The Moorish Wanderer

Every Word Means No

It’s a funny business, this constitutional thing. The more one looks at past referendums,the less they would be inclined to give it a chance as a pro-democratic move.

It is true we had some 5 major constitutional amendments (including the very first 1962 constitution) and yet we got stuck with the same old farandole: the King has it all, his powers derive from positive law (and the executive body in residence) and spiritual legitimacy (as the Commander of the Faithful in a De Jure Islamic community). And no matter how hard one tries to prove that such exaggerated concentration of powers is incompatible with basic democratic principles (as well as a gross distortion of Moroccan political history) the story goes unchallenged. Only a small core of resolute radicals gainsay the Regal supremacy, either on the premises of religious misgivings, like Al Adl, or because it contradiction a secularist and democratic values upheld by left-winger like the Democratic Left (i.e. PSU, PADS, CNI and Annahj parties) and Human rights activists AMDH.

"شعبي العزيز أدعوك لتقول نعم وأنا على يقين ستقول نعم"

Mainstream political parties, whether in government or parliamentary oppositions cosy up to the monarchy by trying to smooth as much as possible their position (if they’ve ever had any) on constitutional powers. Consensus is the word. Cranky, hurriedly patched-up in their defeat and taboo, but a consensus nonetheless.

It would be dishonest of me not to share regular doubts I have on that particular issue of voting. I don’t doubt my intrinsic position (that’s what you usually might expected from stubborn radicals) on voting No; It’s the whole exercise that could be qualified at best as political jocosity, if not outright ridiculous travesty of democratic debate. How can one lonely blogger, an expatriate student on top of it, engage in a confrontation with what is essentially a royal will. It can still be considered a Lèse-Majesté crime to stand up and call for anything else than a ‘Yes’ vote (a ‘No’ or a Boycott are equally an offence).

Will me and my likes be permitted to go on radio and TV to explain themselves freely? Will newspapers’ columns open up for contradictory views? Aren’t we -I assume there’s at least one other person that already made up their mind as well- crossing His Majesty’s will by calling for a different vote? That’s what happens when the constitutional is rigged so as to provide the ruler with discretionary powers. The game outcome is known even before it is played. Why, might one ask, waste time, energy and resources for a lost cause? These are my doubts. Are my actions going to matter?

On a  different subject, the recent interview Foreign Affairs Minister Taib Fassi Fihri gave on France24, as well as his statements in the US are unequivocal: there is a ‘glass roof’ for constitutional amendment, and though many consider this roof to be reasonable, it doesn’t change much then present regime structure; worse, it doesn’t introduce those changes we direly need-and for which serious political parties have been militating since 1962-. These statements also confirm -or at least do reinforce it- the opinion the future constitution has already been written, and the next two months are going to be be there for political theatricals.

The Highest rule of the realm: a devolved Constitution since 1962

The No vote is based on two main and succinct arguments: first, we, as aspiring citizens, have not been consulted on this; The whole matter. Formally, the Highest Authority, according to the constitution, is not the King, but the People of Morocco (yes, it’s crazy, isn’t it?); and in this particular instance (as well as countless others) we have been robbed of our right to look into the amendments before they are cooked up.The same argument applies to the appointed members of the panel; they might be respected scholars in their own right, but Mohamed Q citizen has not been consulted beforehand.

Second, 3 months is deviously too short a period to discuss a seemingly important amendment. Actually, it amounts to even less than that: the commission has 3 months to dream up its recommendations, and in the happy event His Majesty agrees to its output, then immediately put it to the country. Those calling for a nation-wide debate will look like idiots, a new constitution will be voted and this brief interlude of unfettered debate will be closed. There are a lot of assumptions in this scenario, but the fact remains, an ambitious new constitution (that’s the sense it conveyed in the March 9th speech) cannot be wrapped-up in 3 months and voted on the fourth. That’s robbing the Moroccan people from a long-deserved new, actual democratic constitution.

