Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Morocco: Cosmetic democracy and unfulfilled promises

In early 2011, protests and uprisings against repressive regimes began in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. Wildfire, pro-Democracy movements spilled into surrounding regions, engulfing the Arab world and many areas in the Middle East, spinning their world into a whirlwind of violent and non-violent revolutions. Morocco’s Arab Spring and its goals, when compared to those of Egypt or Syria, were similar, perhaps not as drastic or dramatic— but the demands of the people, as they took to Rabat’s streets in February of 2011, were just as warranted and justifiable.

Before delving into their demands, it is important to understand Morocco’s social, economic and political compositions.  Morocco’s population is roughly 33 million, mostly Arab-Berber Muslims[1]. A little over half of the population is literate (66 percent of males and 40 percent of females over the age of 15); the median age is 26 years of age and about 58 percent of Moroccans live in urbanized areas. Morocco’s economy relies heavily on agriculture, phosphate production (just world’s third-largest producer, behind the United States and China) and tourism. Morocco has taken steps to integrate itself into the global economy and welcomes foreign investment but improvements in the economy have dwindled as Morocco is met with challenges of widespread corruption and massive government spending. 

Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. Morocco's supreme ruler is King Mohammed VI, who began his reign in 1999[2]. When he ascended the throne, he promised to address poverty and corruption, create jobs and pursue a cleaner human rights record. In 2004, he enacted a new family code, Mudawana[3], granting women more equality and power. His techniques of reform initially angered many Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists. The rise and expansion of radical Islam in Morocco caused Mohammed VI to slow his reformist pace of change, disappointing and frustrating many Moroccan citizens. Words spread of his toleration for corruption and accusations emerged of him permitting friends and advisers to amass monumental fortunes from state contracts. 

On Feb. 20, 2011, after a call to protest by young Moroccans on YouTube, students peacefully took to the streets and demanded for King Mohammed to give up some of his powers, revise the constitution to be more democratic, change the governmental structure and bring a stop to corruption. Initially, pro-democracy protesters received little opposition from police forces and the king attempted to appease their demands by agreeing to reforms that would diminish his near-absolute control. But by May of 2011, the Moroccan government cracked down violently as government troops and police forces beat peaceful demonstrators with clubs.

Despite the violence, the protesters did not retaliate and continued tactics of peaceful protest.

What differentiates the Moroccan Arab Spring from others is the protesters were not interested in pushing Mohammed out of power, like in Egypt or Libya, but instead wanted a true constitutional monarchy. Finally, in July of 2011, King Mohammed VI unveiled a reform, which would strengthen the role of the elected government, strip him of some of his powers and protect equality and civil liberties for all.

Fast-forward to 2013 and it seems the democratic changes promised by the king were purely cosmetic. Many Moroccans are questioning whether the king really gave up any power at all. While the king created a constitution that was to shift power to elected officials, he remains the head of the Council of Ministers, the Ulama Council (which runs the mosques), runs the military, security forces and intelligence services. The rights of women are still compromised and inequality exists between the sexes.

Hamida Al Filali holds a poster of her sister Amina who committed suicide last week after a six-month marriage to her rapist. She was attending a sit-in protest outside the local court in Larache that approved the marriage. (Abdelhak Senna/AFP/Getty Images)
Recently, the Moroccan government announced its plans to finally change a law that allowed rapists to avoid conviction if they married their rape victims, following the suicide of a 16-year-old girl, who wanted to escape her marriage to her rapist[4].  Despite the family code in 2004, violence against women is just one of the many issues the Moroccan government continues to avoid addressing. King Mohammed VI is safe from an overthrow, for now, but if he continues to only placate protesters and not enact the promised reforms this (coupled with issues of high unemployment and rising poverty) will just add fuel and fire to even more civil unrest.

1 comment:

  1. 2011 sounded too good to be true to the Moroccan people but thanks to a peaceful (non-violent) protest, King Mohammed VI gave in and changed the law . One very small step forward for Morocco it seems. Seeing King Mohammed VI disperse some of his power to elected officials would be such a drastic improvement in this country. Morocco is ranked 80th according to the CPI in 2011. That is not a very corrupted state being compared to the MiddleEast. This makes me feel optimistic that Morocco will become a great state in the future.