Even though Morocco implemented a slew of reforms, in terms of democratic consolidation, the kingdom still has a lot on its plate.
Rabat – Despite implementing reforms to improve democracy by fighting practices like corruption and censorship, freedom has not been totally achieved in Morocco.
The mixed assessment comes from the latest Freedom House report on the state of “Freedom in the world.” The report spoke in somber terms of the global state of democratization and accompanying values like respect of political rights, checks and balances, and political dissent.
“Freedom in the World assesses the real-world rights and freedoms enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or government performance per se,” the report noted.
This year, Freedom House evaluated political rights and civil liberties in 195 countries and 14 territories. They were assigned “between 0 and 4 points on a series of 25 indicators, for an aggregate score of up to 100.” Based on how each performed on freedom conditions, they were categorized as “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
Morocco, which scored 39 in aggregate, was ranked 144th out of 209 countries and territories worldwide.
With that score, Morocco was categorized as “partly free,” suggesting that in spite of recent political reforms, challenges remain.
MENA: Repression grows as democracies stumble
At the same time, Morocco’s not-so-good performance in freedom and “democratic values” is not an isolated case. In fact, Morocco was among the best performers of the MENA region.
Regional trends in MENA point to a pattern of slumbering democracies, limiting political climate for rights advocacy groups, and surging authoritarianism. Many in Moroccan policy quarters continue to refer to Morocco as a regional exception and torch bearer.
Algeria (34 and not free), Mauritania (32 and not free), and Egypt (22 and not free) languish far below Morocco and attest to North Africa’s longstanding pattern of democratic erosion under power-seeking elites eager to “suppress dissent” and block democratic transitions, the report suggested.
Speaking of Egypt’s score, the report noted, “Political repression worsened in Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was reelected with 97 percent of the vote after security forces arbitrarily detained potential challengers.”
In the Arab world beyond North Africa, the situation of freedom and civil liberties is no less dire.
Some countries which grabbed global headlines for their perceived commitment to a democratic transition by implementing liberties-friendly reforms have “suffered from self-inflicted wounds,” according to the report.
Saudi Arabia, which at some point last year drew enthusiastic commentaries and news stories in global media for its crown prince’s progressive reforms, stood out in the category of countries that did not live up to expectations. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi dealt a serious blow to the Saudi kingdom’s standing, revealing troubling patterns of state-sponsored repression.
“In Saudi Arabia, after the government drew praise for easing its draconian ban on women driving, authorities arrested high-profile women’s rights activists and clamped down on even mild forms of dissent. Evidence also mounted that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had personally ordered the assassination of self-exiled critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, dashing any remaining hopes that the young prince might emerge as a reformer,” Freedom House noted.
Only three countries outranked Morocco in the entire MENA region: Israel and Tunisia, the region’s only two “free” countries with scores of 78 and 69, respectively, and Lebanon, “partly free,” with a score of 45.
Morocco’s pattern of mixed results
While Freedom House has yet to publish an overview to explain the reasons for Morocco’s “partly free” character, the North African kingdom is no stranger to such assessments.
On January 29, Transparency International assessed Morocco’s anti-corruption efforts as mildly successful.
Transparency reported that while there have been clear signs of government commitment to curbing corruption and related practices, “political and economic elites influence government and divert public funds at the expense of citizens.”
Prior to that, the Economist’s 2018 Democracy Index report also suggested that it is not clear whether Morocco can be called a democracy. The report used terms like “flawed democracy” or “hybrid regime” to explain that Morocco is neither a consolidated democracy nor a full dictatorship.
Meanwhile, it is not solely in the MENA region that democracy had a rough time in 2018. “Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent,” according to Freedom House. “Democracy is in retreat,” the report added. “The pattern is consistent and ominous.”