The Divided Kingdom Of Morocco
Under the veneer of unity, there are deep divisions running through our society; While population on social networks is not fully representative of the whole body, it gives insights of how different, and ultimately defiant the pro and anti demonstrations are.
Before I start elaborating on that, I should confess something: as an expatriate, I am somewhat disconnected. As a matter of principle, I advocate the February 20th, and yet, on Sunday, I will not take to the streets. Does it sound contradictory? It does indeed, up to a point. Demonstrations as a way of voicing frustrations or grievances is not always effective. In fact it is hardly true. But in Moroccan setting, it emerges as the only way to be heard from the power-holders. it’s not exactly the famous ‘ce n’est pas la rue qui gouverne‘ but it is a way to provide for a signal that a sizeable group of citizens want to voice their concerns.
Now, let us not veil ourselves from the fact that revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the current upheavals in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen and others yet to come, prompted our leaders to have second looks at the current state of things in Morocco. Why would they pour some MAD 15 Billion in subsidizing strategic commodities? Why do they process rapidly the recruitment of unemployed graduates in the civil service? These instances are a blatant evidence that first the policy makers are cautious not to stir trouble and in effect are afraid of any public anger, and second,these last-minute changes are the counter-argument that ‘in Morocco, everything is well’.
I mentioned above that Morocco is divided. Now, internet is the unfettered space were every citizen can voice their opinion whatever its substance and would expect another one to reply. The numerous facebook threads, the posts and tweets are part of a giant cyber-agora, but not necessarily evidence of democracy.
Why so? The main assumption behind a democracy is that every citizen is a fully informed, rational and policy-committed individual, fully aware of all past and present events, which no one can claim to be. So there is little surprise when two sides who disagree quickly reach a fail-safe point beyond which misinformation, derogatory comments and canards fly around. Pro 20/02 are labelled traitors, anarchists, anti-monarchists and mercenaries, while Anti 20/02 are ‘Cyber-makhzenians’ and conservative reactionaries. I honestly cannot claim to be fair in my assessment. And frankly, very few fellow Moroccans can do so.
The divisive line is one about a dilemma: should one commit to the ideal of democracy and the perspective of change with a random outcome? Or should one stick with a motley consensus and settle for the existing compromise? For anyone in Morocco, the status-quo, however incomplete, unfair and detestable, there are a few perks that go along with it: certainly the upper class has everything to lose if there are changes of the scale of Egypt or Tunisia (and to some extent, so do even middle classes like me). Lower classes, on the other hand, have some sort of trade-off: to the taxi-driver, if the grima-holder loses their rent, so goes down their living. To the low-grade functionary, there are risks to lose a comfortable stipend if anti-corruption rules were enforced vigorously. Even to the unemployed, a fair and democratic government would never put up with the claim to be automatically recruited in public services.
Incidentally, an acquaintance of mine, whom I hold to be politically conservative (close ties to the Union Constitutionnelle, just to give you the gist), told me he was in favour of the 20/02 demonstration, because he felt the King has too much economic power. ‘what about political reforms ?’ I gleefully asked, sensing a premature flip-flops. ‘no, I’m fine with it. What matters is to dilute economic concentration’. I disappointedly abandoned any effort to prove him that both policies go hand in hand. But his reflection on the present debate is eloquent, in the sense that even among each side, motivations are too heterogeneous for the other side to group them under one single banner. Yet it is hard to try to reason when things are so confused, when the state apparatus plays dirty in circulating false rumours on the demonstration. I mean, if it was really a democratic debate, why would official channels try to discredit 20/02? Stands to reason, that.
One would argue that because such demonstration is planned that we found ourselves in such divided setting. That would be quite extraordinary: if Moroccans were so united, such a (relatively) marginal project would have little impact on our unity. No, this is the tip of an iceberg that has been hidden with smokescreens, like our Sahara struggle, the need for economic development at the expenses of political development, and the house-training of the political field as well as the press corps. Whatever the freedom of expression one enjoys in Morocco, the lack of institutional check and balances to the almighty monarchical power makes it difficult to even consider policy to be applicable if they are not run through the royal cabinet et/or consultancy firms. What good is democracy and freedom of expression if the institutions tasked with implement them are dysfunctional? And here lies the nexus of the current problem: while pro 20/02 are confident and optimistic about the changes a constitutional reform would have on the political powers (hopefully the whole political spectrum), anti 20/02 are more comfortable with the current state of things, because they got used to it, or because of attached perks.
There’s an anecdote that proves my point: a friend from childhood vehemently put the case to me that His Majesty is doing His best in changing things in Morocco. Now, I am sure he does, but the fact my friend volunteered that statement proves one thing: that she lost confidence in the current institutions -as I do- but reaches another conclusion: instead of renewing them, why not rely on the one considered to be functional, and efficient too?
What about the silent majority? Those that do not have access to facebook, twitter or blogoma? What about those that rely solely on newspapers, TV news and rumours to update themselves on the Moroccan news? Are they fundamentally for or against such project? In the absence of reliable statistics, there’s little to be said about their mood, and any comments on their opinions would be idle speculation, and anyone claiming to capture their mood is at best a charlatan, whatever side they might be in. Plus even those on the internet were misinformed about the aim of such demonstration (constitutional reforms? really? is it that serious to be charged with treason for advocating more powers to the representative institutions?), portrayed as a plot to circulate republican slogans, to stir trouble in the Sahara, and God knows what else.
Whatever efforts put into informing internet-users and even the wider public, misinformation, intoxication -as the intelligence boffins would say- is running high. Plus in troubled times, the less politically committed usually wait by and look on as events unfold. Who would blame them? Plus numbers in absolute terms are not relevant. What matters is how people actually take to the street, how they behaved, and how widespread the protest is going to be.
I don’t know, but if Casablanca and other large Moroccan cities less than dozens of thousands demonstrators took to the street, that would be a storm in a teacup. A rule of thumb I don’t claim to be representative, reliable or normative, though.
On a less conciliatory tone, there are alarming news that pro 20/02 figureheads are being harassed and abused by the police. And I am not referring to children, but to party activists, known for their stand on constitutional reform. The regime seems to be preparing for pre-emptive measures, a scare/intimidation campaign in order to deflate the number of potential demonstrators, and in effect, putting the halt on a basic constitutional right.
I have to say, when the shit hits the fan, I am glad to revert to moderate. Or rather, I am glad to look moderate when compared to others 🙂 But on the other hand, I am sadden by the fact that because the regime has been deaf to grievances of moderates like me on economic and constitutional reforms.
In any case, we need this demonstration: the timing is right, because it puts pressure on our government (the official and the actual) to seriously consider reforms. At the moment the top brass are messing about with subsidies to calm things down, but this does not help in the long run (for one, I foresee even greater troubles ahead, when all this borrowed money is due to be paid back). The timing is good because in all North Africa, and in the Middle East, leaders are finally aware that the cup is bare, and that economic growth alone is utterly inefficient in stifling dissent, or keeping the rabble under control.
Governments should be afraid of their people, not the reverse.
Best of luck to the demonstrators, may they enjoy a festive and peaceful Sunday (including the security forces)
NB: on a different note, I shall drop political matters for the time being, on this blog and elsewhere (mainly because my views are usually very clannish and divisive) and concentrate on economics and history.
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