Morocco was one of the few countries in the Arab World that was partially spared the awesome whirlwind that was the Arab Spring. The whirlwind acted like a tornado destroying everything in its path.
Rabat – Morocco’s own version of the Arab Spring came with the 20th February Movement.
Morocco’s Mild Arab Spring
The movement did not call for an end to monarchy but a phased devolution of power and the systematic elimination of such national “headaches” as: corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, abuse of power, and patron-client system.
The monarchy responded promptly by putting forward a new constitution in 2011, in which the monarch gave up, symbolically, some of his extensive powers to the elected head of government. This allowed the moderate Islamists of PJD(Parti de la Justice et du Développement) to grab power and serve as a “mule” during the transitional period.
But, as the “20th of February Movement” withered away due to fierce co-optation attrition, the monarchy went back on its implicit promise of incremental democracy. This left the above–mentioned national “headaches” to grow in intensity and power.
Meanwhile, the Islamists of the PJD, proved to be ineffectual, once in power. They did not have any acceptable economic program, so to speak, but just an anthology of eloquent religious rhetoric that does not guarantee, in the least, jobs and dignity for unemployed youth, let alone much-needed economic growth and development.
Actually, the Islamists not only failed economically speaking but failed miserably, too, on the moral level. Prominent members became involved in sex scandals, corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and, as a result, their reputation paled in the eyes of the general public.
What is the problem?
It is true that the monarchy enjoys tremendous public support for the sake of stability and peace of mind. But, it would be a grave mistake to take this for granted. If the establishment continues to emasculate the youth through patriarchal tactics and tribal manipulation, there might be a change of heart and a revolution could, ultimately, happen at any time without warning.
A good example of this is that of neighboring Algeria where a peaceful revolution known as Hirak against the military regime has been in place since independence in 1962.
The real problem in Morocco is that the country is split in the middle. There are the “haves” and the “have nots” and there is nothing in between them to absorb the terrible head-on shock that could occur at any time.
Besides the “headaches” of corruption and greed, the problem is that there is no equal opportunity in the country. As a matter of fact, there is an endemic problem known among Moroccans as: “parachutage” (parachuting). “Parachutage” is when a given individual lands himself a well-paying job or a powerful position in the state system for the following reasons:
- Belonging to a powerful family close to the establishment
known generally as “Makhzen families”;
- Corruption practice, or
- Rewards received for services rendered to the establishment or Makhzen.
Many people who occupy senior positions landed there with the help of a “parachute” and not merit. when in place these people perpetuate the system and block the advance of democracy, meritocracy, and accountability.
The practice of “parachutage” (parachuting) has increased the brain-drain whereby Moroccan talent, snubbed at home, flees the country to democratic environments where their worth is recognized fully. As of today, Moroccan talent is legion in Europe and in America and, as a result, the economy of Morocco itself is unproductive because of this self-inflicted harm.
Political scene is dormant not to say totally dead
In the 60s, and the 70s of the last century, political parties were very active and very effective especially on the opposition side and, as such, they proved to be quite a healthy challenge to the monarchy. The monarchy was, therefore, indirectly accountable to them. But, annoyed by this incessant challenge to his autocratic power, the late King Hassan II disrupted the political scene by:
- Encouraging scissions within strong opposition parties; and
- Coopting leaders of the opposition.
As such, coopted leaders were gratified with privileges and ministerial or senior jobs and political power.
This massive exercise of co-optation killed politics and, consequently, political parties became tribal businesses (called in Arabic dakakin siyasiya (political shops) that guaranteed money and powerful jobs and the benediction of the monarchy to their members.
ith time, political parties lost their credibility and, today, they are considered by the majority of Moroccans as being more functionaries of the establishment and they are called “3ayasha” (people who are obsequious to the state and say all the time “long live…”).
The fact that political parties have been ineffectual in defending the interests of the population has led to three prominent uprisings in the periphery, known as “hirak,” especially in the traditional rebellious and recalcitrant Rif, in the southeastern city of Zagora and in the ex-mining city of Jerada. The leaders of these movements were arrested and put in prison to serve as an example to future uprisings and rebels.
Cooptation of the press
In the 60s, 70s and 80s of the last century political parties that were in the opposition had powerful newspapers that reflected the viewpoint of the party and criticized the establishment. They acted as strong and powerful agents of accountability that reviewed and controlled the work of the government and that of the monarchy, as well.
Also, in the 90s of the last century, independent journalism came into view and the majority of people welcomed this new addition with the hope that it will wield more needed pressure on the government and it, actually, did until the establishment decided, in the middle of the first decade of this century, to opt for the devastating weapon of cooptation.