Coming back on the sporadic doubts I have on the whole issue, It’s the expected impact a No campaign might have on the voters, regardless of any parasitical intervention from the Makhzen administration (I know my local Moqadem is a nice man, but if he has orders to dispatch his Mokhaznias, I don’t think I stand much chance to reason with them)

Assuming I would be allowed freely to distribute leaflets in my neighbourhood and engage with neighbours (a genuine democratic exercise, one might point out), how will we affect the final outcome? I am quite disillusioned when it comes to that: the new constitution will pass with a majority, and I have the feeling the size of such a win is going to matter more than its likelihood. I referred before to a vote of less than 80% Yes as a defeat. One of the main features our ‘National Consensus’ tenants like to boast about is that the Throne and The People are of one mind.

How will this square with say, a 30% no? Will the King put to practise the old Malekite saying that goes like: “The Khalifa can do away with the rotten 1/3 of His population in order to salvage the remaining 2/3″?

Glimpses of Morocco’s History Vol. 3

March 30th is only days away. March 30th, 1912, a rainy and sad day, Imperial Sultan Moulay Abdelhafid signed the Fes Treaty, thereby abdicating Morocco’s sovereignty to France and to Spain. Immediately after word has it the Sultan, ‘أمير المؤمنين’, the First Imam, sold the country to the Christians. neighbouring tribes rebelled and marched on Fès, where the few European residents were massacred by the local populace. The soon-to-be Résident Général, Gen. H. Lyautey, directed a column to break the encirclement and free the city.

Who signed the Treaty? Who Sold Morocco? Who is a Traitor to the Nation? (Picture Wikipedia)

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the treaty a representative of the Alaouite family signed -in exchange of 40.000 pounds. Judas Iscariot sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, so obviously Morocco is a bit above the going rate (and modern valuation techniques were not fashionable at the time). I wonder whether some kind of celebration will be organized; Remember the pompous celebration of Fès‘ 1200th birthday, preposterously portrayed as ‘1200 years of Moroccan history‘, as if nothing happened before, or simply as if Morocco did not exist before Idriss 1st had Fès built in 808, or as if nothing existed before Okba Ibn Nafii conquered the Far-West (المغرب الأقصى).

In view of obvious facts however, especially those documented by other sources, bending history is no longer viable, and again, I wonder how things are going to be spun, especially when one considers that Sultan Abdelhafid is directly related to Hassan II  (as in his Great-Uncle) So when Moncef –it’s high time you packed up and got the hell out of your ministry– Belkhayat starts accusing people of High Treason, I would suggest he takes a closer look to pre-1912 history before he starts sprouting his baseless accusations.

I apologize for the heinous introduction. That’s because I can’t stand the Makhzen myths (and take great pleasure in challenging them)

Morocco in 1912 was less a country than a formal sovereign entity: large parts of its territory was De Facto occupied by both France and Spain, and Tangier was already an international city, with delegations -and their ‘protected’ enjoying total impunity from a Makhzen shadow of its former self. Historians like to date back this Götterdämmerung of sorts to the death of Hassan Ist (1894). Court intrigue and a youthful successor did nothing but exacerbate colonial appetites over Morocco: the French and Spanish of course, but the British were still considering their chances as well, and the Germans too thought of Morocco as their first attempt to build an overseas colonial empire. If anything, Morocco was, in its own right, the next Sick Man of North Africa (after Tunisia in 1883). These tumultuous circumstances saw the enthronement of Moulay Abdelhafid (after an ambivalent, even murderous, interregnum) on the condition that He, defender of the Moroccan Umma, denounces all past signed treaties with the Christian nations, re-affirm the Imperial sovereignty over contumacious tribes and gain back those territories the French and Spanish expeditionary forces have occupied. He was preferred over his brother Moulay Abdelaziz for his supposed piety and orthodoxy. He was confirmed as the new Sultan by Fès’ scholars, and:

