Revisiting the Moroccan exception

I have a new op-ed in today's Guardian (p. 28 for dead-tree readers) about Morocco — specifically looking at the idea of Morocco as a model of how to handle the political demands unleashed by the Arab Spring. Here's how it starts:

There are cautionary tales in the Arab uprisings, as Syria has shown: not every revolution can be as successful as Tunisia's, not every aftermath is rosy. And then there are also questions raised about those places where revolution did not take place. Was it averted because there is wise and popular government, or has some kind of social shock merely been postponed?

Last year Morocco seemed for a while to be following the path of its eastern neighbours. Protests were proliferating, with public participation unseen since the 1970s. King Mohammed VI, whose legitimacy was never targeted by the protests – even if that of his regime was – deftly retook the initiative by proposing, and hurriedly passing, a new constitution. Elections that followed led, for the first time, to victory for the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD by its French acronym), which is now in office. Surely, some observers marvelled, here was a model to follow for countries faced with demands for change, one that offered fewer dangers than revolution?

Many Moroccans were divided on this issue. Libya's civil war and, later, Syria's, frightened many into believing that escalation would be too costly for a country that has neither petroleum riches nor great strategic assets. They knew from experience that the makhzen – the political-economic-security nexus that rules the country behind the scenes – would not yield power easily, and is capable of great repression. It was probably why many hoped that promises of reform were genuine, and were willing to give a new government and chastened makhzen the benefit of the doubt. Such a debate on whether such gradualism is preferable to more risky radical rupture is at the heart of the Arab uprisings, which were an indictment of reform initiatives that never went anywhere.

Read the rest here, which talks about rising socio-economic discontent as illustrated by the Taza protests, the threat of more economic pain from a coming drought, and the slow pace of political change under the new PJD government. And the king's megabucks, of course.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.