24/07/2009

Muhammad VI : ten years of reign

Press review – week from July 20 to 24, 2009

Having acceded to the throne following the death of his father on 23 July 1999, the king of Morocco Muhammad VI is preparing to celebrate its ten years of reign on 30 July. The son of Hassan II undertook to pursue the policy of openness initiated at the end of the reign of his father. At 46 years and after ten years ruling Morocco, the result is positive for the one often called « M6 », although many black spots remain.

According to Jeune Afrique, the various projects he started make the balance of its ten year reign « more than positive, but of a relative weight in terms of the efforts to come. »

The Belga news agency described these early years of reign as « a decade of major reforms and the persistence of black spots. » We need to recognize that Morocco is moving, evidenced by the « advanced status » granted by the EU on 13 October 2008.

Major projects of the decade

Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi explained at a conference reported in the Moroccan daily Le Matin that « The methodology adopted by His Majesty the King for a decade is the one of a jurist committed to ensure a match between political rights and socio-economic rights, on the basis of reconciliation with the past to build confidence between the state and society and among all components of the nation.  »

In this perspective, the king began major social reforms such as Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER), the National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD) and the Moudawana (the new Family Code).

When Muhammad VI decided to establish a commission to investigate human rights violations during the reign of his father, he lifted a taboo says RFI. The Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IER) remains one of the biggest success of the new sovereign to this day, even if 66 people are still missing and that on the orders of the monarch, the perpetrators are never prosecuted. The Commission has nevertheless contributed to compensate the victims of « years of lead, » said AFP.

The daily Le Matin concentrates on the NIHD qualified as « the jewel of the social policy of His Majesty the King ». Muhammad VI has sought to focus on social change around humans, and began under the title of National Initiative for Human Development, a comprehensive reform program, including « the renovation of the national education system, the reform of the health system and the expansion of the health coverage, the access to housing, the construction of social and cultural amenities and also human development.  » This program benefits from much international support.

The new Family Code is also one of major projects that Muhammad VI brought to life during these first ten years of reign. The Moudawana was reformed in 2004 in a sense of improving the status of women, which provoked the wrath of fundamentalists. Today, women have almost equal rights with men, making practices such as polygamy and repudiation uneasy to wage,explains AFP.

On the other hand, the Belga agency stressed that the Alaouite monarch wanted to reaffirm his role as Commander of the Faithful (Amir al-Mumineen) to take a greater control on the religion and the faithful and « to prevent the excesses of fundamentalist imams. »

Belga also reported that Muhammad VI has invested heavily in major projects such as electrification of the entire territory, has improved lines of communication networks and transportation, and has began to build from scratch the huge port of Tangiers Med.

Gaps

Aside of these progress made in the last ten years, much remains to be done in the fields of justice, corruption, education, social inequality and freedom of the press.

AFP reports that « Judicial independence is regularly criticized by the press and Moroccan NGOs, which claim that torture and arbitrary detention continue”.

On corruption, RFI reported that Transparency International ranked Morocco in the 80th place among 177 countries. This problem seems to gain momentum in recent years.

On education, RFI stresses that, despite an intensive literacy program, 40% of the population is still illiterate.

The agency Belga further emphasizes the disparity in social situations in Morocco, where « the blackest misery often meets the more insolent opulence. » The country ranks at the 126th place in the global report on human development of the 2007-2008 UNDP (United Nations Development Program).

Finally, freedom of the press is enviable compared with other Arab neighbors, according toAFP, but is met only if they do not affect the official religion (Sunni Malekite), the monarchy, or the territorial integrity.

International discretion

How great is the interest of the monarch for the major projects and the social issues of his country, how great is his disinterest for foreign policy.

The Figaro explains that Muhammad VI is often absent from the major international summits such as the launching of the Union for the Mediterranean in Paris in 2008, or the last summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Egypt last week. Nevertheless, he does not hesitate to intervene in a « undiplomatic » way in the international arena. For instance, in the Arab summit in Doha, the sovereign, who was absent, sent a cruel letter to other Arab leaders in order to criticize their perpetual disunity.

Jeune Afrique stresses the interest of the king for a region neglected by her father: Sub-Saharan Africa. Muhammad VI conducts regular tours and it is not uncommon to see him  » driving a borrowed car in the neighborhoods of Brazzaville or Dakar ».

The weekly returns on the still tense relations between Morocco and Algeria. Muhammad VI had thought to improve the situation, but one of his advisors admits that « until Bouteflika will be there, nothing will be possible. » Everything separates the two men: age, language, political and cultural references, as well as temperament. The sovereign has in the opposite good relations with Mauritania which could improve in the future since one of M6’s favorites, General Ould Abdelaziz, has been elected.

The peculiarities of the successor of Hassan II

Jeune Afrique devotes its front page to a King that it qualifies as particular. The weekly highlights the peculiarities of the reign of Muhammad VI, often at the exact opposite of Hassan II. M6 has given their freedom of expression to many people that his father had been silenced: Sahrawi independence movement, the Republicans …. And if the royal palace and his life previously hidden are now splashed all over the papers, it is the contrary as for Muhammad VI. M6 is anything but a communicator and is very discreet about his life and the idea that it has from the job of king.

Because of this discretion, the king remains an enigma for many, said the agency Belga. According to RFI’s website, the king stays a « mystery » as he gives very few interviews to the international press, to none to the Moroccan journalists.

The political scientist Muhammad Tozy explains in the Figaro that M6 prefers « to be loved than feared », while Jeune Afrique speaks of a « Santa Claus » besides the « Mr Bogeyman » who was his father. Muhammad VI has an excellent contact with the people. He does not hesitate for instance to distribute free soup to people without housing on the occasion of Ramadan. Its proximity to ordinary people gives him a high popularity among the Moroccan people, unlike his predecessor.

But the Figaro is right to note that « This discretion does not diminish the extent of his authority. » Muhammad Tozy explains that « There has been no break in institutional terms, the monarchy still holds the same position in the political system. » Still far from a parliamentary monarchy, we are more talking about of an « executive monarchy”.

Close advisers of the crown have also undergone major changes since the end of the reign of Hassan II. M6 prefers to surround himself with contemporaries he chooses among the elders of the Royal College and friends of youth, as we learn from Jeune Afrique. Traditional advisers of the crown remain close to the king who also regularly takes the advice of technocrats with regard to the economy of Morocco.

Considering the royal finances, M6 did not restrict, and did even surpass the lifestyle of his royal father. Afrik.com recalled that he was ranked 7th Royal fortunes of the world by Forbes magazine. His fortune estimated at $ 500 million in 2000 would have increased fivefold since then, a wealth that may be shocking for those who know that « in Morocco more than 5 million people live with less than one euro per day (10 dirhams) and that the country is ranked at 108th position worldwide in terms of wealth per capita, according to the UN, « and that » Moreover, the public external debt of Morocco increasing at the rate of 10% in 2008, is estimated at 16.6 billion dollars, or 20% of the GDP of the Kingdom.  »

The weekly Tel Quel explored in greater depth the king’s finances. We learn that in 1999, Muhammad VI has inherited a holding company that has since transformed into a « real economic war machine that nothing can stop”.

In terms of his private life, at the opposite of the harem of Hassan II, Muhammad VI married Selma Bennani qualified by the weekly Jeune Afrique as a real « first lady » who is holding a degree in computer engineer and has been involved in many charities.