For my money, the best-produced and most dramatic Arab Spring videos have been those of Morocco's February 20 movement. Here's the latest, calling for a boycott of the July 1 referendum.
Morocco's King Muhammad VI recently presented the text of the country's new constitution, which will be put up for referendum in July. The new text has been rejected by the February 20 movement which had moved the king to implement this "reform" last March, although the new constitution is still widely expected to be approved. I translated the (mostly French-language) blogger Larbi's reaction to the king's speech last Saturday, for two reasons. First, Larbi is one of the most thoughtful and influential Moroccan bloggers and thought English-language readers would benefit . Secondly, I largely agree with his analysis that the new text does not deliver a real change to the political structure of the country; i.e. that the king's powers remain largely untouched and the ability of political parties to influence state policy largely constrained.
Before the text of Larbi's post, a few other links:
- The text of the new constitution in French.
- How the government is criminalizing calls for boycott [Fr].
- Ibn Kafka's analysis of why criminalizing a boycott this is a misuse of the law, here and here [Fr].
- King declares Morocco a constitutional monarchy - AP's report.
- Le Mouvement Du 20 Fevrier, Le Makhzen Et L’antipolitique. L’impensé Des Reformes Au Maroc by Beatrice Hibou [Fr.
- Morocco reforms to cut monarch's powers - Africa - Al Jazeera English
- Carnegie's Marina Ottaway gives an analysis that is too charitable in describing new commissions as "independent", considering the track record of such instances, but notes "What [the new text] fails to do clearly and unequivocally is reduce the power of the king."
- In Morocco: A Quiet Revolution? - Up Front Blog - Brookings Institution - this analysis by Ken Pollack (one of the lead cheerleaders for the Iraq war in 2002) is ridiculously positive, confirming his desultory skills as a political analyst. He even makes the argument that "gradual reform" is the answer to the Arab world's woes — except where has that worked? And even if their transitions are unfinished, we are already seeing that sudden, violent change as practiced in Tunisia and Egypt is a better option when it is possible. Brookings' Middle East center was founded by uber-Zionist Chaim Saban, and Zionists have always been good friends to the Moroccan monarchy. I expect other similarly-minded people to provide more praise.
And now here's Larbi's take:
Why I reject Muhammad VI’s constitution
While bringing some improvements, the proposed new constitution unveiled today takes us back to a the same institutional structure for the country. It matches neither Moroccans’ aspirations nor the new regional context.
The pro-reform collective Mamfakinch has put together a press kit to encourage Western journalists to cover Morocco. It's reproduced below.
The February 20 movement continues to challenge the monarchy in Morocco, on the eve of the unveiling of a royal commission's proposal for constitutional reform. Adl wal Ihsan, the country's largest Islamist movement and a key supporter of the reform movement, has called for a civil state (rather than a religious one) as the regime launches a campaign to tar February 20 has having been taken over by Islamist and leftist radicals. Rachid Nini, Morocco's most influential journalist, is sentenced to a year in prison, while the police begins to crack down on protestors, killing one last week. This and more in the links below, and analysis of Morocco will come at some later point. Do check out of the first link, which is an interactive website to debate, article by article, the constitution — it's a great model to follow and someone in Egypt should do the same.
There's been a lot of ink spilled — and some pretty funny jokes — about the surprise announcement that Jordan and Morocco might join the GCC. I'll let someone else provide the Gulf logic for this move (see below) and follow that with some links to pieces looking at things from various angles. But first I want to talk about this generally and then from the specifically Moroccan perspective.
The GCC announcement appears to me first and foremost an economic and political stabilization package for two countries that are traditional security subcontractors to the GCC states as well as frequent recipients of their largesse — and which have similar political systems but are much more fragile because they are not insulated by wads of oil money. The Iran aspect has been trumpeted, but Morocco and Jordan were already on that bandwagon anyway, so I think it's secondary.
Protestors in Morocco are organizing flash mobs when they freeze for a certain amount of time, as part of the buildup to another national day of protests on 20 March. This one is in Rabat, in front of parliament.
