Rabat - When new kings come to power, their decision is often either to follow in the footsteps of their predecessor or to create their own path, and if necessary undo the damage that was caused by a previous ruler’s laws and ambitions.
Rabat – When new kings come to power, their decision is often either to follow in the footsteps of their predecessor or to create their own path, and if necessary undo the damage that was caused by a previous ruler’s laws and ambitions.
In the case of King Mohammed VI, he had to modernize the state of Morocco in order for it to contend with the changing world around it and to suit the new needs and wishes of the people.
The reformer monarch
In order to do this, he continued some of his father’s traditions but he also required some dramatic changes. He maintained his ability to wield his power but he also made sure to improve human rights.[i] Certain reforms that he decided to undertake have, undeniably, lead to a more liberal framework:
- Recognition of the Amazigh culture and eventually the Jewish culture,
- Creation of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission,
- Empowering the poor;
- Updating of the family code which included addressing issues of polygamy, changing the ideas of divorce, children’s rights, and particular issues after divorce; and
- Constitutional reform: incremental democracy and advanced regionalization.
For the Financial Times the reforms aim at to affect positively known and important shortcomings within the Moroccan scene:
“The reforms target a variety of Morocco’s shortcomings. Women will be guaranteed social and civic equality. The language of the Berber minority will be officially recognised. But the focus is the ostensible shift of executive power from the monarch to the prime minister. From now on, the premier will be selected from the party that wins the most seats in parliament. He will also replace the king as head of government. Parliament will gain greater oversight of civil rights and electoral procedures.”
One of the first reforms that liberalized the country’s framework was recognizing the Amazigh culture, which also led to the recognition of the Jewish culture in the more recent 2011 constitution.
For the Moroccan constitutional experts Mohamed Madani, Driss Maghraoui and Saloua Zerhouni, in a critical review of the Constitution of 2011, on what concerns identity, they argue forcefully that:
“Compared to earlier constitutional texts, which promoted a selective identity (Arabic and Islamic), the new constitution is clearly more open. The preamble states that national unity was forged by the convergence of Arab-Islamic, Amazigh and Saharan-Hassani components and enriched by ‘African, Andalusian, Mediterranean and Hebrew’ heritage. The Arabic language is no longer the only official language of the state, while the Amazigh language has also become an official state language and part of a common heritage of all Moroccans, without exception (article 5). The state also intends to work to preserve the Hassani culture as part of Morocco’s cultural identity. A national council of languages is therefore responsible for the protection and development of languages and diverse cultural expressions. However, 19 The 2011 Moroccan Constitution: A Critical Analysis within the provisions relating to the plural identity of Morocco, Islam occupies a prominent place.”
It was important to recognize that Morocco was a diverse country and that not all the people fit into one social category or mold. Morocco’s identity, as a whole, is based on the fact that it has influence from multiple facets, which includes the West because of its geopolitical strategy, Africa because of where the state is located; Arab because of the influence of Islam, Amazigh because of the traditions they carry on, and Jewish because of historical context. Accepting the fact that it is a country of many different people is the best way to strengthen nation-building. If the many people come together under the idea of a single Moroccan nationality, there is less tension amongst the individual groups that inhabit the state. A sense of solidarity is healthy for the state and for the people.
With the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, Mohammed VI was able to address some human rights issues that were created by his father, Hassan II, during the period between 1962 and 1996.[v] He was able to lessen certain tensions with outlier groups by allowing certain exiled individuals to return and paying reparations for all of the unfortunate and horrific circumstances that many political prisoners had to endure. He allowed them to maintain their differing views and acknowledged, indirectly, that his father was in the wrong for treating them in such a manner.
Tackling poverty and exclusion
In 2005, King Mohammed established the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) to alleviate poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion in the country. This initiative turned out to be a great success because it succeeded to empower many poor people and give them hope and dignity.
For the World Bank, the initiative was a great success in social inclusion and poverty alleviation. Indeed, the project achieved tremendous results during the period 2006-2010:
1. The total beneficiaries of the more than the 22,000 sub-projects reached 5.2 million;
2. The objective of including civil society and elected representatives in the management of INDH funds was fully attained: 67% of INDH local governance committees consisted of elected officials and representatives of civil society;
3. Targets related to the participation of women and youth in INDH local governance structures were achieved, with 17% and 12% respectively, compared to the targeted values of 14% and 7%;
4. The involvement of the target population in participatory processes was also considered a success: women’s participation (42%) was more than twice the target (20%), and youth participation (37%) was almost four times the targeted value (10%);
5. Among surveyed INDH beneficiaries, 73% of men, 71% of women and 56% of youth reported improved access to basic infrastructure and socio-economic services following INDH interventions;
6. Responsibility for project implementation was devolved to local actors, with communities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and municipalities implementing 72% of sub-projects, well above target (60%);
7. The INDH promoted partnership with NGOs, with almost 7,000 sub-projects being sponsored by associations and cooperatives.
