Morocco, a democratic transition in depth the French press cannot see

Within this political disorder across the Maghreb and the Mashreq, there are few examples of slow peaceful democratic transitions. Morocco is one of them. But unlike some sex cases identified in Marrakech or some recent political-economic arrangements between Paris and Rabat, the press made little echo to it.

Yet, until recently by the end of February, at the occasion of a delegation sent to Rabat, the European Union welcomed the change process in Morocco. It even strengthened its Association Agreement and thus its economic relations with its neighbour. March 6, 2012, a meeting was held in Brussels in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, between a delegation led by President of the Moroccan Parliament and the European Commission.

The Kingdom is experiencing a historic political change initiated at the accession of King Mohammed VI in 1999 and strengthened in the two past years. The latter has gradually tried to turn the page of the dark period of the country’s history, the one of the reign of his father, Hassan II. Gradually emptying the Makhzen of the most reluctant to transparency and democracy, the king, as Amir al Mu’minin, had to show the example.

When the movement of February 20 was formed and began to demonstrate for democratization in the country following the examples of Tunisia and Egypt, Mohamed VI initiated the first reforms. Reform of the constitution is the best example: the Moroccans approved by referendum this change on July 1, 2011. Even if everything is not perfect, the change is significant.

Which developments did this new constitution bring? The preamble sets the scene: « Loyal to its irreversible choice to build a democratic constitutional state, the Kingdom of Morocco resolutely pursues the process of consolidating and strengthening the institutions of a modern state, founded on the principles of participation, pluralism and good governance ». The means to reach this goal are: reducing the power of the king, to make impossible for him to dismiss a minister, the Prime Minister becomes Chair of the Government, the possible dissolution of parliament by the latter, the progression of the rights of the Moroccans who could seize the Constitutional Council, the inclusion of gender equality, the accentuation of the independence of the judiciary, the inclusion of Jewish heritage but also the recognition of the Amazigh language as official language.

The electoral choice of Moroccans also seems to bother Western observers, scared of the Islamists. The parliamentary elections in January have indeed taken the Islamists and the Justice and Development Party into power. Abdelilah Benkirane, leader of the JDP, conquered the people, and was therefore asked by the king to form a government. The desire to break with old practices, does not mean that Moroccan youth aspires to more religious austerity. Instead, many Moroccans even expect the return of political rectitude and integrity in governance practices. Certainly, many observers note that veiling is increasing in Morocco since a few years, but at the same time we often forget to say that there are many mini-skirts and low necklines in major cities. Much has been said this week in the Kingdom of the opening of the first sex shop in Casablanca. It is also good to come back on liberalization of the opinion press criticizing openly the government in newspapers such as Tel Quel, Actuel or Le Temps.

And the signs of openness and modernization are increasing. The largest shopping-center in Africa opened in Casa, « the Morocco Mall, » on December 5, inaugurated by Jennifer Lopez. Finally, another symbol, March 8, 2011, all the press headlined on the International Day of Women and national events in honor of the woman were organized the all week long. The multiplication of rights associations also reflects the structural roots of the Moroccan civil society. Are these symbols of a country that wants to lock up? And of courses there are some negative aspects: structuring difficulties of the opposition, the weight of the Makhzen and the bureaucratic inertia among other things. But could we believe that the Islamist government, arrived by the polls and revocable by the polls could succeed in muzzling a country whose youth under 25 years represents 50% of the population? This seems unlikely and the French journalists should think about exploiting new analytical frameworks to understand this country in turmoil. Moreover, touch of humor to reassure the skeptics: someone was notifying to Prime Minister Benkirane the proliferation of beards in the country. The latter answered with elegance that he was planning to keep his beard short and neatly trimmed and that he wanted to make it a symbol for all. Notice to extremists of all stripes?


Sébastien Boussois