King Mohammed VI ascended to the throne on July 23, 1999 upon the death of his father, King Hassan II. Mohammed VI is a member of the Alaouite dynasty, which has been ruling Morocco since the 17th century.
Rabat – On Tuesday, July 30, 2019, Morocco will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the coronation of its monarch, King Mohammed VI. Since ascending to the throne, King Mohammed has worked to institute, accelerate, and solidify a wide range of social, democratic, and economic reforms in the country.
These developments aimed to improve the lives of millions of Moroccans and to reinforce the Kingdom’s overall stability and socio-political infrastructure.
Not long after ascending to the throne, King Mohammed delivered a speech to Morocco’s citizens, promising to tackle the country’s poor economy and corrupt practices. He also vowed to create new jobs, and improve the country’s human rights record.
For the past 20 years, King Mohammed’s efforts to alleviate poverty have had some success. He has further encouraged foreign relations and has consolidated a number of significant political advances, including those that curtailed his own powers and strengthened the Moroccan parliament.
His most critical achievements, noted throughout his reign, have been globally acknowledged by the international community.
The 2004 Moroccan Truth & Reconciliation Commission
King Hassan II’s 38-year rule, from 1961 to 1999, left questions over the country’s human rights record, including decades of imprisonment without trial. King Mohammed strove to improve Morocco’s previously poor reputation in this area.
The new king established the 2004 Moroccan Truth & Reconciliation Commission (IER), an independent reconciliation commission which investigated human rights violations.
King Mohammed accepted the commission’s recommendations and granted financial compensation to more than 5,000 aggrieved Moroccans to the tune of $100 million.
As a result, political prisoners were released. Non-governmental organizations were legalized, and now operate under the legal framework and aim to provide a buffer between citizens and the state.
In a recent interview, Amina Bouayach, the president of Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) stated that “there are no political prisoners” in Morocco and that torture is no longer practiced in prisons or police stations in the country.
“The option to defend and promote human rights has been consolidated at the legislative level, through the creation of mechanisms and also through public spaces of expression; that is, [Morocco] already has the legislative, constitutional and public framework,” Bouayach said.
Reform of Morocco’s family code
In 2004, King Mohammed instituted a new family code for Morocco; the Moudawana. The Moudawana is one of the most dynamic and progressive laws related to women and family rights ever established in the Arab world.
The code radically granted women joint responsibility of the family with their husbands, as well as equal rights in marriage and access to property upon divorce.
During the reign of King Mohammed’s father, Hassan II, women were “politically” equal to men, but today they also have social and civic equality.
The code promoted women’s participation in politics as well as society. As of today, 17% of Morocco’s parliamentary seats are occupied by women, an astonishing increase from just 1% 15 years ago.
National initiative for human development
In 2005, King Mohammed established the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH) to alleviate poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion in Morocco.
According to King Mohammed, the program’s main objective was to “ensure a better distribution of growth and better living conditions for Morocco’s citizens.”
The project was composed of four components; to alleviate poverty in rural areas, to mitigate social exclusion in urban areas, to curb extreme vulnerability, and finally to strengthen institutional capacity.
The program had a budget of 10 billion MAD (about $900 million) distributed over five years, 2006-2010.
For the urban program, committees at the local level identified 264 urban neighborhoods with the greatest needs in the30 Moroccan cities to benefit from the initiative.
The World Bank supported the project through a $100 million loan and a further a $7 million grant to allow for greater access to water supply and sanitation in three poverty ravaged cities.
The INDH is widely acclaimed as a success. In 2010 the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the program, saying that its “significant results” will efficiently help all Moroccan citizens, especially the poor.
King Mohammed has expanded Morocco’s ties with the African continent and the Middle East and has reinforced the country’s long-standing alliance with the US.
Today, Morocco has cooperation agreements with several countries across Africa, further promoting economic development, security, and religious moderation.
I – Battles against religious extremism
The leadership of King Mohammed VI and his steadfast commitment to promoting the values of tolerance, inter-religious dialogue, and coexistence, at home and abroad, have become a distinctive feature of Morocco over the last two decades.
King Mohammed VI has advocated on multiple occasions for countries working together to achieve a new world order for peace while highlighting the need for coexistence and tolerance of diversity.
Some of the King’s initiatives in the religious field include the establishment of the Mohammed VI Institute for Training Imams, Morchidines and Morchidates, and the Mohammed VI Foundation for African Ulema in 2015.
Morchidines and Morchidates aim to properly equip Imams from Mali, Libya, Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, the Maldives and Nigeria to combat religious extremism. The organization has trained 1,391 African Imams since its creation. The African Ulema was established to help preserve the values of authentic Islamic tolerance.
