The Moorish Wanderer

Religious Policy: Revamping the Habous

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Polfiction by Zouhair ABH on November 15, 2010

My Contribution to the November Issue of Talk Morocco. The topic is quite interesting, but also potentially explosive: “State & Religion” From the initial feedbacks, my proposals were not met with hostility, though they were quick to point out that the present incumbents are certainly not going to tip-toe away obligingly.

What would be the impact of a policy that would ensure state neutrality in matters of religious nature? Apart from the deafening clamour of Al Adl and their moderate pals of PJD, nothing much. Apart from their activists’ ranting -which are not that numerous, or shall we say not that influential- there will certainly not be roadblocks, barricades and certainly no civil war over one of the so-called “fundamentals of our country”.

We have to assume beforehand that the monarchy no longer holds extra-constitutional powers from the spiritual title of our monarch -Commander of the Faithful-. It does not necessarily mean its abolition, but whatever powers that can be derived from it and that contradict positive law are no more. Indeed, an executive authority that wields such power is sheer contradiction with the essential axioms of democratic proceedings. In facts, It has to comply with one course of action: either the monarchy keeps the spiritual title but loses any direct authority over everyday politics, anything that can be derived from that title that is, or the Command of Faithful title is to be abolished so that the Monarchy can be a fully-fledged constitutional monarchy with dynastic continuity as the main -if not the sole- source of legitimacy, nothing more. I’ll elaborate later on why the first course is first-best option.

We also assume some sort of a constitutional shake-up that does away with the Sharia-based laws, mainly in the Penal Code: Art 220 on religious liberties, Art 222 on Ramada non-fasters, Art 483, 489, 490 and 496 on public behaviour -specifically on pre/non marital or homosexual intimate relationships, as well as the list of Sharia-based articles -and at the same time, effectively squeezing out  individual and  collective liberties to very narrow margins, nothing that fits the official claim of democracy. This, again, falls into the proposed set of strategies. Furthermore, these assumptions need to be buttressed by the idea of a Federal kingdom, where local democracies are given maximum levels of autonomy and self-government.

These are rooted in a two-fold strategy:

– First, one has to bear in mind the constraint any policy-maker has to keep constantly under watch. A previous policy of long-term islamization of our society since the late 1970’s has produced such stubborn results, and encouraged such rooted political movements that it is foolish not to take into account the possible pressure on public opinion they could put on, effectively describing the policies described below as a charge against Islam, or the fearful victory of islamophobics over what is perceived as the essential cornerstone of Morocco’s identity. Keeping the Command of the Faithful, as well as neutralizing the religious influence over public duties and institutions merely confines religion to an individual sphere and well out of politics.

My Scheme would turn the Hassan II Mosque in a profitable scheme to the brand new Interfaith department.

– Second, if one is to implement policies on effective secular Morocco, one needs the proper institutions to oversee the process of putting these policies into practise. For instance, abolishing the Habous is counter-productive, while a substantial upgrade of its missions can be so much more promising, and provides the liberal government with a useful tool to make sure not to be too remote from the Moroccan people. Because let’s face it, occult lobbies in Morocco and outside are going to market the change as a “Rrida” (Apostate) as the work of patient heathens trying to sell Muslim souls to the devil. And it is the duty of that government to make sure the message gets through as clear as possible: a secularist Moroccan recognizes to all Moroccans the choice of religion (as well as non-belief) and provides institutional safeguards to make sure individual enjoy their rights responsibly without submitting others to their will. Private opinions are not a matter of majority rule, and certainly the fact that Moroccans are in their large majority Muslim (firm believers or not does not come to the point) is certainly not an argument to crush the dissident voices.

I. The Habous Ministry

There goes one of the less known albeit most powerful ministries in the post-1956 Moroccan governments. Why is it, alongside the interior office, no “partisan” politician can be in charge of it? (I refer to the classic dividing line of sovereignty ministries that no political party can pretend to get as a portfolio). My advice is to turn the Habous Ministry into an Interfaith and Religious Matters department: that is, the islamic nature of its dealings would be merged with other religion proceedings. The matter of Habous real estate and other donations is to be transferred to the Finance Ministry, where there already is a specific department that can oversee the bequests and donated wealth with equal if not superior efficiency. This Ministry has, among other things, the upper hand on all matters relating to Fatwas (thus absorbing or abolishing the autonomous Ulema councils) as well as Christian, Jewish and other religious representatives or regulations. Other tasks that are already devoted to the ministry include the investment, restoring and up keeping of religious buildings and their respective staffs. Finally the Ministry takes over religious education, as the Education ministry no longer offers the course as seen below.

In addition to that, the interfaith office acts as a joint-venture with the regal authority in Islamic matters. Indeed, since one has deferred to the option of keeping the title of Commander of the Faithful to His Majesty, the First Imam is therefore the only one qualified to direct the Muslim community, within the constitutional boundaries of such position. The government therefore enacts Islamic policy on behalf of His Majesty’s recommendations via a King’s Council on religious matters. Apart from that, Hebraic and Christians representatives have their own say on their respective communities. As for the non-believers, they have one less worry, and therefore observe only the positive law of the land.