‘Fez accepted him as Sultan, on the distinct condition that the city was to be exempted from all taxation. This His Majesty solemnly promised and he kept his promise for a few weeks, until, in fact, he was strong enough to break it and then he collected taxes, legal and illegal [Note: The Maks was considered un-Islamic, hence its status as illegal tax], with gusto never before experienced’. (W. Harris, Morocco That Was)

Later on however, he realized the Imperial treasure was empty, and perspective of levying new taxes, or even collecting taxes were bleak, as effective Imperial authority was limited to the few kilometres surrounding some urban centres. Moulay Abdelhafid started his bid for power, but soon realized he was as powerless as his brother before the tribes and the western powers.

Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey

Maréchal De France, Hubert Lyautey, Pacifier of Morocco, first "Résident-Général" Image via Wikipedia

The reason why the old Imperial authority died away so rapidly was mainly due to the its foundation on the religious prestige of its rulers (Sultans direct descendent of the Prophet)as well as Morocco’s isolation, and fanaticism of its people (and the ensuing repression in tax collecting Harkas) postponed the inevitable and kept a certain degree of independence. Now that money could not be levied and troops not paid, tribes and zawyas could riot and declare autonomy from the Makhzen authorities, while French troops steadily progressed accros the desert from the South, and in 1907, from the Eastern border. Now, the main argument regularly invoked to justify the treaty was that ‘it held Morocco together’. This statement overlooks the fact that Morocco as a sovereign entity was a purely nominal concept: true the Imperial Court and its protocol were upheld, and ambassadors paid their respect in Fès -and later on, in Rabat- to the Sultan. Other than that, real power, the violent exaction of taxes on the Moroccan nations, the only real symbol that asserts Imperial sovereignty, disappeared De Facto, and with Western occupation, De Jure as well.

The newly appointed Resident-General Hubert Lyautey, accompanied by French minister Henri Regnault proposed to the Sultan a deal, whereby his nominal authority would be preserved, or as it will come to be known, ‘protected’, in exchange of an explicit recognition of France’s and Spain’s rights over Morocco. The recognition was to be formalized in a treaty, presented March 13th, effectively signed March 30th in the Imperial palace at Fès.

Obediently, the Sultan succumbed, but the protectorate [did not] resemble […] the British veiled protectorate in Egypt that would have granted the Makhzen autonomy in areas like Justice and Administration, but the French protectorate in Tunisia, where the Bey was reduced to a cypher. (C.R. Pennell, ‘Morocco Since 1830, NYU Press. 2000)

Why, in light of the above-described circumstances, did Sultan Abdelhafid signed the treaty? Why did he sign his abdication act? ‘the official document of abdication was handed over. In return he received a cheque of 40,000, the last instalment of the agreed sum of money which the new Protectorate Government of Morocco had undertaken to pay him.‘ (Harris, 1921). Isn’t that a wilful treason, selling His throne and Morocco in exchange of an estate in Tangier and a pile of Cash? A lucid observer can conclude the Sultan signed the treaty to protect the Throne, and not Morocco.

How is that for ‘The Glorious Sherifians Throne’ ?

Open Society Project. Part I: The Economy

My latest readings are taking over; Karl Popper’s ‘Open Society’ and LBJ’s biography are a great read. Catchy.

But seriously though; why can’t we think of a broad, far-reaching concept like the Great Society, and apply it to Morocco? The same ailments are there; poor education record, growing inequalities, racial problems do not arise, though we do have ethnicity problems- and as it turns out, Moroccans are quite racist when it comes to Sub-Saharan residents, even natives in Morocco.