“Those who engage in terrorism, in the name of Islam, are not Muslims. Their only link to Islam is the pretexts they use to justify their crimes and their folly. They have strayed from the right path, and their fate is to dwell forever in hell”, said King Mohammed in a speech on August 2016, condemning the acts of religious extremism.
“They think – out of ignorance – that they are engaging in jihad. Since when has jihad been synonymous with killing innocent people? The Almighty says: “Do not transgress limits, for Allah loves not transgressors.”
In May 2019, the commissioner of the Bahraini Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Waqf, Farid Ben Yaakoub Al Miftah, praised the leading role King Mohammed VI plays in the accomplishment of peace and counter-extremism in the region.
Al Miftah noted that the crucial role King Mohammed VI has played in consolidating the values of tolerance and spiritual rapprochement have upheld the real image of Islam.
“As Commander of the Faithful and defender of the faith, I am committed to protecting the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims alike”, said the Sovereign in a speech delivered in 2016.
In 2010, King Mohammed VI initiated a program to rehabilitate hundreds of ancient synagogues and Jewish cemeteries scattered throughout Morocco. Since then, the kingdom has spent millions of dollars to repair nearly 200 of these sites.
Christian residents in Morocco and temporary visitors have always practiced their faith freely in churches.
The visit by Pope Francis in March 2018 underlined the King’s tolerant religious scheme and Morocco’s international role in inter-faith dialogue.
II – Counter terrorism programs
In 2015, King Mohammed introduced the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ) to monitor security threats across the country and join the efforts of foreign security agencies in countering terrorism.
According to the BCIJ, between 2015 and 2018, Morocco dismantled 57 terrorist cells and arrested 3,129 suspects, 292 of whom had criminal records. The country’s security forces also foiled 361 terrorist actions.
One recent report revealed that Morocco has adopted efficient counter-terrorism and de-radicalization approaches which have proved more efficient than those applied in Egypt and Tunisia.
In a recent interview, the head of BCIJ, Abdelhak El Khiame, said that Morocco always offers to share its strategy in the area with European partners. This has helped them to impede “several attacks in several countries, including France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and Belgium.”
“This professionalism has given more value to the Moroccan security services that are still receiving requests from their European counterparts,” El Khiame said.
In 2018, under the King’s initiative, Morocco launched the “moussalaha” (reconciliation) program, a multidimensional policy aiming at the reintegration of prisoners in society and the modernization of security institutions.
At the request of King Mohammed VI, Morocco offered royal pardon to several defendants convicted of terror-related crimes. Many former terror suspects applied to join the program.
III – New Approach to Salafism
In 2015, King Mohammed VI pardoned a group of 37 Salafi detainees who had been convicted of terrorism charges, including Sheikh Hassan al-Khattab.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Justice, the pardon came “when they officially declared their loyalty to principles of the nation, its holy sites, and national institutions, and after we reviewed their ideological positions and tendencies and they renounced extremism and terrorism.”
These pardons indicate a shift in the country’s approach to the Salafi jihadi issue. This marks an overall improvement in the relationship between a number of Salafi figures and the regime, and a restructuring of some components of the government’s approach to combat extremism.
In terms of security, the government’s strategy of using Sufism to confront extremist Salafism has fallen short. Therefore, decision-makers, under the King’s intervention, are leaning toward a policy of greater acceptance of Salafism, attempting to reconcile it with the Sufi character.
IV – Western Sahara
Morocco’s Autonomy Plan is the most recent initiative towards the resolution of the West Sahara conflict. The proposed solution to the conflict was presented by King Mohammed to the UN in April 2007.
In a letter to Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, the King confirmed Morocco’s commitment to a consensual solution to end the dispute over the Saharan territory.
In the same letter, the King informed the UN Secretary-General that Morocco was preparing to submit an Autonomy Project within the framework of the territorial integrity and the national unity of the nation.
After the Autonomy Plan was successfully devised, King Mohammed VI re-established the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS).
CORCAS then visited several countries to present Morocco’s objectives. A number of international countries welcomed Morocco’s plan as the best possible solution to the four-decade-long conflict.
Morocco’s Autonomy Plan, entitled “The Moroccan Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy for Statute for the Sahara Region,” is the fruit of a dialogue with the local populations and political parties over the ongoing issue.
This initiative offers autonomy to the inhabitants of Western Sahara under the sovereignty of Morocco. It aims at reconciling the Kingdom’s territorial integrity with respect to the people’s need to manage their own affairs.