II. Education.

Intolerance grows among Moroccans ever since primary school. One way of preventing Moroccan citizens from turning into reactionaries and narrow minded conservatives (as well as winning some long-term base voters for the liberals and radicals in the process) is simply to suppress the Islamic education course. That is, for state schools. If Moroccan households are not happy with it, all they have to do is to enrol their children into private schools that provide the service. (One does keep the private schools curriculum in religious matters well within the purview of the interfaith department, you never know…) After all, if they believe it to be paramount to any other taught subject, they will pay for it. If not, a child is not likely to turn into a godless freak if they are not taught right from the start about religion. Starting from secondary and high school however, the interfaith department’s special schools can offer, on voluntary basis, religious course (in the three broad monotheistic religions, as the need for those is the most important) while there is always a choice to double or chose instead philosophy and ethics course at high school.

Furthermore, the so-called “Chou’ab Al Assila” (as well as the Hebraic local school) are going to be abolished and changed into a higher education degrees. To be a good Islamic/Jewish scholar does not require one to start very early. A High education degree can do just as fine. The Islamic studies post-baccalaureate degrees are to be centralized into centres for religious students, alongside the other Monotheist religions at the same level as Christian and Jewish studies, and part of the Humanities curriculum. Indeed, one each university will therefore have a Humanities Department that encompasses Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Religious Studies, etc… with no subject given a pre-eminence over the others (as it is the practise nowadays) Dar Al Hadit Al Hassannia will be merged with Institutes of Hebraic and Christian studies into a structure similar to the French EHESS (a Grande Ecole-like that will produce social scientists rather than sole narrow-minded scholars)

III. Law

Since I am no lawyer, I should defer the matter to my much competent colleague on the matter. But I would like beforehand to state some broad principles on how secular laws can be implemented. Obviously a lot of people will be upset about the changes, and they should be given a chance to express their grieves, within the boundaries of freedom of religion as the new constitution guarantees. The federal option is, in that sense, a good compromise in the sensitive balance between rule by majority and cornerstone individual liberty of belief. The federal constitutions can state broad –but sufficiently well defined- principles on the need to keep religion and religious matters out of politics, and will guarantee so by means of federal court enforcement of the constitutional rule, but regional parliament, following the political tides, can implement laws and regulations –within their own competence- that can be religiously-inspired: they could allow for Islamic Banks for instance, or introduce longer breaks at school to allow for prayer time. They can even issue specific legislation on how discreet restaurant and food-serving businesses can be during Ramadan, but they cannot enforce laws that would undermine the constitutional freedom of individual belief. As far as their attributions are concerned, regional parliaments have a certain say in financial and legislative matters, and if they are controlled by “religious” parties, they can introduce some measures of moral-oriented laws in their own affairs. The essential axiom behind it all is that every one is treated as a grown-up, and is given a chance to prove themselves to be so when managing the public welfare.

Can these measures be implemented? They can, to the extent that the present conservatism among Moroccans is mainly due to economic and material conditions. Indeed, it has been the effect of an explicit policy to turn Moroccans into fanatics, and some are sensible enough to try and reverse these effects with well-meaning policies, yet ineffective and very feeble. But it also has to do with the fact that in troubled and difficult times, religion is the main exit route and is considered to bring hope, comfort and belief in better days –better after-life, one might say-. These policies are contingent on how good this government will manage to bring welfare, good standards of livings and equality among the denizens of this country.

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Media Strategy: We’ve Got It Wrong

Much as I would like to comment on the spiral of violence in the Sahara, I have to confess my equal distaste for siding either the Polisario or Makhzenian side. It would have felt like derogating to a credo I fancy: never mix history and media coverage.
Unless someone can claim to be an ubiquitous, omniscient, unbiased and flawless journalist roaming free and loose in the desert taking shots and recording interviews, no one can claim a fair report on the events of violence in Laayoune and other parts of the Sahara (not even the worldwide press agencies). At the present time, trying to make sense out of the Schmilblink is useless, if not the aim of deliberate propaganda, a typical “Them & Us” situation. Better wait and see. The bovine-minded would tease the doubtful for a perceived lack of patriotism, but the sensible way is to observe; the rest is idle chat.

Instead, I would reach upon a much reasonable subject: both sides fielded various sets of media and communication strategy, which would ultimately give the upper hand to either side prior to the expected negotiations on the Sahara issue. On the record, I assume Morocco has a strategy, because from where I see things, it looks bloody amateur to say the least. the Polisario, on the other hand, when they do not put their efficacious propaganda machine into action, benefit almost naturally from sympathetic reports from mainstream media. As far as I am concerned, in media terms, Morocco wiped out the sympathy it got from the Ould Salma case, and finds itself back in the script as the super-villain, close to the low ebb of November 2009, when Aminatou Haidar was expelled.

Clouds and Ashes over Laayoune (Demotix Picture)

Could it get any worse? Very easily so. Could things get better? Difficult, but feasible if our officials get their heads together and start changing their current strategy, or if they had no prior strategy, to come up with one that would rebuild Morocco’s damaged image. Otherwise, that’s incredible leverage to the Polisario in the upcoming UN-backed negotiation talks.