Bully Boy. Alternatively the most liberal US President since FDR (that doesn't absolve him from the Vietnam War, though)

Or perhaps we do have some sort of scheme. That’s called ‘The Grand Design’, a rough translation of ‘المشاريع الكبرى’: Tangier-Med seaport, a brand new highway network, and even the expected high-speed TGV Tangier-Casablanca. This is just to mention a few things the official line likes to boast about.The trouble with such policies can be summarized in two items:

– Transparency issues: I sometimes watch TV, and figures are sometimes displayed when it comes to these projects, something in the line of: ‘the project His Majesty has inaugurated yesterday in Oulad s5ar has a total cost of MAD 400 Million. The project, part of His Majesty’s Grand Design, will yield approximately 2500 jobs’. Interesting and informative, but not enough. Just so to remind the readers, this is money that has been spent on a project the taxpayer has not been consulted about, and upon which spending modalities they have little, if no say at all. I’m all for grand projects and strategic investment, but if I, tax payer, cannot have some effective mean in questioning the validity of such spending, then whatever comes next is irrelevant. My money, my voice.

Parliament and government are incompetent partly because the political establishment did not renew itself by looking at the best and brightest (but rather by recruiting fools and heirs) but mainly because they have been denied real power and ultimately responsibility before the Moroccan people. I seriously doubt someone like Abbas El Fassi would remain Istiqlal (and government) leader for very long if the party or the governing coalition was actually governing and with a popular mandate.

Cost-Benefits analysis: such projects are usually presented to the executive (or legislative branch, whatever the ongoing political system) with failure standards, targets, cost per spending and expected profits, a razzmatazz of reports and projections that can shut down a failing project before it goes off course. Let us have a look at the Dam policy as an illustrative instnace. The one many of our citizens’ minds have been hammered with for so many years, that whenever an argument on whether Morocco is on the ‘right tracks’ our very own Godwin point is reached: “the Dams were not such a bad idea, were they?” Of course not. There are good ideas and bad ideas; Only good ideas work, and the Monarch (whether the late Hassan II or Mohamed VI) always have good ideas. The Dams’ building project was incommensurate, a symbol of Hassan II’s megalomania (like the Casablanca Mosque he built in a time of depression and structural adjustment program) that did little to prevent droughts like in 1995. The Dams French engineers and companies built were not suited for Morocco; and this national pride did very little to save small agricultural business to close down, and farmers to move to cities. It did not prevent Morocco’s main potential (agriculture) from lifting itself altogether from its dependency on rainfall. Can we say for sure that the Tangier Med seaport is going to be a success? Are we presented with documented material on the projects gains from buying a MAD 20 Billion high-speed train for Morocco?

This lengthy introduction is not another bitter attack on these investments; it is there to clarify my position on such ventures: My own perception of strategic investments is the backbone of this ambitious –somewhat pretentious- ‘Open Society’ thing. I believe that strategic investment is an important undertaking, which stakes the nation’s finances and potential on a long, if not very long term. The least we can do is to allow the broadest possible public debate on such spending. If in liberal democracies, a democratically elected government has to present the public with all guarantees the taxpayers’ money is not going to be wasted, then a semi-democratic, autocratic monarchy with a handful of technocrats nesting in the Royal Cabinet taking charge of the virtually everything definitely loses the moral argument they ‘know what’s best for the nation’. Grande Ecole graduates and McKinsey-style consultants might be bright minds (and from experience, this is rarely the case) but they lack the proper understanding of strategic thinking. And why should they be endowed with such quality? The latter are hired on missions, the former are trained to find immediate solutions. Just what the Makhzen ordered: short-term plugs for structural weaknesses.

Let us think over the Open Society on public investment: we need to address two important sectors to give us a head start in a versatile world: exports and education.

