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Morocco: Is the ‘Allegiance Ceremony’ a Thing of the Past?

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Morocco, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Governance, Politics, Protest, Religion, Youth

The bay'a is the name of the annual “loyalty” ceremony where dignitaries from across Morocco pledge allegiance to King Mohammed VI [1]. Critics [2][fr] of the ceremony decry a “shameful show of servility and a display of archaism,” whilst proponents contend it establishes a symbolic contract between the ruler and the Moroccan people.

Originally, the bay'a is an act of allegiance to the successors of Prophet Mohammed [3]. The Moroccan King claims to be descendant from the Prophet and derives part of his authority from his supposedly sacred genealogy.

Abdelilah Benkirane [4] is the serving prime minister. In a statement [5] he made while he was still part of the opposition, he described the bay'a as “shameful ritual” and “a thing of the past,” fueling speculation as to whether the King will decide to cancel this year's ceremony.

But much to the chagrin of bay'a‘s opponents, on Tuesday, August 21, the ceremony did take place (video posted by hespresslive [6]):

The bay'a follows a strict protocol whereby notables and elected representatives present themselves before the King. The monarch, cloaked in a golden robe, parades on horseback, protected by his personal guard, all whilst being covered by an umbrella which, according to commentators [7] [fr], conveys the cosmic symbol of the monarchy. Dignitaries then bow before him, loudly praising his status as “Commander of the Faithful,” before retreating deferentially.

Many followed the event on Twitter like OnlyZineb who tweets [8]:

There's a degrading allegiance ceremony going on right now in morocco where officials bow to the king like slaves to a master #TwittoBayaa

On Facebook, over 1,000 people [9] pledged to gather on Wednesday, the day after the bay'a, at a “public celebration of loyalty to freedom and dignity”.

One member of the group writes:

I am getting ready for another celebration in Morocco, an alternative celebration in which I will declare my full allegiance to the Moroccan people. I will do so with an unshakable sense of honor, with the heightened consciousness of my full Moroccan citizenship and with my irreducible human dignity; I will do it as would any free citizen, standing up tall, proud and dignified

The ritual is also a matter of concern for blogger Larbi, who writes [2] [fr]:

Mardi […] lorsque les images des prosternations feront le tour du monde, beaucoup de Marocains vivront l’instant comme un moment d’humiliation nationale.

On Tuesday, when images of the prostrations will travel around the world, many Moroccans will live the moment as one of national humiliation.

Reda disagrees. He writes [10] [fr]:

je [me prosterne] a chaque fois que je rencontre mes parents […] sans que cela ne soit accompagne d’aucune dégradation a ma personne [certains esprits trop occidentalisés y verront de l'humiliation pas moi]

I bow before my parents each time I see them, without it being accompanied by any feeling of self-degradation. Some minds, too Westernized, will see in this humiliation. Not me.

The bay'a is a ritual rife with political symbols. It establishes a relationship of hierarchical power at the center of which sits the monarch. Ahmed thinks the ceremony is a reminder of the power relations between the people and an all-powerful, unaccountable monarch. He writes [11][ar]:

أعتقد أن محمد السادس أضاع على نفسه فرصة عند توليه “العرش” عند مشارف القرن الواحد والعشرين، أن يكون “ملكا مواطنا”، بقطع تلك العادات المشينة بكرامة الإنسان من ركوع وتقبيل اليد وأيضا ألقاب التعظيم والتمجيد..

I think that Mohammed VI missed the opportunity, when he came to the throne at the dawn of the 21st century, to become a “citizen king”, to get rid of those degrading and shameful rituals including bowing, hand-kissing and the idolisation…

For the latest updates on the alternate “ceremony” activists are planning to stage in front of the Moroccan parliament today, follow the hashtag #TwittoBayaa [12] on Twitter.