Old Makhzen Never Dies
…And the recent horse-trading these last couple of days reminds us of the one viable rule in Moroccan politics: the Makhzen Giveth and Taketh away. The agenda is set by and not imposed upon the Regime.
The nation-wide road-show Menouni’s commission has engaged in over the last three months, and the rounds of presentations political parties and other organizations did in explaining their respective views on the constitutional reform was initially supposed to be concluded with a circulated draft of the future constitution. We now discover -basically at D Day-2 from the official deadline set for the commission to make public its recommendations, that it would be best for the commission and the abnormal entity attached to it (headed by Royal Counsellor M. Moatassim, as per March 10th Royal Speech) not to circulate a written summary, but rather give a brief oral presentation, included in a 6 hours meetings, during which the invited organizations need to accept it as the accurate description of the upcoming constitution. Parallel to this manoeuvre, the Makhzenite minions are spreading ‘The Good News‘ about the changes made in Article 19, about the new powers the Prime Minister will enjoy, as well as the new concept of regionalism and extended autonomy for local democracy. Overall, and to the public opinion, these little manoeuvres go by unnoticed, while the narrative concentrates on how important the new constitution is going to be. A breakthrough in democracy, as it were.
According to these reports, the 2011 constitutional vintage is going to be unprecedented – Just like the 4 reforms that came before. If the official propaganda was to be traced back as far as 1963, we would have been at the all-times vanguard of a democracy such that no scholar in political science ever dreamt of such edifice.
Today marks the 3-Months anniversary of the King’s Speech on the constitutional reform. Much has been said, written about it. And, truth be told, whatever the plethora of opinions that followed the news, it has been a remarkable exercise of freedom of speech. However despicable and contemptible some of these pieces might have been, they were, quite simply, the true exercise of the most basic civic right: the right to discuss important public matters without self-censorship. And I am afraid the break is not going to last long. The Headmaster is about the blow the whistle and disperse the party; What is truly harrowing is the way the whole thing is carried out: sneaky, basically a Fait-Accompli. The grievances of a large spectrum about the way the commission has been set up have not been heard, and to those who refused to give it further legitimacy, they were criticized for being too ‘dogmatic’ or ‘extremists’ as if Menouni’s real boss, Counsellor Moatassim, was a beacon of democratic proceedings and a transparent operator. The burden of guilt was easily shifted to those who refused to be robbed from the essential claim for a genuine democratic, parliamentary monarchy, and little by little, these have been muted out of what can be charitably called a ‘public debate’.
Well, with these backroom manoeuvres, there is an additional body of evidence that the Regime did not fundamentally change. The traditional opacity and conspiratorial tactics are still employed. The argument, alas endorsed by many well-educated people, is that when it comes to serious stuff, all these noble gestures about democracy and public participation are useless; Writing the constitution is too serious a matter to be left to its citizens. The commission has heard those it considered fit to deliver a meaningful message, and then selected whatever suits the Monarchy best. Menouni is, at best, providing the legal phrasing.
Let us look at the numbers. At a first glance, the argument that we are not ‘ready for democracy’ might find some support in the overall picture of Moroccans’ interest -or rather, lack of thereof- in politics. The values survey has compiled data on Moroccan politics, and although the vast majority of likely voters registered -or had at least one opportunity to vote on a national or local elections, they do not give the impression of active involvement in the said political process. Indeed, 82% of all likely voters registered, and 70% already voted during an election.
But then again, past elections have been so manipulated -by the late former Interior Minister Driss Basri that these numbers might be meaningless, especially when compared to the lack of interest in politics itself: 26% of the polled sample said they “did not care much about politics” (and the proportion goes as high as 35% for rural dwellers) and only 1.7% expressed an interest in signing up for a party. Finally, 1 in 4 admits they cannot assess the state of democracy in Morocco, even though 64% are confident in Morocco’s future. As a matter of fact, there is very little interest in partisan politics: the first quality voters look for in their prospective representative is “Ma’qoul“, or integrity. 63% are unable to think within the Left-Right political spectrum.
That is why the ‘Yes’ vote will win with a landslide majority -perhaps not as large as the ones observed since 1963- because a vast majority of Moroccans -as the numbers show- will register and vote, not out of political principles, but because the vote is still a collective endavour, and not the expression of individual will. as the report notes:
“22% des citadins et 35% des ruraux déclarent ne porter aucun intérêt à la politique. Cependant, lorsqu’on prend comme indicateurs l’inscription aux listes électorales et le vote, on remarque que les ruraux sont plus intéressés par la politique que les citadins. 86% des ruraux et 80% des citadins sont inscrits aux listes électorales, 77% et 66% ont respectivement voté aux dernières élections. Deux explications peuvent être apportées à ce fait paradoxal.
On peut supposer que la mobilisation en milieu rural est collective et que souvent le vote est considéré comme un acte collectif guidé par des affinités familiales, de voisinage ou clientéliste. Les gens se déplacent en groupe pour voter. Dans ce cas, il ne s’agirait pas d’un intérêt porté à la politique au sens moderne du terme où l’individu, en tant que tel et de façon autonome, serait libre de participer ou non. [...] Dans une société rurale, et dans toute société de face à face où tout se sait, rester à l’écart des processus politiques impliquant sa communauté constitue un grand risque“. (p.54)
It is therefore safe to say that indeed, Moroccan voters are not ready for real politics. But that is confusing the outcome for its cause: Moroccans do not care about politics because they have not been given the opportunity to debate things; they have been prevented from trying to make Cartesian sense out of the political sense. Political apathy is, in short, result of the lack of their involvement in real politics, not the opposite. Indeed, the younger generations were more ready to define themselves on the political spectrum (22%) than their elders (12%) There is a high potential among the 18-35 demographic segment to take their political interest to field application. Now, how could they do so, when, on the instance of the constitutional reform, they are hurriedly prevented from having their say within a nationwide public debate?
The other figures in the report do, in a sense, explain Feb20 demographics, as well as the lack of participation in the last elections, and when one carefully reads them, can explain the need for a genuine constitutional reform, and not that half-backed, crooked deal likely to be imposed on us. Even though 18-24 Moroccans are less likely to register for voting (55%) only 13% of them declare their lack of interest in politics. They are about twice less likely not to situate political parties (29.8%) than their elders from the 45-59 segment (50.2%); Overall the 18-35 are more likely to be interested in politics than the 35+ segment.
Political apathy goes back to the fact that the more educated one is, the more convinced pseudo-representative institutions are unlikely to do their job they grow. A college-degree graduate is almost twice less likely to be optimist about the country’s future (36%) than illiterate Moroccans (70%). The problem is not in voters apathy, it is in the institutions seemingly put together to represent the people. This is why I -and many others- rant against the very short period allowed for the Referendum campaign.
Whether Moroccans are ready or not to democracy is irrelevant (and quite insulting, especially from the sanctimonious bunch that portray themselves as patriotic) because there is no definite state where ‘Democracy’ is achieved. It can be so only through practise, and we are in the process of being robbed away from the perfect opportunity to exercise our civic right.