Exports are Morocco’s lifeline. According to a rating agency officer I happen to know, it is the only parameter that prevents Morocco from reaching a confirmed ‘Investment-Grade’ status: obviously, whatever investment is undertaken, or indeed any serious spending will be conditioned on the amount of foreign currency the Moroccan economy can field. Equally, foreign investors will be all the more interested in investing if our foreign currency position is strong and structurally viable. We cannot count indefinitely on Phosphate exports, or the Diaspora’s transfers, or even Tourism for funding our expenditure. We can no longer rely on cheap exports like textile (that destroy value, rather than create it) or low-tech devices (the new pride of these ‘Grand Design’ schemes). And as it is, the Royal Cabinet and the government have been ill-advised by McKinsey and other consultancy firms: How in the world did they come up with these ‘Strategic Advantages’? in fairness, the grim alternative was to get the advice of civil service expertise; A body which has been either drained of its competence or independence of mind, or indeed systematically shut down of all genuine decision-making.

As we look to the exports structure, several observations can be made:

* Agriculture and other traditional exports have a low value per exported ton: consider the 2009 export figures: Agricultural goods represent 10% of our exports and have a value of 5.915 MAD per ton.Two-thirds of our exports, the Mining industry, fare better with an average value of 11.981,1 MAD per ton, but when excluding lead, copper and iron, mining industry value averages only 8.648,72 MAD. Overall, exports in 2009 had an average value of 7075.7 MAD, and with weighted averages, about 6676,1 MAD.

Structure moves very little during the last 8 years (BKAM Charts)

* These numbers need to be compared to imports: average value for 2009 was 7232.93 MAD per ton, a weighted average of 7240,59 MAD. These computations show the differential in value between our exports and imports (mainly due to the over-reliance on low added value exports to make up for this shortfall by increasing quantities (that fail but to cover only 42 to 45% of imports)

In these conditions, how can Morocco chose sectors that can insure a good transition for strategic investment? I don’t claim expertise (not like a Consultant would do) but there’s an idea worth considering: shift efforts to the fishing industry. That encompasses fishing -as a primary sector activity- and all related activities: canned fish and other related food industry, but also shipyards. Building ships can help the industry expand beyond the scope of domestic demand and markets.

Shipyards all over the coast: We do have about 3.500 kilometres-long coastline, with about 28 significant coastal cities, out of which 8 are large enough to be equipped with such infrastructures. initial investment might be costly at first, but then it is easily offset, first by local demand for bigger and more reliable ships. And building on the experience of coastal ship, we can even consider a further step by building ships with a larger autonomy range, ships that can fish south of Mauritanian coasts, all the way down Senegal, Mali, or even on other continents –including North Europe.

Consider the fish-based flour: its value per ton is about 8.000 MAD, and all combined fishing products about 14.768,9 MAD/Ton. Ceteris Paribus, an increase of 10% in fishing exports reduces the gap in terms of added value per ton from a 7.240MAD (Imports) and 7.075,7MAD (Exports) to 7.542,1 MAD per ton. This does not bridge the trade balance deficit significantly (only about 2%, the effect of an absolute increase of 1% over these exports) but it addresses one of our structural weaknesses, i.e. the lack of high-added value in our exports; Believe it or not, an investment in fishing industry, even as a primary activity, does boost the total exported value per ton. The effect of a much bolder, much more ambitious investment in canned fishing product, shipyards and related industries and activities is bound to be more productive, with the ultimate objective to bring up Exports/Imports ratio from 45% to a more sustainable 60-70% and improve substantially our terms of trade.

Where can we find the ships then? Moroccan ports can either buy hulls for benchmarking (and these usually cost no more than a 2-3 million dollars, even less so when the ship is more than 20 years-old) or buy plans for specific ship classes. The idea is to provide our fishery industry with a brand new fleet (compared to the existing one) able to fish on our coasts, and even provide for long-range class ships. At the moment, Morocco has 2.500 boats and other ships. Instead of relying on old ships that cannot sail away from the coasts, efforts should be put in buying new ones, with a larger autonomy range. Under assumption that all the 2.500 boats have been scraped and replaced with newer, larger boats, total investment cost would match that of the High-speed train. The difference is that the new fleet can increase its yield and diversify it (by acquiring fishing rights in Mauritania or Senegal). as it is, fishing exports (a total value of MAD 15.72 Billion in 2009) can finance such investment over a short period of time (at a moderate discount rate of 4%, exports can pay for the upgrade in 5 years’ time with no significant exaction on exports revenues) and over the intermediate and longer run, generate profits in foreign currency.