Media strategy in both sides differ wildly in style: in an age of instant information and shrinking margins for cover-ups, the Moroccan response communication strategy is, and one is economical with the terms, weak, and its efficiency highly questionable: deporting journalists and even members of  foreign parliaments does not help. Official web channels, the MAP for instance, have a very weird way in putting Morocco’s case. In facts it is targeting Moroccan audience. Never mind the foreigners, that’s the Moroccans we’ve got to focus on. On the foreign front, the communication strategy the Moroccan officials seem to follow can be reasonably summed up as follows: ideally, it would be enough to convince the 5 permanent members of the Security Council and around 10-11 non permanent members to back -or at least to abstain- a resolution recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty or its autonomy-based proposal, and as the old sayings goes: “جمع و طوي“. A state can claim sovereignty over a defined territory precisely because other sovereign states recognize the fact. Biafra did not make it because it lacked the proper support of sovereign powers, though it was never short of media and NGOs support. That’s the way our officials’ minds could be moving to.  Large sums of money are spent buying off friends in France, Spain, the US, etc… and paying off lobby agencies to market our side of the story to the high spheres of world leaders. Little is spent on media strategy. The idea seems to be that if the governments are ok with it, their mainstream media will follow suit. In short, there is only one media strategy, and that is to devote time and resources to stifle internal dissent. One tries very hard to notice differences in the way the 8 o’clock evening news briefings on the Saharan troubles of the past week differ from those of the early 1980’s. Save for stylistic differences, the message remains the same. For instance, there were casualties among the security forces; This is likely to trigger quite sympathetic comments from Moroccans readers, but to others, they are merely casualties like others. When a 14 years boy was shot around the protest camp, the same readers worldwide would almost instantly feel more upset about him then about the Moroccan policemen and paramilitary. That’s the way it goes down with the media. Experienced government with press officers and media PR professionals find it hard to deal with. Our authorities are definitely not up to scratch with that business.  Communications with the outside world are, at best, defensive and greet foreign observers with deliberate hostility.

On the other hand, the Polisario leads a guerilla-style propaganda. Their media strategy is definitely outward-looking. In short their Press agency does not differ much from ours. But they do not depend on it to rely their side of the story: much of the mainstream media reported their figures instead of the Morocco claims. The protesters at Agdayme Izik were protesting because of their economic difficulties (as the BBC noted) At the moment the media report the fact accurately, but it is at the same time, casting doubts on our officials’ tolerance for dissidence: “[…]But while the demands are social, the scale of the protest — the people in the tent camp represent a sizeable chunk of Western Sahara’s native population — is testing the Moroccan government’s tolerance for dissent, and its nerve.” In any case, the fact the common Moroccan citizen does not care whether the rest of the world believe Morocco is controlling by force a non-autonomous territory (a j’y suis j’y reste sort of state of mind is irrelevant. To readers  and viewers of well-known newspapers, media networks and TV channels, the Western Sahara will look like East Timor and Indonesia. Right now all the niceties about how complex the conflict is, as well as the criticism of the occult intertwined interest in this dispute dragging on for more than 50 years (trace it back to Mauritania’s independence, that is much more accurate) just flew out of the windows for the most vicious, partisan and nationalistic invectives from one side to the other. Algerian and Spanish media -in their majority- back the Polisario because they have special relationship with them. Morocco relies on friendly foreign countries to mop up the mess and stand by them. To the Polisario long-term media strategy of friendly media and reliable channels to echo their speech, our officials adopt short-sighted and short-term tactics that do worse than anything to our claim. Instead, they devote incredible resources to convince the Moroccan people -that are already obedient and compliant to the official line- that indeed, the acts of violence in Laayoune and elsewhere are a trifle. Some marginals and petty criminals that have gone rogue.

In media spin terms, Morocco fights the communications war just as badly as they did during the desert war of 1976-1991. Little training and absolutely no efficient contingent plan to parry enemy influence. On the media front, Morocco is as defensive as isolated as it has been during the 1980’s. And in facts, the way our communications are channelled did not change much before the cold war. These very strategies fail to capture the tremendous impact alternative media have on people’s mind. And whether we like it or not, the countries our officials are counting on to buttress our claim are democractic, and their elected leaders have to be accountable to their electorate. If these become convinced Morocco are the baddies, the friendship between our two countries won’t matter much…

