24/07/2009

An iron hand in a velvet glove

After the death of his father Hassan II on 24 July 1999, Muhammad VI ascended the throne. Morocco is therefore preparing to celebrate the ten years of reign of the king next week, giving the opportunity to many retrospectives on this first decade. The break with the time of Hassan II is real. Nevertheless those who are tempted to see his son as a retiring or lax sovereign are far from the truth. Under his outside of a king modern, close to the people, even « cool », the one nicknamed « M6 » leads the country with an iron hand.

Given the discretion displayed by the young sovereign, it is often difficult to discern his true nature. Granting very few hearings to the press, the latter has to understand him through his actions. We can thus see a king who frequents much more associations and projects in Morocco, than he makes speeches during some solemn ceremonies. If necessary, the monarch can either roll up his sleeves. He also denigrates the international scene, where meetings and statements may seem a waste of time. Those few words and many acts show a very pragmatic sovereign.

Equally determined as was his father, M6 prefers to use the soft power. His popularity gives him the tools to implement his reforms and projects. We have seen him imposing a new family code – the Mudawana – despite protests from the ultra-conservative fringe of the population, or setting up a commission on the abuses to human rights during Hassan II’s reign at the expense sometimes of the old intelligentsia that was hanging around the crown. The people love and support him so no matter what the politicians and other dignitaries think when the king decides to change things.

Strange compared to a perceived rigorous personality, the lifestyle of the monarch is far from sober. He ranks among the wealthiest sovereign in the world and the press is often eager to reveal the splendor of the palace. In addition to the inherited wealth, Muhammad VI has the qualities of a businessman, which enabled him to quintuple the assets of the crown in ten years. But in addition, a significant part of the population lives below the poverty line in a two-speed Morocco. Surprisingly, this lavish lifestyle does not affect the popularity of the king.

Between discretion and determination, firmness and softness, or real interest to the poor standard and living a luxurious life, the royal antinomies are everywhere and are losing those who attempt to define the personality of Muhammad VI. As an enlightened monarch would do it, he offers the country what he thinks to be good for him. In ten years he has led Morocco on the path of openness and modernity, but without paying much attention to democratic practices. Despite some appearances, the King reigns and continues to govern.

N.J.O.