Today, all print and online publications sing melodiously the praise of the establishment in varying degrees and are paid handsomely for it. As a result, people no longer buy print newspapers and some of them are disappearing. As for online newspapers, nobody pays attention to them with the exception of the popular “Hespress.” The online publication voices criticism of the government and its institutions and allows people to voice their discontent freely.
Cooptation of religion
Since time immemorial religion has been co-opted by the establishment in so much as the monarch is the sole representative of the Islamic religion in the country: amir al-mu’minin “Commander of the Faithful.”
In the 19th century, there was so much dissension in Morocco. Indeed, the country was divided into: Bled al-Makhzen (land controlled by the government) and Bled as-Siba (land of dissent). In Bled as-Siba, which was mostly the periphery inhabited by the Amazigh (Berber) people, the population recognized the religions mantle of the monarch and conducted prayers in his name, but not his temporal status and, consequently refused to pay him taxes.
Moulay Slimane, Sultan of Morocco from 1792-1822, waged a war against the Amazigh in the Meknes region. They defeated his army and imprisoned him. He thought they would definitely kill him, but actually, instead, they took off his clothes and gave him new ones, cut his old clothes into hundreds of pieces and distributed them among the tribesmen as a symbol of religious grace (baraka). He was seen as a representative of Allah in his land. Then, they accompanied him to the gates of his capital city Fes and released him unharmed. Back on the throne, he decided to put an end to any military actions against the rebellious Amazigh of Morocco.
Traditionally, the Ministry of Islamic Waqf and Religious Affairs has always been located in the palace precinct (mechouar) so that the monarch can walk to its building on foot to check on the religious affairs of the nation. In addition, the sovereign has in the past and still today made annual money gifts to the religious lodges of moderate Sufi Islam located all over the country to secure their infallible support.
Today, the strong Sufi lodge of the Boutchichiya Tariqa, located in the environs of the city of Berkane, in eastern Morocco, has millions of followers in Morocco and abroad, and they are, too, all staunch followers of the monarchy. Indeed, during the Arab Spring in 2011, they staged a monster demonstration in Casablanca, with millions of participants, in support of the monarchy.
Civil society is the way out
Civil society is thriving in Morocco; its number is estimated at approximately 80,000 associations and, most importantly, it is very credible in the eyes of the people for a number of reasons, chief among them are the following:
- Availability: close to the people and aware of their daily problems and hardships;
- Integrity: unlike political parties, civil society organizations are accountable and therefore “clean” from any suspicion of corruption and cooptation; and
- Reactivity: civil society attends to the needs of the people immediately away from any form of red tape and bureaucracy.
But, alas, in spite of its success in alleviating poverty, providing much-needed help in education, health and many other areas to the “have nots,” yet civil society’s work could certainly be better and achieve more if it is provided with the necessary support in the areas of:
- Project design and feasibility study;
- Field survey for real population needs;
- Training of members;
- Programs’ realization evaluation; etc.
Nevertheless, what is needed urgently in Morocco is to conduct a field study to determine the nature of civil society, its scope of work, its philosophy, its strengths and weaknesses, its successes and its impact on society at large. This study could take between 9 and 12 months and ought to be directed by sociologists, economists, and civil society experts.
Once the survey is completed, its results could be quantified and analyzed to produce a National Strategy for Moroccan Civil Society Fieldwork that could enhance positively:
- Field objectives, implementation procedure, and impact of activities;
- Training of civil society field actors and volunteers and their permanent coaching;
- Programs’ evaluations;
- Programs’ follow-up; etc.
Civil society is, without any shadow of doubt, the future of a stable, egalitarian, and democratic Morocco. Its work is needed to empower the poor and give the needy a voice and hope in the future and keep them away from extremism and violence.
Stability and tolerance
Moroccan people do not reject the monarchy’s cooptation of the religious field because it is synonymous with stability, tolerance, and moderation and, actually, when it comes to religion, most Moroccans are believers in the wasatiyya or middle of the road religious approach, which calls for brotherhood of men, tolerance and rejects religious violence and extremism.
However, they reject the massive cooptation of the political field because it enhances corruption, nepotism, tribalism, patriarchy, and abuse of power. They strongly reject also, the cooptation of the press because it stifles free expression.
Moroccans want, today, a constitutional monarchy and want all political actors to be fully accountable.
Arabic Spring 2.0 is around the corner in Algeria where it is paving the way to democracy and surely Moroccans would not want to be the undemocratic neighbor of a democratic country.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.
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