So what? Do we have to stand idle and let them lead us to disaster? Can’t we devise some alternative diplomacy on the subject? Some did. or rather did try, and they were quite sloppy with it, leading to comparative results. The first thing to do, policy-wise, is to be open about it.The chaps at the interior ministry and the royal cabinet should overcome their fear and be open about things. Get an international panel of journalists from international newspapers, representative from foreign countries, NGO activists, UN representatives. Walk them through the scene of violence. At the age of instant information, damage control would be to accept international scrutiny. Second, be credible. It is obvious that standards of living and, to certain extent, civil liberties are better off from our side of the defensive wall. Be bold, media-savyy. It might be all spin, but in people’s mind -outside Morocco, it will look like an honest country trying to be democratic and open-minded, but that’s just the lousy separatists that want to to blow it off. It started to take off with Ould Salma, but now it is gone; I am getting all Malcom Tucker right now, but this spin stuff should not elude us from the core question: institutional reforms. response was weak and disorganised because of the cast-like bureaucratic hierarchy. What we call in Morocco: “التعليمات”. Instructions. The officials, especially at the interior ministry, cannot take a single decision without referring to their superiors. It goes very high all the way up, paralysing thus the local and central administration in case of emergency. And when initiatives are taken, they are sloppy too because no one will turn up and ask questions. For the Moroccan claim to be solid granite, basic democratic mechanisms have to be introduced in the actual spheres of power. If Morocco talks the talk of democracy and civil liberties, it should walk the walk of institutional and constitutional reforms too. I try to voice up the nihilist inside me shouting and screaming in anger, not because I am being glad my country is entangled in a difficult position because of staff incompetence, but because in the long run, some of the choices that were made in marketing our claim might turn out to be wrong, much to our disadvantage.

Finally, Morocco has to be reconciled with its history in this region. As soon as it captures the media initiative, it should dug into core issues, concrete stuff: admit past errors for one. This is all long term work that requires media knowledge and handling our officials direly need.

The Lowest Turnout Ever -Yet

It is a bit early. In facts, too early to say. There is still almost two years to go before the next general election scheduled for 2012 (but the King can always change his mind and call for an early election, just like he would delay it) but the result is fairly easy to anticipate the results: low turnout, a more fragmented than ever parliament, and no real, committed ruling coalition.

Perhaps the now popular PAM (the monarchist Parti Authenticité & Modernité) will be part of it, but it is unlikely to get a large majority to rule by itself. Historic data shows it: no political party can rule Morocco. No coalition has ever done so by itself; We claim to be a constitutional democratic and social Monarchy, yet the power remains, by law, by constitution and De Facto in the King’s hands. In these conditions, voting for a party is meaningless; Why try to give legitimacy to an institution that does not hold real power then? The largest party in the lower house, cannot muster individually more than 30% of the total seats, whatever their political philosophy -when they do have one.

It is spooky how constant the political institutions in Morocco are: apart from the monarchy that is, over a little less than half a century, no political party -constituted political party- has ever managed to reach an outright majority, and as such, all of the governments since the first elected parliament -1963-  all coalitions where too weak to be government majority -as well as being a complete fabrication, the so-called administrative parties-.

1963 Elections. 141 Seats, no outright majority. (Source: Barnabé Lopez Garcia, "Cuarenta anos de procesos electorales" Arabic version, 2009)

The 1963 elections were the first ones in Morocco. the main competitors were the historic main party, the Istiqlal,  its left-wing breakaway, the UNFP (Union Nationale des Forces Populaires, 1959) and the FDIC (Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles) an aggregate of parties that was put together to provide for a  “workable” majority, to the king’s convenience.  the FDIC was made up with the help of the Mouvement Populaire (MP) that was founded in 1957 to counter Istiqlali influence, the Parti Socialiste Democratique, an empty structure Ahmed Reda Guedira, King Hassan II‘s right-hand man and finally, a junior partner, most difficult to explain, the Choura & Istiqlal Party (PDI), the only partner that can be described as a “national party” (following the canonic dividing line between administrative and national parties in Morocco). This heterogeneous front was supposed to win the elections decisively, but failed in the process, though it managed to get the highest vote count, but still short of the absolute majority.

A. Ouadghiri’s accounts of the campaign are quite edifying:

“[…] à quelques jours de l’échéance, elle se ranime par de nombreux meetings tant des gouvernementaux que des opposants, par des distributions de tracts et de manchettes de journaux […]Au fond, le FDIC n’a pas obtenu après coup la majorité absolue. Il ne la retrouve qu’en racolant quelques indépendants […] l’UNFP, en dépit de la modestie de ses moyens, a un succès incontestable au sein du prolétariat urbain qui lui accorde une confiance massive. La surprise électorale au sein de ce prolétariat urbain, c’est la victoire de Guédira, chef de file du FDIC qui l’emporte à Casablanca dans un quartier d’ouvriers, ce qui fait dire à l’opposition (Ndlr, the UNFP and Istiqlal) que c’est grâce au blé américain distribué “à gogo” aux familles ouvrières casablancaises que le proche collaborateur du Roi a emporté son siège à la chambre des représentans. […] Cette accusation contre Guédira est concrétisée par une démarche effectuée auprès de l’ambassade des Etats-Unis d’Amérique à Rabat par un groupe de 5 Istiqlaliens[…]”. (Le Maroc: de la Mort de Mohammed V à la Guerre des Sables 1961-1963, 1981 Edition)

This election is quite specific: it was the first one, the opposition parties were not even convinced of its validity -because no constitutional convention was held beforehand as they were promised, and the constitutional referendum showdown’s effects were still vivid in their mind. Still and all, the whole thing looked as if the new king wanted a parliament for tactical purposes. facade-wise, it was a good publicity for the newly founded Moroccan democracy: not too conservative, but not too radical either. Anyhow, the balance of power was outside parliament as the years to follow were to show.