I have this commentary in today's Guardian (page 30) — it discusses Libya and Morocco for the most part, but the principle applies elsewhere: that both outsiders and many Arabs have set too low an expectation of the desire for democracy in the region. Here I'm not excusing real anti-democratic movements and sentiments that exist in the region (as they do even in democracies) or accuse an uncaring West, the point is more to respond to something that has been troubling me ever since the beginning of the Tunisian uprising. This is the idea that a people can be "mature" for democracy — which suggests that they can also be immature and unready for it. This idea or some variant of it, such as fear of Islamists, has been too dominant for the last few decades. Anyway, here it goes (and needless to say — as some commenters on the Guardian website suggested — I am not making a comparison by Libya and Morocco, they are incomparable. I am showing the two extremes of the contemporary Arab world, and that desire for change in both of them is legitimate.)
There is a phrase coined in 2004 by Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for George W Bush best-known for having come up with "axis of evil", that I've always liked. In a speech about education, he bemoaned "the soft bigotry of lowered expectations" that he believed existed against disadvantaged children.
For several decades, there has been a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the west and among Arab elites about the Arab world. The prevalent thinking about this region of over 300 million souls is that it offered no fertile ground for democracy, either because democracy risked bringing political forces hostile to western interests or because democracy is not a value that has much currency in the region. Many regimes understood this, and played a double game of decrying their societies' "immaturity" while encouraging anti-democratic tendencies such as populism and, at times, a reactionary social conservatism. After the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, no one will buy this any more – and nor should they about two more north African countries: Libya and Morocco.
Here's the rest.
Reuters reports that one group in the Moroccan coalition that is protesting today has backed out:
(Reuters) - A Moroccan youth movement that led calls for nationwide protests on Sunday has pulled out because of a disagreement with Islamists and leftists over the role of the monarchy, one of its leaders said.
I suspect they were intimidated, because one would think they would have thought about their partners in this, who would bring out the numbers, earlier. Surely the better logic would be to have people from the mainstream center participate so that Islamists and leftists don't monopolize the day. This will make it easier for the regime to paint the protests as run by "extremists".
Update: Some of the people alleged to have pullout have issued a denial.
The video above is part of a viral campaign to encourage people to protest in Morocco on February 20. The call to protest was initially put out by the center-left PSU party, but it is also backed by civil society movements. Many are skeptical that this movement will end up very far: unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Morocco has not been ruled by the same man for over two decades (Muhammad VI became king in 1999).
But there are similarities with these countries: over the last five years or so, Morocco has regressed after initially showing promise. Freedom of expression is at the lowest since the late 1990s, with independent voices shut out by campaigns of intimidation and libel lawsuits. Political life has been hijacked by a party run by the king's closest friend. Economic life is being suffocated by the palace, with the king's economic interests now harming entrepreneurship with its anti-competitive measures. There is also still no new constitution making Morocco into a real constitutional monarchy, with Muhammad VI effectively an absolute ruler. The Makhzen — the state and business elite that runs the country — acts with ever more impunity. Rule of law suffers, notably because people close to the royal family can get away with anything — including, a few years ago, shooting a police officer.
One of the most under-reported stories in the Arab world at the moment is the camp protest taking place at Gadaym Izik, near Laayoune, in Western Sahara. Over 8,000 tents have been set up, gathering at least 10,000 people, to protest economic inequality and Morocco's control of the territory's resources (phosphates and fishing for the most part.) Interestingly, though, the protest does not seem to be Polisario-led or to be making direct requests for self-determination or independence. Talking to people familiar with the protest, it seems to be beyond the control of either pro-Moroccan or pro-Polisario Sahrawis and even local activists (who are mostly pro-independence, even if they retain a degree of independence from the Polisario).
Something has been brewing for several years in Western Sahara, reflecting the local population's dissatisfaction with economic governance, and to some extent its expectation that the government should provide jobs and redirect revenues from local resources to the population, partly due to the longstanding Moroccan practice of providing subsidies and various forms of rent to Sahrawis to secure their support. How this relates to the Polisario movement is very ambiguous — on the one hand the Polisario is recognized in international law as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawis (which even Morocco recognizes since it negotiates with it), on the other the Tindouf leadership has become relatively alienated from the Sahrawis in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. But today it seems the major new dynamic is not coming from Tindouf, which makes all of the political actors involved nervous.
Beyond its relationship to the conflict, this protest has some interesting ramifications. If Western Sahara, as Moroccan wants, is to be an autonomous province inside Morocco, should it continue to benefit from such subsidies that are not available to Moroccans elsewhere? Considering that Morocco spends a considerable amount of money on subsidies (never mind the military), what is the balance between how much is extracted from the region and how is spent? Is this question besides the point if the main question should be whether the Sahrawis want to be Moroccan or independent?
