact, the impulse that took people to the streets on 20th of February is not only their legitimate hope for a social welfare, but for a psychological relief as well. In plain English, as Moroccans, we are in dire need to joy.
All what we need is a nationally celebrated event in which we can amuse, rejoice and unleash our inner emotions as pure Moroccans. We all want to feel the flavour of unity and belonging to the same nation not always through sustaining hardships and failures, rather through experiencing even moments of jubilation, joyfulness and taking delight in a national real festivity. In short, Our crisis is not only economic and social, it's a crisis of joy too.

Under the current regime and for decades, national happiness has been something of luxury to attain. Joy forsook our hearts for years; jubilation abandoned our streets and delight has been a mere rumour. We became easy prey to despondency, stress and dissatisfaction. Snorts and sighs have become part of Moroccan daily language while scrowls and frowns have dotted every Moroccan countenance.

The Moorish Wanderer presents a “radical manifesto,” in which he focuses on a specific policy agenda rather than political symbolism, something he sees as a fault of Moroccan political organizations. In the manifesto, he proposes three recommendations [abridged]:

I. Political distribution of power: We cannot go on like this. It is a blatant contradiction with basic democratic proceedings to have a monarchy that concentrates all kinds of legitimacy. As it is, hegemonic political power stifles dissent not by repression, but by denying any conceivable mechanism that would allow this opposition to accede to power. As Mohamed Sassi put it most elegantly, the only viable compromise between a hereditary monarchy and a real democracy is a parliamentary kingdom.

II. The Social project: the Open Society; Living in a strict Islamic society is a nightmare for non-Muslims. Living in an open society is merely an annoyance for the true believer. Political diversity calls necessarily for social diversity too. The Umma myth has long since crumbled (with the Pan-Arabism Nasserism, as well as the Islamic Internationale. The Moroccan nations (the plural is not a typo, believe me) do have a strong Islamic identity, but this has turned more into a set of rituals (that merged Islamic beliefs and ancient pageantry the Arab conquerors failed to weed out and had to live with).

III. Economic renewal: Economists in Morocco (those with serious understanding of economics, that is) do their best to disabuse the public: Morocco has slipped into a rent-seeking economy. Its structure does not seek change and renewal. From top to bottom, the trend is in favour of ‘safe endowment’: public service for the unemployed, private monopolies and unproductive investment for the well-off. Numbers are not in favour of Moroccan economics: though we are sustaining good levels of economic growth, benefits of expansion are still concentrated among a core of few privileged (some 10% most affluent that capture 40% of Morocco’s disposable income)

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

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