Two years after, the king declared a state of emergency after the students riots; On June 1965, he was effectively the absolute ruler of the land. Morocco had to wait until 1977 to get its post-state of emergency elected parliament. The result came as a shock to many parties, especially to the opposition, now gathered within the Koutla: the June 1977 legislative elections delivered some 140 MPs, among which 81 were directly elected, the Istiqlal party was trailing behind with about half the number, and the USFP with 15 members of parliaments. These SAP (Sans Appartenance Politique) were slowly turned out into a party starting from October 1978, when the Rassemblement National des Indépendants was founded and De Facto, the main coalition party under the leadership of the incumbent Prime Minister Ahmed Osman – Hassan II’s brother-in-law. the SAPs, and later on, the RNI, were part of a coalition government that gathered also Istiqlal and the Mouvement Populaire (a workable majority of over 80% seats). But the coalition was fragile: the Istiqlal participation was not wholehearted, and so was the Mouvement Populaire’s involvement (there was a split between the two historic founder Dr El Khatib and Aherdane). it eventually broke down when, shortly before 1984 elections, the RNI suffered a split, when a rogue group of MPs (57 to be precise) founded in June 1982 the Parti National Démocrate (PND). The spin-off was symptomatic of the instability of the ruling coalition and therefore, its weakness in managing the country by themselves.

The same process iterate itself with during the Maati Bouabid government in 1981. Instead of getting non-partisan individuals and then merging them together in a brand new party, the incumbent prime minister was given the task to create a new party ahead of the election. A party ostensibly economically conservative (libéral would be the precise term) Late 1982, he issued a declaration to an array of middle and high-ranking officials, private firms executive officers… the intermediary elite so to speak; the content can be summarized in few bullet points: Monarchy and institutional support and consolidation of the present democracy. There was demur about the project of creating a new party, but eventually, in April 1983, the newly founded Union Constitutionnelle (the name is a sort of a pied-de-nez to the opposition party USFP) was to be the standard-bearer of the policies Morocco has to implement as part of the Structural Adjustment Program imposed by the IMF after the reserve currency and debt crisis Morocco and other third-world countries faced early 1980’s. The party managed to get 55 seats during the 1983 elections, secured 5 portfolios, but was supporting a technocrat prime minister (M. Karim-Lamrani) In short, the 1980’s, besides being a period of confrontation between the left-wing opposition (some USFP MPs refused to keep their seats when the King decided to extend the parliament session) was such that some political parties provided the numbers for legislative process, but had no real say or authorities to that matter. Strangely though, a prominent partner of the Koutla, the Istiqlal party, was member of this government. It just shows how weak coalitions are, whether in opposition or government, there is, as far as the 1980’s were concerned, no stable coalition, a brilliant illustration of cooperative game theory.

Save for the FDIC in 1963, large parties cannot provide for more than 30% of the seats in the lower house (the Parliament, or the seats subject to direct election, following the different regimes between 1963 and 1984)

1993 was, in the King’s own terms, a disappointment. He was expecting an “Alternance” government (and apparently, M. Boucetta was considered a suitable Prime Minister, a position he turned down) but the opposition Koutla, denouncing gross falsifications during the legislative campaign, refused to continue the negotiations with the monarchy about a possible transfer of government (other roadblocks arose, mainly about the interior department that was under the firm hand of Driss Basri) and things went as they were before: obedient administrative parties and their MPs supporting a government that had legitimacy outside parliament, in the King’s trust. Following the 1993 results, the political map of parliament was even more fragmented than before.

Things started to go worse from that time onwards. I wish I wouldn’t say it, but it looked as though at the twilight of his reign, king Hassan II wanted to weaken the political opponents to the extent they would pose no threat to the then crown-prince, now king Mohamed VI. And if there was any such project, it certainly did reach its objective, for the following elections, opening up parliament for opposition parties -admittedly, to prepare the Alternance Consensuelle– increasingly changed into a house of multitude of parties, each pulling for something, regardless of their origin, political loyalty or size. 2002 and 2007 are no difference to that.

Elections. Why Bother?

Why the boring facts and the even more boring history? It is necessary so to show that first, parliamentary parties are notoriously weak. Not that I favour the introduction of chief whip position in Moroccan parliamentary politics -even though it will be of great benefits no doubt- but no party can really claim the full support of their MPs. In facts these very MPs, usually local barons, are the ones controlling the large parties at some point. It has been the curse of the USFP and moderately (and increasingly as their thrust for power grows more insistent) that of the PJD, that for a party to grow beyond a critical threshold, they need the support of local notabilities, and they have to come to terms with them one way or the other, usually at the expenses of their proclaimed principles. So, besides weak discipline among the parliamentary parties, configuration for coalitions are equally weak. Before I elaborate on that, some figures are worth to point out: 5 parties were represented in the 1963 parliament, 8 in 1984, 21 in 2002. In 1984, the three largest parties had 3 seats out of 4 in parliament. In 2007, only 40%. Starting from 1997, the likelihood of a “strong coalition” grew smaller than ever. Coalitions, under formalized conditions, are not meant to be stable when they operate under the rule of a majority, because any junior partner can leave it, thus pulling it apart. And that is particularly true in Moroccan politics. The fact government majority are stable across time in Morocco -as indeed they are- is irrelevant; it is he sheer paradox in their inner composition that should confirms how fragile and volatile they are.