The solution consists of an “extended autonomy” which is aimed to satisfy the aspirations of the Saharawi populations by respecting their cultural identity while it simultaneously defends the territorial unity of Morocco.
Under the plan, the autonomous region would be given the prerogative to run its affairs democratically, through legislative, executive, and judicial bodies enjoying exclusive powers.
According to King Mohammed VI, Morocco’s challenge over the West Sahara conflict is to reclaim the “Moroccanness” of the disputed territory.
To do so, the King said that Moroccans, especially the diplomats and officials working to convince the global community on Morocco’s position over the issue, should equip themselves with “clarity” with regards to history and “far-sightedness” concerning present and future challenges.
“The group for the territorial integrity of Morocco” issued a statement to reiterate its support for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan at the 41st session of the Human Rights Council in June 2019.
The group’s member countries are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, the Sultanate of Oman, Jordan, Comoros, Gabon, Burundi, Djibouti, Senegal, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Guinea.
Finding a solution for the conflict, according to the group, will make it “possible to realize the aspirations of the African and Arab peoples for integration and development.”
In May 2019, 13 members of the Security Council supported the adoption of Resolution 2486, which extended the mandate of MINURSO, the UN peacekeeping operation, in Western Sahara for six months.
French Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Anne Gueguen, said that it is critical for the four parties involved in the conflict to “continue their discussions in a constructive state of mind and compromise to reach a realistic, pragmatic, just, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution in accordance with Security Council resolutions.”
“I take this opportunity to reaffirm that France considers the 2007 Moroccan Autonomy Plan as a serious and credible basis for discussions,” Gueguen said.
Côte d’Ivoire, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, also welcomed the adoption of Resolution 2468.
Kuwait, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, has also backed Morocco’s territorial integrity, expressing respect of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed region.
V – Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU)
Morocco’s late King Hassan II decided to withdraw the country from the AU in 1984, after the pan-African organization publicly acknowledged the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a member state.
The “empty chair” policy that Morocco had adopted since it left the Organization of African Unity (today’s African Union), has done more harm than good to its stance on Western Sahara and its relationships with the continent’s nations.
After the re-admission of Morocco during the 28th Summit of the African Union, King Mohammed VI delivered a speech, underlying the position of Morocco in Africa.
The monarch discussed the projects created to solidify South-South partnership as well as Morocco’s initiative to provide Sub-Saharan immigrants emergency assistance.
“It was necessary to withdraw from the AU; it has enabled Morocco’s action to be refocused in Africa,” King Mohammed VI said in 2017.
“We have thought it through carefully and it is now so obvious!” he added. “It is time to return home; at a time when the Kingdom is among the most developed African nations and when a majority of Member States looks forward to our return, we have decided to join our family again.”
King Mohammed VI’s tour to three key countries in East Africa in 2017, all of which have diplomatic relations with the Polisario, confirmed Morocco’s foreign policy orientation that the best way to fight the Polisario and its backers is from inside the African Union.
The agreements the King signed with Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia showed that Morocco sought to turn the economy, infrastructure, and agricultural projects into the cornerstones of its relationships with the East African countries.
By rendering the economy into the main tool of Morocco’s foreign policy in Africa, King Mohammed VI managed to strengthen the country’s position as one of the major players on the continent, as well as to indicate that the country is determined to break away from the “empty chair” policy it had implemented over the past four decades.
Tolerance is not just a rhetorical aspect of Morocco’s domestic and foreign policy. The country stood out in the African continent as the sole country that has implemented migration policies offering residency status to migrants.
Morocco has “welcomed people coming from sister nations to this African land, with their different religions, cultures, traditions, family habits and lifestyles,” King Mohammed said.
Under the King’s initiative, the North African country organized two campaigns for migrants to regularize their status and launched several programs to ensure the proper integration of migrants, asylum-seekers and their families.
The 2011 reforms of the Constitution
In 2011, King Mohammed proposed constitutional reforms. These included amendments to reduce his political powers, devolve more privileges to the regions, and solidify the parliament’s authority.
Through the application of the 2011 reforms, King Mohammed managed to reach his ultimate goal which was no other than to consolidate democracy in Morocco.
The new Constitution was adopted by a national referendum.
The referendum officially transformed Morocco into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament and separation of powers.
These changes have allowed the North African country to mark significant progress and flourish in a wide variety of sectors, compared to other nations in the Arab world.
Morocco has sculpted a system of governance which renders the country unique in the Middle East region, as well as well known in the international community. Morocco’s achievements and growth bear the 20-year-old signature of its King; Mohammed VI.