Joel D. Hirst
Joel D. Hirst
June 27, 2011- Ripples of change have been lapping upon the warm sands of North Africa and the Middle East. The so-called “Arab Spring” has rendered pre-conceived notions about governance in the Arab world obsolete. “The Arab countries don’t want democracy” we have been told for too long. “The ideas of freedom are a western concept” another expert espouses. “We should not force our values upon other cultures” yet another says. The apologists of oppression have, at long last, been silenced.
Nevertheless, freedom is not so easily won or so quickly embraced. In Egypt the dictators of old have given way only to a new generation of autocrats. Afraid of real change, the entrenched systems of power have replaced elderly autocrats with younger ones. In Tunisia a chaotic transition has not delivered the rapid advance of freedom so desperately sought. In Bahrain, Syria and Yemen it has been worse: with entrenched — and armed — dictators mercilessly predating upon their people.
There is, however, a shining star in the Arab Spring. The Kingdom of Morocco, always a leader in Arab political processes, has again strode confidently forward. In 1962 Morocco drafted its first post-colonial constitution. Basing its governance model upon an all-powerful king, this constitution nevertheless pushed the boundaries of traditional Arab governance by advancing institutions which had their own power, and authority. Four additional modifications in 1970, 1972, 1992 and 1996 further advanced the principles of rights which people all over the world energetically demanded.
Faced with the unrelenting power of political change, the Kingdom of Morocco has again emerged as the leader of the Arab world. As their neighbors resist change, Morocco’s King Mohammad VI proposed the writing of a new constitution. Drafting the new text were members of Moroccan society; from the private sector, universities, religious organizations and civil society. The proposed constitution radically alters Morocco’s system of governance, providing increasing power to elected government (including the Prime Minister), establishes the equality of the sexes and improves civil liberties.
Detractors point out, however, that the security apparatus, cabinet positions and religious appointments remain under the finger of the king. For a country that has been accused of human right abuses in the past, these reforms for some do not go far enough.
Despite these criticisms, the Moroccan constitutional reforms appear to be genuine. Morocco seems to be traveling down the path embraced by Spain, France, England, and even Thailand as they relegated their kings to an increasing ceremonial status as heads of state — not government. This was a slow process for those countries, and for Morocco will be no different. For this reason the Moroccan example should be embraced — and applauded.
Only July 1 of this year the Moroccan people will go to the polls to vote on their new constitution. Should polling be correct, it will be approved by a wide majority. Stemming from this election, the people will be asked again to select their new parliament — out of which will, for the first time, be selected the new Prime Minister.
Western Europe and the United States should keep an eye on Morocco. This model of Arab governance could represent the future; and the example of an increasingly liberal Morocco could go a long way to convince other Middle East and North African countries to listen to their own people and adopt the gradual, peaceful reforms which will provide well-being and freedom to their beleaguered societies.