Then with the overhauling of the Mudawwana in 2004, family law, Mohammed VI increased women’s rights and changed rape law. Under the law it raises the marriage age from 15 to 18, allows women to divorce by mutual consent, curbs the right of men to ask for divorce unilaterally, restricts polygamy, and replaces a wife’s duty of obedience with the concept of joint responsibility. [vii]
More specifically for their rights regarding marriage liberty and polygamy these laws let women freely marry without the consent of their parents if they are old enough, 18, and they address certain issues of polygamy by again increasing the women’s role in the decision. If a man wants to marry another wife, he must first get the permission of his current wife and it must be proven before a judge that her approval was not coerced or forced in any way.
Even with the question of protecting women after divorce the reforms insured that they would have some form of income so that they would not be left out in the street. Of course this is merely stating what the laws promise, implementation is a separate affair. But what matters is that there is a step in the right direction.
With such laws the monarch gave some power to those women that previously had very limited control over their own lives. Women are even gaining more access to education and government policy is helping by encouraging such things. In the countryside, where women would very rarely have the opportunity to attend school because previously it would not be financially beneficial for the family, the government now offers monetary incentives if girls are sent to school. These monetary incentives have dramatically increased the numbers of girls that attend. This is helping to give women a means of becoming self-sufficient and perhaps even attaining their own career to support their family. Their lives no longer have to be restricted to the home.
Devolution of power
In 2011, King Mohammed VI proposed constitutional changes which included amendments to whittle down his political powers, devolve power to the regions, strengthen of the authority of the country’s parliament, and ultimately consolidate democracy in Morocco. The Constitution was adopted by a national referendum.
As a result of the constitution of 2011, the power of the Head of the Government was increased at the expense of that of the king and many analysts saw in this important constitutional reform the beginning of a true devolution of power.
The devolution of power expressed itself, also, through the adoption of a greater regionalization whereby the central government devolved much of its power to the newly-created 13 regions in several areas with the intent to bolster regional development.
The “Advanced Regionalization,” the official term used by the Moroccan government to refer to the regional devolution of power aims to achieve the following goals:
- Bringing decision-making closer to the citizens;
- Reducing disparities between regions; and
- Creating public policies that respond to citizens’ needs.
For Jean Abinader writing in the Fair Observer, there are at least four intersecting lines of authority involved in the devolution of power from the central government to locally elected officials:
The division of political/administrative decision-making among the central government, the regional authorities (currently 16 regions and 61/62 provinces), and local governments;
Prioritizing and managing the country’s economic investments, including infrastructure, economic development projects, tourism, agriculture, economic growth, entrepreneurship, and higher education;
Coordinating the provision of citizen services, including health, education (at all levels, including technical and vocational training), retirement, disability, and environmental services and monitoring;
Supporting all of these lines are mechanisms dealing with taxation, human and natural resources, accounting and reporting, and coordinated monitoring and evaluation of government performance.
The reason the king Mohammed VI is popular and revolutionary in this new age is because he addressed issues that most kings tended to ignore. He decided to tackle the private sphere that, until then, had been considered almost taboo for public policy to address. By addressing the issues of the private sphere he has given many women a place in the public sphere. He gave a voice to those that normally do not have one and by doing so; he gave power to a large portion of his population and updated Morocco’s way of life. At least half of the population of Morocco is women and until, then, they had very limited rights, especially depending on whether or not they lived in the cities or out in the countryside. He gave them the means to address their concerns and protect themselves at least a little more than they were previously able to do.
This new ideology for the region was similar to other modern nations’ growing ideas of equality, even though theirs are also still incomplete. But, by partaking in the process of addressing societal inequalities and improving the situation by lessening the gap in power between certain individuals, he has started to modernize his nation and has instilled certain liberal ideals that will continue to affect the way that members of Morocco’s society will interact with one another. If all continues on the same path as it is now, women and other minority groups will continue to gain new rights and eventually they can have a more equal share in their society.
[i] Cf. Ottaway, Marina, and Meredith Riley. “Morocco: From Top-down Reform to Democratic Transition?” Carnegie Papers 71 (2006): 3-20. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Web. <http://carnegieendowment.org/files/cp71_ottaway_final.pdf>. Cf. p. 7
[v] Cf. Kohstall, Florian.“Chapter 13: Morocco’s Monarchical Legacy and its Capacity to Implement Social Reforms” in Elisabeth Özdalga & Sune Persson (ed.),Contested Sovereignties: Government and Democracy in Middle Eastern and European Perspectives, IB Tauris, Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul, 2010, p. 197-208. Cf. p. 197
[vii] Cf. Ottaway, Marina, and Meredith Riley, given here above, p. 8