For all the enthusiasm surrounding the new, leftwing-dominated CNDH leadership, it remains to be seen whether the new team will deliver on promises, live up to expectations.
Rabat – Mounir Bensalah, renowned human rights activist and youth leader, has been promoted by King Mohammed VI to secretary general of Morocco’s National Council on Human Rights (CNDH).
One telling characteristic of the new appointments was the conspicuous absence of Islamist figures (only one member of the Justice and Development Party, Morocco’s ruling Islamist party, features on the list of a dozen of appointees).
For a country that is a few days away from celebrating two decades of King Mohammed VI’s reign, the appointment by the King of an overwhelmingly progressive team to lead the country’s highest authority on human rights is already widely interpreted as yet another vindication of the King’s genuine desire to act more seriously towards democratic consolidation.
That spirit was pervasive in CNDH’s own communiqué on the appointment of the new leadership.
In line with relevant international agreements and in the spirit of “preserving the achievements” of the new democratic impetus since the 2011 constitution, one could read in the announcement, the appointment of Sebbar and the other members of the new CNDH crew is meant as a signal of the direction the King wants for Morocco.
Upholding ‘universality and indivisibility’ of human rights
Morocco, the statement emphasized, wants to hold on to the democratic progress it has already achieved, while paving the way for yet further advances in terms of social inclusiveness, social justice, and the fight against torture and other human rights violations.
“The composition of the new CNDH team is the reflection of the intellectual pluralism, as well as the social, linguistic, and territorial diversity” of Morocco, the statement noted.
Such an insistence on reflecting the country’s diversity and pluralism aimed, the statement went on to highlight, to “capitalize on preserving recent achievements and guarantee further progress” in supporting and protecting “the universality and indivisibility of human rights.”
While reports in the Moroccan press have not been as wildly enthusiastic as CNDH’s communiqué, there were flashes of excitement and pleasure with the move.
Observers have particularly welcomed Bensalah’s appointment.
An indisputable, iconic figure of human rights and youth inclusion in Morocco’s activism circles, the blogger turned activist has earned himself a reputation for being devoted to and led by his political convictions.
Bensalah, who is also an essayist, consolidated his reputation in his blog posts and two book-length essays published in 2012 in the heat of the Arab Spring.
One of the two books, “Moroccan Exceptionalism? The Arab Youth’s Quest for Freedom,” is an exploration of the changes and social movements that have swept the MENA region since the much-fancied Arab Spring.
After serving on the forefront of the 20 February movement, the activist argued in the books—as he maintains now—that the idea of Morocco being a regional exception will not be fully defensible until the North African country completes the democratic transition it began in 2011 after it adopted a more liberal constitution.
Upholding international human rights conventions, according more visibility and equality for gender, religious, and linguistic minorities, as well as—and more significantly for him—including the youth in development measures have been the defining traits of Bensalah’s agenda and struggle as an activist, blogger, and essayist.
As he now prepares to take on a significant mantle within the leadership of Morocco’s chief authority on human rights, all eyes are set on the activist turned holder of a political office to see which direction CNDH will take under his tenure as secretary general.
For his part, King Mohammed VI, who over the years has won deserved plaudits for liberalizing the country and giving it the outlook of a regional leader poised to consolidate its status as an exception in its region, hopes that the country would continue to lead by example on issues as different as women rights, religious tolerance, and political accountability.
“The new members of the council will be tasked with implementing the agenda of a three-fold approach based on the protection of human rights and prevention of all violations in this regard… the protection of disabled people, and the reinforcing of an intervention mechanism to evaluate public policies,” stressed the statement from CNDH.
Whether these proclamations are destined to be truly implemented or rather live the fate of other political slogans, more concerned with episodic feel-good than actual delivery on promises, is too soon to tell.