Morocco: the step-by-step Revolution?

« Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make a violent revolution inevitable » said J. F. Kennedy and it is exactly what Mohammed VI is trying to avoid in Morocco. Morocco is one of the few Arab countries that have not been touched, or almost, by the revolutionary wave. Without going through a revolution, the country is launched on the path of democratic progress. As witness the adoption of the new constitution by referendum last July and the parliamentary elections that have followed. The Kingdom has opted for gradual reforms to avoid a major upheaval that could threaten the monarchy in place. But can there be profound change without revolution and without break with the past? How is the democratic transition going on in Morocco and do the promised reforms will actually take place?

On coming to power in 1999, the young King Mohammed VI marked a significant break with the brutal reign of his father in power since 1961. Prosecution and torture of opponents were common-as shown by the example of the family of General Oufkir (responsible for a failed military putsch) held in one of the secret prisons of Hassan II, during nineteen years. The new monarch King built an image of modern reformer. It has taken a number of progressive measures to liberalize the country. For example, he created the Equity and Reconciliation Commission charged to reveal the crimes committed during the reign of Hassan II, but none of those responsible were prosecuted. He also passed a key measure in favor of the women rights, the Mudawana, which makes polygamy illegal and reform the family code.

Mohammed VI has resisted the wave of Arab revolutions in responding quickly at the first sign of protest. To respond to the claims of the February 20th movement , he decided in March to revise the Constitution deeply and to hold early parliamentary elections. The new Constitution, adopted by referendum in July, states that the king gives up some of his prerogatives to the head of government and that Parliament will have its powers expanded. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) topped the elections on November 25th . This party is firmly monarchist and does not question the authority of the King.
However, these measures have been insufficient to meet the demands of the movement of February 20th  which considers that the PJD has always been part of the very corrupt Moroccan political landscape and does not represent a separation with the past wanted by the people. It is true that in the context of the wind of freedom that blew across the Arab countries, Morocco could have done much more better. February 20th  protesters demand a profound political change, the end of the corruption and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. But the elections have not generated the expected enthusiasm. The organization of the electoral system does not allow the domination of one political force over another in the Parliament, the various parties can therefore govern only as a coalition. Political parties remain weak and thus the power remains in the hands of the king.

The new Constitution is truly progressive. Never a leader of the Moroccan government has had so much power. In theory, this is the most powerful government in the history of Morocco and its leader was chosen in the party that won the most seats in the parliamentary elections. The recognition of Amazigh as a second official language is a major step forward that should be emphasized. Now the question is whether the King will meet the provisions of the new constitution and let the head of government, Abdelilah Benkirane, a free hand to carry out the necessary economic reforms. This new government is facing huge economic challenges with a rate of youth unemployment over 30%, while the public deficit is around 6%. Skepticism moved since the election, since the new constitution provides that the Prime Minister replaced the king as head of government. However, the king formed his own cabinet. To be credible, the Prime Minister needs to mark his independence from an omnipotent king. If Morocco truly wants to take the path of constitutional monarchy, an effective control must be exerted on the king. For now, he still has very extensive powers, remains head of the army, religious authorities and courts. For many, these reforms have only allowed the emergence of an executive bis.

The issue of corruption of the regime does not help establish the credibility of the king in this project of reform. While Wikileaks has revealed the extent of the corruption of the royal family, the American magazine Forbes has meanwhile introduced Mohammed VI in the list of the wealthiest monarchs in the world. It appears in seventh place, before the King of Qatar, with a fortune of $ 7.5 billion. Early in his reign, the racketeering of the young king was severely criticized. He assured his domination on real estate, food and banking sectors. This adds to the lack of freedom of the press where independent media are gradually disappearing due to the financial weapon. The red lines that are religion, the king and the monarchy seem impossible to overcome.

No one expects  Morocco to  transform from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one overnight. The country is likely in the right direction but the king must not only follow the reforms adopted but also make it clear that this is only the first step in a long series of reforms. Mohammed VI does not undergo the same kind of pressures as other Arab heads of state, it still has broad support among the population as a Commander of the Faithful. However, it should certainly not underestimate the importance of popular demands for more democracy and social justice as the revolutionary wave does not seem to spare anyone.

Dalila Bernard