Exports/Imports in 2009

Textile is the most explicit example of value destruction; following the Office des Changes figures for 2009, the synthetic textile fibre used in textile industry valued at MAD 15,855  per ton. However, value per ton for exported clothing was, for the same time period, MAD 4151,5, a differential only fur production makes up for. The idea that textile is a leading industry (as it makes up for about 19% of total exports) is a failure in view of these figures. If anything, we should move away from such heavily-subsidized industries to more productive ones. The argument about labour is irrelevant; out of the 1.267 million employed in industry, 108.000 work in the textile sector with little or no training. In the event of a booming shipyard industry (or any other booming industry) a workforce transfer would not entail much re-training, and under the condition of an unemployment benefit, wouldn’t cost more than MAD 700 Million a year for the whole employed workforce.

Other industries can be considered for possible investment, but in any case, these should meet a couple of of criteria: first, the added value per ton, net of re-export, should be positive (which is not the case for textile and outsourced services). Second, the amount of foreign currency it brings to the national economy. We need the cash to finance all the scheduled investment.

Speaking of which, the government balance sheet needs to be expanded and improved. Although I will deal with the subject in another post, the primary focus here is to increase government budget; Though it is desirable not to burden the economy with further taxes, a sensible rethinking of income and consumption taxes can actually yield money and be fairer to the less well-off. According to previous computations run on income and consumption distribution, conservative measures (upper bracket for income tax at 40%, and 20% on VAT) yield MAD 68,53 Billion, an increase of 23.% of government receipts, or a contribution to an increase of 50% in public investment. The objective is to scrap together enough resources to boost public investment to an annual expense of MAD 100 Billion on average, and sustain such expenditure over a period of at least 5 years.

Next piece will try and consider policies to make civil service more efficient and reduce bureaucracy.

March 23rd, 1965: A Day Of Days

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on March 24, 2011

46 years have passed since the infamous March 23rd, 1965. And though many forgot, or tried to, or did not know about it, the students’ and pupils’ riots have had far-reaching consequences, and it is safe to say that we are still experiencing some residual effects.

A bit of history perhaps: by the mid-1960s, the political showdown between UNFP radicals and the Monarchy got exacerbated with tale-telling signs of economic depression. Indeed, after the sudden death of King Mohamed V in 1961, Hassan II engaged into a more open political activism, and publicized by his actions the covert clashes with the National Movement (especially the UNFP) to assert the Monarchy’s power on Morocco’s politics as hegemonic player.

Things turned sourer when Hassan II announced a constitutional referendum by 1962. An established constitution was the National Bloc’s main claim after 1956, and though late King Mohamed V had repeatedly promised a hypothetical constitutional convention, such business was deemed junior to the more pressing task of carrying out day-to-day government. It seems that then Crown Prince Moulay Hassan was not at all happy with the idea, since the outcome was unpredictable, and would at best lead to a toothless monarchy an outcome he considered a hindrance to his own thrust for power) if not an outright dismissal of monarchy as a political regime. Such delays took form of governmental de-stabilization and the exacerbation of internal divisions between radical elements and pro-status quo within the Istiqlal, divisions that led to the UNFP breakaway.

The 1962 constitutional referendum was, to say the least, a travesty of democratic consultation: though the ‘Yes’ had a cleat win of more than 90%, there were numerous instances of blatant administrative meddling, either by preventing Istiqlal or UNFP activists to vote, threats made to regular citizens, and especially in rural areas, local authorities bribed and threatened peasants to vote in favour. Furthermore, the constitution itself  was the King’s brainchild, an adaptation of the very power-concentrated French 5th Republic Constitution (as it is, the Crown Prince was a great admirer of Charles De Gaulle, though admiration was not always reciprocal) Almost immediately, 1963 general elections (the first ever for parliament in Morocco, the second after the 1960 local elections) locked in the political balance into violent confrontations.