You won't find much discussion of all of this, though. This week's Economist has a story on the conflict overall ahead of the resumption of talks in New York next week, and the best coverage of the Gadaym Izik protest has been by Ignacio Cembrero of El Pais (search for "marruecos" for the latest). Most journalists have been blocked from covering the protest, and al-Jazeera was recently banned from Morocco over its coverage. There's a nice Flickr set of the camp here, that accompanied a Rue89 report. But the lack of information, and access to the camp, only serves to suggest that Morocco has something to hide.
As most readers of the blog know, Issandr and I spent the summer visiting and reporting from Morocco. What follows is a belated, personal and haphazard list of some cool things I discovered there.
1. Music. Hindi Zahra, a Berber-Moroccan-French singer-songwriter.
Update: I've made a mistake here — this is from 2009, not a recent conviction. It doesn't take away from the outrageous nature of the original fine, but sorry about the mistake. I'll be more careful next time.
This is really scandalous, when you think about it: a publisher takes a competitor to court for being "unpatriotic" by reporting on a crime involving a relative of the king's. From CPJ:
On Monday, a court in Casablanca sentenced Managing Editor Ali Anouzla and Publishing Director Jamal Boudouma of the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula to two-month suspended jail terms each and a fine of 200,000 dirhams (US$24,190) for "defamation" and "insulting the judiciary," according to local news reports. Anouzla said his lawyer will appeal the ruling as soon as he receives a copy of the decision.
The lawsuit, the second in less than three months in regard to the same article, was filed by Khalil Hachemi Idrissi, publishing director of the daily French-language newspaper Aujourd'hui Le Maroc in January. Idrissi filed a previous lawsuit against Anouzla in September 2008, after the newspaper reported on an incident in which Hassan al-Yaqoubi, the spouse of King Muhammad VI's aunt, had shot and injured a traffic policeman who had stopped him.
They keep drilling in the message: don't even think of writing about the royal family, among other things Morocco's biggest economic actor.
Fez City Clan — check out the kid's solo at around 1:56.
This morning I wrote a post about the refusal of Moroccan authorities to allow Kamel Jendoubi, a Tunisian activist, to enter the country, and saw it as a sign of regression:
One of the striking things, having spent a couple of months in Morocco every year for the past five years, is that this lack of progress / regression is becoming palpable. The disappearance of media outlets like Le Journal or Jarida al-Oula and abundance (or hegemony) of shallow magazines and newspapers constantly engaging in regime propaganda is starting to suffocate the atmosphere for those interested in politics.
That was before I found out that the groundbreaking darija magazine Nichane is closing because of a sustained advertising boycott. In doing so it will avoid the fate of Le Journal, which became saddled with debts after over eight years of struggling with advertising boycotts. While Le Journal was pathbreaking in its coverage of political and business, Nichane's main innovation was that it was a secularist magazine written in Moroccan dialect rather than Modern Standard Arabic, unlike most Arabic publications. I wasn't quite convinced by its philosophy that darija is a more democratic language that bypasses the debate of linguistic identity in a country where Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish co-exist, but it was certainly innovative and thought-provoking.
It's mind-boggling that the Moroccan regime, which has banked so much on an image of democratization both domestically and abroad for the past decade, is acting so aggressively towards independent media. And the growth of other supposedly independent magazines that tow the line, such as Actuel and Le Temps, or even the taming of Rachid Nini and his (admitedly horrible) al-Massae, is making for a soporific, cheerleading media scene where there used to be vibrancy. But the damage may be even worse than merely press freedom: the closure of magazines is beginning to look like a direct consequence of the all-devouring appetite of the monarchy in the business sphere. From Le Monde:
Le magazine marocain Nichane, version arabophone de l'hebdomadaire francophoneTelQuel, ferme ses portes. Cette décision, annoncée vendredi 1er octobre, pour cause de faillite, est le résultat, précise le groupe TelQuel dans un communiqué, "d'un boycott publicitaire persistant initié par le holding royal ONA/SNI (…), étendu à de multiples grands annonceurs étatiques, paraétatiques et proches du pouvoir".
That quote, in italics, says Nichane close because "of a sustained advertising boycott initiated by the royal holding company ONA/SNI (and) spread to many state, para-state advertisers and those close to the regime."