When parliament is not the actual holder of legislative power, and when government does not answer to this very parliament, then there is no need for that body, or rather, there is no need for voting for them. I am quite sure may MPs are of good heart and honourable intentions, but politics is about institutions, ideas and principles. I can see none of those in our بارليمان .

If it is going as usual, I am not voting on September 2012. And I shall derive painful pleasure in watching the Moroccan people given a puppet Prime Minister. You have been warned.

Founding Myths and the Green March

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on November 6, 2010

That’s today apparently. the Green March I mean. As I am writing those lines, I am awaiting by the speech His Majesty the King delivers on that occasion. Awaiting because of the recent troubles down under, at Agdayme Izik near Laayoune in the Sahara.

Dissidents' camps (source: Le Soir-Echos)

These protesters camped up in hundreds and thousands (15.000-20.000 following various sources), apparently expressing their ras-le-bol of a situation that is, to put it euphemistically, delicate.  Will he mention this formidable show of force? Threaten or Assure the dissident masses?

The reason why I wrote this post is not the Green March anniversary itself. I have been baffled by the sheer alacrity a colleague blogger displayed on celebrating the Green March (on Tweeter that is. He did not have the wit to write something up about this glorious second ملحمة الملك و الشعب). Now I am no iconoclast, in the sense that I believe every state-nation, real or artificial, needs founding myths. And Morocco is no exception to that. I am just surprised that someone like him, so well-taught and of such keen insight could be so blatantly blinded by mere propaganda. Why would I then demur the Green March as a founding myth? In broad terms, because it is the founding myth of one side in the Moroccan political spectrum, i.e. the monarchy. We live in interesting times, where one is required to be a patriot, though prevented from lifting the veil off some unpleasant truths. So to the benefit of the one watching us, I would like to remind him of some facts about the Sahara case. what is the fuss about the Green March? I mean any sane individual would note that Morocco got its independence out of France and Spain like a mortgage payment: French zone first, Northern Spanish zone afterwards, then bits and chunks until late 1960’s, when it was sort of frozen up until early 1970’s, when late king Hassan II got things heated up in Morocco to finally reach its apex with November 6th, 1975. Oh, another thing that bemuses me, Rio de Oro and Mauritania. How come a territory that was Mauritanian, and accepted as such by Moroccan authorities (as part of the signed tripartite treaty signed November 1975) was swiftly claimed as own after they pulled out of the Desert war? And how come the Monarchy toned down so vividly the claims on Mauritania itself? My claim is, the Green March, and beyond that, the Sahara issue was means to an end. It was a nationalistic move to overcome the increasing remoteness the monarchy was in. It succeeded in gathering popular support as well as extracting a nation-wide consensus from political parties; Nonetheless, and it is certainly not out of malicious thought, one cannot standby idly looking on a propaganda piece -a successful one, not because it is so, but because generations of Moroccans believe in it.

The Green March walkers, holding flags and portaits of King Hassan II, November 1956

To be sure, the sight of 350.000 peaceful demonstrators hurdling towards the border is chilling to say the least. The vermilion forest of national flags and the remarkable devotion of the walkers boosts up one’s nationalist pride (yes, even the radical crypto-communist nihilist has nationalist feelings). The Green March hymn burnishes the whole thing up. But it eludes an array of facts that are either ill-known to the general public -and it seems, to some of the would be elite- or just belittled because they do not fit their respective weltschaaung. Why, the mere fact that the same monarchy prevented -indirectly of course, and for matters of internal politics- some patriots from defeating the French-Spanish occupation of the Sahara and restoring it back to the Moroccan rule should refrain one from being ecstatic about the Green March; It was no a matter of gaining back our rightful soil, merely a short-term political move that developed into a matter of legitimacy.

Morocco gained formally its independence March 2nd, 1956 following the Saint-Cloud Treaty undoing the Fès treaty -thus effectively ending the French protectorate- (another myth was to promote November 18th as independence day, the day Sultan Mohammed V went back from his exile, while Morocco was still under French and Spanish rule). the Northern zone was retro-ceded to the newly independent Morocco in April 1956. Nothing was said about the Spanish Western Sahara that the Moroccan nationalists -not the monarchy- were claiming as part of Morocco; Indeed the monarchy was much suspicious in its own discretion during this period. Truth of the matter is, it was busy strengthening its hold on power, especially the crown-prince, to the expenses of the other major political players. If it so sordid politics, why an overwhelming majority of Moroccans still identify more closely with the Sahara issue than any other issue, seemingly closer to their common, everyday shores: consumer prices, and level of wages for instance? I would like to venture some explanation by taking a leaf out of “Psychologie des Foules” by a 19th century right-wing positivist Gustave Le Bon. The whole idea of using signs and symbols that are sympathetic to the masses, or in an almost bawdy way, to their instincts is well described in his book: “La foule, jouet de tous les stimulants extérieurs, en reflète les incessantes variations. Elle est donc esclave des impulsions reçues. […] On peut physiologiquement définir ce phénomène en disant que l’individu isolé possède l’aptitude à dominer ses réflexes, alors que la foule en est dépourvue.” I wouldn’t go as far as describing the whole propaganda behind the Green March as one of Pavlovian inspiration, but when one looks at the cornucopia of flags, korans, portraits of the king, and the enthusiastic tune -the famous نداء الحسن– are close to external stimulii. That was in 1975. From that year onward, TV, education, books, newspapers, all possible means of communication have been more or less explicitly marshalled into supporting the cause, effectively waving the patriotic flag whenever internal difficulties arise.

