October 2, 2011 (Times of India)
October 2, 2011 (Times of India)
As tanks boom on Arab streets, it is the heavy cranes and lift trolleys at Tangier port in Morocco, barely nine miles from Tarifa in Spain, that attracts attention . Down the superfast highway along the western Atlantic coast in Casablanca, hotels are abuzz with business meetings, roads are jammed with swanky cars and shops are busy.
Then there is the ‘high speed train link’ being built to crunch travel time between the two points. The impetus given to business here defies its geographical location. It is, after all, a part of the Arab neighbourhood which has in recent times been wracked by rebellions. The contrast will be starker on November 1 when polls under the new constitution mark a giant leap from monarchy to parliamentary democracy.
The summer of discontent in the Arab world was like a gale which swept out formerly invincible rulers like Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, a violent churning that marked the restive region’s search for new beginnings. Though the West is urging democracy in some of these parts, some fear it might just be the hardliners taking over post elections, curbing human rights and restricting freedom among other things.
“It is here that Morocco can be an example for our societies,” said a Libyan jurist, days after the fall of Gaddafi. The hopes centered around Morocco, ‘the first democracy in the Arab world’ , were evident when its foreign ministry brought together Arab Spring leaders and experts this month to discuss “constitutional processes for democratic transitions” . Morocco’s foreign minister Taib Fassi Fihri said proudly that his country had “embarked on profound reforms with the future in mind” . Morocco is the only country other than Jordan to escape the domino effect of rebellions that started last December.
A senior official explained , “Morocco escaped the wave because King Mohammed VI gave the country its Arab Spring immediately after taking power in 1999.” The formation of a “reconciliation commission” to “exteriorize” the anger of victims of state repression since the 1960s helped defuse frustration against the monarchy even as a new family code gave women an emancipated place in society.
And while there were protests such as the “February 20 movement” , the king quickly announced constitutional reforms to take the sting out of them. Today, the West and the Arab world look to Morocco for the road ahead in its pursuit of inclusive democracy . Ghazi Gherairi, a member of the transition regime in Tunisia, asserted his country, too, would have a secular society like Morocco’s . Western observers, on their part, say Morocco is crucial because of its unique geographical location.
It is Europe’s ideological link to the Arab world. The Treaty of Agadir , amnong Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, hopes to further expand the free trade zone to other s. When the November polls come, it will have a calming effect on the Arab storm, something that a few of the leaders, fallen and falling, wished they had done. “While they responded to protests with killings, the Moroccan king told his people that he had heard them,” said Mohammad Mohamedou , ex-foreign minister of Mauritania . It pays to be empathetic.