Hassan II with his own Iago (turned a failed Brutus) Mohamed Oufkir (Picture LIFE)

The Regal hegemonic agenda basically dessicated democratic institutions and drained them out of any political legitimacy. Furthermore, the youthful Moroccan population, like all the youth around the world (let us remind ourselves of the 1968 upheavals in France and other countries in Europe, campus rebellions in the US to name but a few) was eager for some fresh change, a change that was too radical to a youthful King (eager too for some fresh change, but that would rather go his way)

The immediate trigger for the March 23rd protests (that lasted 3 days: 21-22 and 23 march 1965) was a new education regulation (issued by then-minister Belabbes) that de facto prevented virtually all High-School candidates from being able to get their baccalaureate (a degree that allowed for a safe job with the civil service, and thus the most straightforward way to lift off poverty and acquire a social status. That is why not only pupils, but also their parents -and young unemployed- took to the street and express their anger. At times of bad economic forecast and aspiring masses to better standards of living, the administrative decision (though thought to have a likely small effect) had a symbolism such that the people’s cup was bare: strikes at schools, street demonstration, police repression, and ultimately, large-scale riots in urban centres like Casablanca (Mohamed V High School earned quite a reputation from then on).

Casablanca, March 23rd (Picture Liberation)

The riots were such that police soon gave up, and the Monarchy (and its then-most staunch henchman, General Mohamed Oufkir) soon called upon the army, who only too well willingly carried out methodical street fighting for wrestling back the control of the rioting cities (bullet impacts can still be witnessed on some buildings in Casablanca for instance).

Why bring back such black memories? First, because Morocco’s history cannot be summed up in dates like August 20th, or March 3rd, or indeed November 6th. Such riots, contrary to what Abdellah Laroui‘s own account, were of ground-breaking magnitude: it was the bluntest end to the post-1956 idyll of national unity, a most violent depiction of the Monarchy’s ruthlessness in defending its prerogatives and repressing its dissidence. What was before circumvented to veteran nationalists and freedom-fighters like the so-called 1963 plot quickly spread to an institutionalized terrorism justified with red scare campaign. As some nihilists like to point it out, we do not live in a Bisounours kind of universe; There is a need for A remembrance day, and March 23rd is the ideal date. The IER unfortunately missed out on the symbolism, and a date like this one would balance up the pompous national holidays singing the praises of an all-too omnipresent monarchy. Think about it:

August 20th is a purely a Palace intrigue matter;

November 18th, Independence day is Mohamed V’s return and not that of Saint Cloud’s protocol (March 2nd);

November 6th, Green March was a tactical stunt (as does its corollary of Rio De Oro attachment, August 14th);

and finally, The King’s enthronement anniversary (July 29th).

Is it too much to ask for a non-Regal national holiday?

The Radical Manifesto

Posted in The Open Society Project, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on March 22, 2011

Political organizations (political parties, trade-unions and the monarchy alike) have focused too long on political symbolism rather than policy agenda. This is partly true because the political institutions in Morocco have not got past the ambiguous distribution of powers, or the perpetual re-assuring rituals that confirm the supremacy of one institution over the others. Very few put together ideas of actually improving public welfare. And if they did so, it has been done so a long time ago, and these policies need to be either profoundly reviewed, or simply cast aside.

I. Political distribution of power: We cannot go on like this. It is a blatant contradiction with basic democratic proceedings to have a monarchy that concentrates all kinds of legitimacy. As it is, hegemonic political power stifles dissent not by repression, but by denying any conceivable mechanism that would allow this opposition to accede to power. As Mohamed Sassi put it most elegantly, the only viable compromise between a hereditary monarchy and a real democracy is a parliamentary kingdom.