It's a damning statement on the dominant, even atrophying, role that the king's business interests are playing in the economic and political field. After all, a magazine is not just part of the fourth estate, it's also a business that employs people, buys services, and can help deliver a clearer picture of an emerging economy. It's already a bad thing to be a country with no freedom of the press, but it is an altogether worse thing to be a country with no transparency on its economic governance where the population is beholden to artificial monopolies. In the Nichane case, you have the combination of both.
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I was shocked, although not altogether surprised, to learn about Kamel Jendoubi yesterday. I was in Morocco most of the summer and just flew back as Jendoubi, a renowned Tunisian human rights activist, was being prevented from entering the country. Jendoubi had been invited by Moroccan rights groups, who wanted to honor his activism. The authorities gave no official reason for him being barred, but it appears pretty clear that it's to appease the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia, perhaps in exchange for a modicum of support on the Western Sahara or in Morocco's spat with Libya over the same issue.
Jendoudi heads the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, which has its name indicates links activists across the region. Meetings like the ones in Morocco, perhaps the country of the south Mediterranean with the strongest civil society groups and experience, are essential to lend a hand to those in more repressive countries like Tunisia. Rather than let a meeting that would have highlighted Morocco's relative openness and record of progress on human rights, the authorities decided to block Jendoubi's entry. That decision is not only nasty, it's stupid.
Morocco just hosted, about 10 days ago, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs who oversees MEPI and democracy initiatives. In a few weeks, it will be reviewing its human rights records as part of its advanced status negotiations with the EU. Both the US and the EU have been generous donors, giving funds in part on the condition of better human rights governance. It is true that, a decade ago, some impressive improvements were made in womens' rights and human rights more generally in Morocco. But these donors, as well as all Moroccans, should ask themselves whether the constant celebration of these improvement is warranted.
The Jendoubi affair comes as torture — and even more worryingly, impunity for torture — is making a return in the kingdom's police stations. [If you read French, then Ibn Kafka's recent long post on torture in Morocco, the first in a series, is a must-read.] This has been in part because of the War on Terror and the encouragement to torture from patron-states, but also because whatever transition took place in Morocco over the past decade has been — constitutionally, legally, administratively, culturally — quite shallow, often engaged in theatrics rather deep reform.
One of the striking things, having spent a couple of months in Morocco every year for the past five years, is that this lack of progress / regression is becoming palpable. The disappearance of media outlets like Le Journal or Jarida al-Oula and abundance (or hegemony) of shallow magazines and newspapers constantly engaging in regime propaganda is starting to suffocate the atmosphere for those interested in politics. Whatever dynamic existed at the beginning of Muhammad VI's reign, at least when it came to politics, is rapidly losing momentum. It's still a freer country than Tunisia or Algeria, but you feel some form of limit has been reached. Preventing an act of solidarity with a Tunisian activist, a petty act, might be a symbol of this.
Maati Monjib is a writer and political activist who paid dearly for his views: he was exiled from Morocco for years under the late King Hassan II. A humble and highly perceptive man, his recent piece for the Arab Reform Bulletin subtly highlights the perils of a regime that seeks to co-opt everything: sooner or later, it will find itself with no credible mainstream political opponents.
This is what is happening to Morocco's "historic" opposition party, the left-wing USFP, whose leaders have been pried away from a reformist position on a democratic reform of the constitution by the peddling of cabinet positions and other advantages to its leaders. It's a sad statement on the much-touted transition of the last 15 years, with the USFP forming a "government of alternance" (I can never find the right English word for this) in 1997 only to be thoroughly discredited by the process:
In an April 21 letter published in local newspapers, three of the top leaders of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) informed party leader Abdelwahed Radi that they were freezing their membership in the political bureau until the next party congress was held. One of the three was Ali Bouabid, the forty-something son of USFP founder Abderrahim Bouabid, who represents a youthful faction within the party that believes that the policy of unconditionally backing the monarchy has stalled democratic reforms. The three were upset at Radi’s statement, upon his election as speaker of parliament’s lower house, that constitutional reform was in the hands of the king alone. They argued that Radi was renouncing one of the most important decisions of the last USFP party congress, namely to seek “political and constitutional reform to extricate the country from the crisis of its struggling democracy.”
This controversy within the USFP is emblematic of problems inside other political parties as well, which struggle with how to pursue their principles in light of Morocco’s patronage based system and the centripetal force of the monarchy. Changes inside the USFP—which has participated in every Moroccan government since 1998—over the last decade also are at the heart of the current problems.
As they say, read the whole thing.