Far from me denigrating the founding myth the Green March became over the years (do I sound like I am?) my point is, the motivation behind it, namely the peaceful demotic demonstration fro bringing back the Sahara to the Morocco has not been motivated by selfless, patriotic means to a rightful end. It is the starting point of a purely political gambling, and the denouement of a hypocritical policy the monarchy followed since the days of independence. How could one be uncompromising about Moroccan Sahara, while they were in the past silent about it, or about the Mauritanian claim too? And why prevent equally if not even more fiercely patriotic people from taking it away militarily -with greater glory no doubt- when they had the means, the motives and good likelihood to achieve it. It is, quite simply, a call for sanity: cheer the green march as you want, cherish it as a founding moment of Moroccan pride and history. Don’t spoil it by ignoring its political backdrops and the hidden conflict for influence that laid behind it. If there’s one thing that can advance the cause, it is surely, for the Moroccan regime, to recognize its past lapses, and be open about it to the widest extent possible. Can one presume things will be dealt with in a reasonable and a grown-up manner? thank you.

Let me go gooey and optimistic a moment: an autonomous republic within a federal monarchy is just as fine a settlement solution as another. One could even think of the Polisario as some sort of regionalist party that would compete for the regional parliament just like federal-wide parties. This supposes that their hard-line people would come to terms (Morocco does not have hard-line people, ony warring tribal interests), that the corrupted officials from one side of the defence wall and the other are routed out, that Morocco delivered a clean bill of health on its constitutional reforms, and finally that the Algerian officials chose to focus on their home issues more courageously.

The Amazigh Local Democracy

Posted in Moroccan History & Sociology, Moroccanology, Polfiction, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on November 2, 2010

In a hypothetical genuine democratic Morocco, I would have switched political loyalties to Amazigh regionalist groups. First because I have an irrational antipathy towards the representatives of the Master Race – a mafia-like group of families that just got by before, during and after the protectorate with minimal damage and an increased span of wealth, power and notoriety. And second, because it is high time we ditched the hegemonic pan-Arab ideology that disfigured our national identities (if those were really existing) and exerted a positively dangerous influence over the Moroccan minds, so that even blood-related Amazighs tend to ignore their roots and just get swayed by Western or Arabian alluring culture. And last, because I’d say I took a fancy on my forefathers’ origin, a high-pitched village in the eternal snows of the Atlas chain.

Kasbah-Fortress looking on the High-Atlas Chain (Kasbah du Toubkal)

And I would very much like their culture to be valued and accepted as an autonomous part of Morocco’s heritage.

I have less and less time for reading besides economics, but I occasionally sacrifice to good books. Especially to those that took interest in Moroccan society, and really  looked in depth for its structures and inner mechanisms. One of the most prestigious scholars that studied pre-modern Morocco was Ernest Gellner, who, in his famous -to those that like to discuss politics with pondered minds- book “Saints Of the Atlas” (1969). Ernest Gellner was a Professor of Sociology & Anthoropology at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. His Moroccan studies are marginal compared to other fields he was interested in, but his book about the High-Atlas population is worth reading. (I personally got an ACLS Published-one-Demand book, so it is quite difficult to get a good edition) I will not go as far as reveiwing the whole book, partly because I am in the process of re-reading it, and I still have to catch up with a lot of material mentioned there, and also because I am more interested in hghliting a chapter I am keen to discuss.

It has been a general observation among those foreigners that started discovering Morocco in the late years of the 19th century, at a time when Morocco –Bled Siba and Makhzen alike- was at the center of growing interest from imperialst western powers. Anthropologists like De Foucauld, pointed out that the mountain tribes, those that were most likely to rebel against the Makhzen central authority (and occasionally referred to as Bled Siba) developed ruling mechanisms that were close to western democracies. Maxwell Gavin, in his account, mentioned a more liberal society in the high mountains than in the plains.

E. Gellner 1925-1995

There was much literature about possible European features in these regions and the subsequent more liberal institutions there compared to the despotic and arbitrary Sultan reign. Gellner actually describes these institutions, and they do strike the observer how different they are from the discretionary and Ivan the terrible-like manners in the Imperial court.

Amusingly enough, Gellner starts off by asking a core question: “What is a Berber?” as indeed he needed to define the areas where he should had focused his study, he then goes on defining the characteristics of such population: “From the outside, one can only define a Berber by his speech. Even then, one must exclude the Jewish, Negroid (sic) and the Ibadi Berber-speaker […] This however, leaves the overwhelming majority of Berber-speakers. How they see themselves. They are, without serious exceptions, either tribesmen, or men who are but recently tribalised. […] Hence, basically the Berber-speaker is a tribesman. This provides the crucial clue to his own vision of himself, the concepts available to him for identification with wider groups. He is, of course, a member of the nested series of kin units which constitute his tribe“. [p. 14-15] Why the tedious introduction? (and I have given but a digested excerpts of it) Because there was a need to specify the essential feature of the Amazigh -I shall use the modern word for Berber- is their tie to the tribe, i.e. the small society where they evolve. The fact  individuals are part of a specific tribes also raises the question of the nature of interactions between themselves, namely the question of equality.Before elaborating on that, Gellner goes on about the nature of segmentary societies, i.e. when families regulate their internal affairs either by means of autonomous self-regulated mechanisms or by using tribal arbitrage of tools to deal with different matters. Gellner summons E. Pritchard on tribal systems: “typical of segmentary structures everywhere, [the tribal system] is a system of balanced opposition … and there cannot therefore  be any single authority in a tribe. Authority is distributed at every point of the tribal structure and political leadership is limited to situations in which a tribe or segment acts corporately… There cannot obviously be any absolute authority vested in a single Shaikh of a tribe when the fundamental principle of tribal structure is opposition between segments ” (p. 59) This means that, even though complete equality is not achieved, nor considered as such, tribe segments -usually not individuals- are considered to be effective balancing powers to tribal leadership, and thus provide a relative plurality as well as effective barriers to absolute rules, something that tribes in the plains failed to implement against Makhzen-appointed Caids, Pachas and so on.

These are the starting points of Gellner’s account of the very specific “Mountain Democracy”: a conscious knowledge of space and/or population frame of reference, as well as intrinsic mechanisms preventing power monopoly by means of relative equality.

in Chapter 4: “Holy & Lay”, Gellner mentions the kind nature Igurramen (the Igurram fulfils the state or public duties. The position can only be defined through what it does, or rather, with the task it is given to fulfil) maintain with the ordinary tribesmen. Indeed, the various duties an Igurram is bound to undertake cannot be performed without the support of a substantial part of the tribe they are supposed to manage. It goes even further, on the way elections are held:  “Suppose a tribe to consist of 3 sub-clans, A, B and C. If this year it is the turn of Q to provide the chief for the tribe as a whole, then the electors will be the men of B and C. Next year, the chief will be chosen from B, and it will be A and C who provide the electors; and so on. You can be part of the pool of candidates, or have the vote, but not both. This is complementarity.” This is crucial, as indeed Chiefs-Igurramen are chosen by the tribesmen -on whatever fashion they fancy- and are not imposed by the central authority. In addition, Igurramen position does not carry with it special privileges or any perks of the office as one might say. Indeed, it is more of a status rather than sub-tribal belonging, and cannot therefore derive any further authority than what the tribe allows for. the Chief is therefore constrained by the wishes of the clans.  There is a sense of self-government that is actually very close to local democracy and decentralization of power, as well as a wide-base popular legitimacy. One wouldn’t go as far as boast about primitive democratic settings, but these are certainly and by far more liberal than the traditional institutions of imperial Makhzen. One could almost see a cardinal bifurcation of powers: on the one hand, a bureaucratic, centralizing Makhzen, and on the other, a popular, decentralizing local/tribal democracy. and both had the unfortunate demise of many conflicts throughout the ages, as indeed Makhzen tried with more or less success to establish their control over the mountain tribes (especially by means of enabling Glaoui and Gundafi families to extend their domination in the name of the imperial Sultan over the High Atlas)

I raised the Amazigh question some time before –about the Berber Dahir– and I had some doubts about the kind of relationship between Arabic heritage and Amazigh identities. While I do agree some Amazigh-born Moroccans rose to prominent places as Islamic scholars (such as Mokhtar Soussi) or writers in Arabic, I  cast much concerns about how hegemonic Arabic culture – using Islam as the uncontested shuttlecock to its aims- perverted pre-Islamic Amazigh culture and managed quite successfully to tone it down and effectively, suppressing it. Arabic is now the national language, our official history firmly tied us to the pan-Arab project (whether because of the regime’s stand or that of prominent opposition parties, like the USFP or the PJD) and much is made about or National Identity. Nonetheless, and despite encouraging signs, little is said about a heritage that has been confined to marginal places by a hegemonic part of the Moroccan identities. Morocco had good -albeit traditional and certainly flawed- local democratic institutions that were destroyed through a patient and vengeful process in the name of ‘imarat al mouminine (Commander of the Faithful) and the Islamic obligation to submit to the ruler of the land.

A couple of pleasant instance to point out how resistant my ancestors were to the Arab oppressors: In Tachelhit, Baghough describes the Fox. another way of refering the the animal is Aliou taleb, which is Ali Ibnou Abi Taleb, the well-known nephew of prophet Muhammad. As for the snake, the usual name is Hlima, a reference to the prophet’s wet-nurse. Who said Amazigh people did not have a good sense of humour?

Lake Ifni. Wonderful place to fish and bath in.