I understand there are (few, but they exist nonetheless) Moroccans that would prefer a Republican instead of Monarchical regime. Such political opinion in a genuine democracy not only has to be respected (and as such, any piece of legislation that outlaws it should be aborted) but constitutional proceedings have to recognize it as a potential outcome.

There was an earlier discussion on why I would oppose the scheduled new constitution. The primary criticism, i.e. the appointment process, can be addressed by introducing a constitutional protocol that describes precisely why and how major constitutional amendment can be set. Obviously, the ultimate source of legitimacy resides within the people of Morocco (as Article 2 of the present constitution theoretically recognizes) and they should be the ones asked to put forward their representatives to meet, debate and then –only then- agree on the ‘national consensus’ that would be the underlying spirit of any major constitutional amendment.

We need to accept that idea of a Constitutional Convention is not a Pandora box. Under conditions of diversity, convention representatives are all set on an equal footing: political parties, unions, human rights charities, civil society, representatives of civil service (including the military and security apparatus), Islamic scholars, intellectuals and academics. There is no need to be coy, or cautious, or even sceptic on the outcome of such a motley convention: “Loin de m’appauvrir ta différence m’enrichit” as St Exupéry once stated. The process of constitutional reform or change does need a national census, to be sure, but a consensus that is freely discussed and in perpetually put to the question in a never-ending debate. If anything, the worn-out view that we should stick to the ‘consensus’ (broadly speaking, an imposed taboo on he Sahara, Religion and the Monarchy) is the main roadblock to the kind of change Feb20th or anyone angling for a new start are calling for. Dissent does not destroy democracy, and it strengthens it further if present opposition has a potential to become future government.

II. The Social project: the Open Society; Living in a strict Islamic society is a nightmare for non-Muslims. Living in an open society is merely an annoyance for the true believer. Political diversity calls necessarily for social diversity too. The Umma myth has long since crumbled (with the Pan-Arabism Nasserism, as well as the Islamic Internationale. The Moroccan nations (the plural is not a typo, believe me) do have a strong Islamic identity, but this has turned more into a set of rituals (that merged Islamic beliefs and ancient pageantry the Arab conquerors failed to weed out and had to live with).

Harry Popper and The Open Society

Image by bowbrick via Flickr

The open society is indeed a complex thing to define. It is however easier to define what it can avert: it prevents difference to be interpreted as dissent. It allows understanding in order to avoid fear. It prevents the “One Nation” rhetoric from turning into a moral dictatorship. Even though the professed collective set of values or norms does not allow for, shall we say un-Islamic behaviour, diversity (the very essence of an open society) does not allow for individuals, or any institution to stifle other individuals (or other institutions) that do not fall into that collective value/norm.

Individual and Collective freedoms are paramount to whatever majority belief, especially to that fallacious argument of Social Cohesion. Perceived deviant behaviour cannot be eternally repressed: prostitution, drug consumption, alcohol consumption and homosexuality are as ancient deviant practises as more approved patterns of behaviours. State apparatus is much more efficient when it is not tasked with morality enforcing (like Death Penalty). The Radical side needs its ‘Great Society’ project: “The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all” bit. On social issues, that means a breakaway from tribal solidarity and submission to the common norms, the emancipation of individuals from the very fetters that stifle their humanity.

III. Economic renewal: Economists in Morocco (those with serious understanding of economics, that is) do their best to disabuse the public: Morocco has slipped into a rent-seeking economy. Its structure does not seek change and renewal. From top to bottom, the trend is in favour of ‘safe endowment’: public service for the unemployed, private monopolies and unproductive investment for the well-off. Numbers are not in favour of Moroccan economics: though we are sustaining good levels of economic growth, benefits of expansion are still concentrated among a core of few privileged (some 10% most affluent that capture 40% of Morocco’s disposable income)

Scheduled state intervention may not be construed as symptomatic illustration of ‘Tax and Spend’ stereotype. It can be easily proved that public finances are under funded (meaning, that new sources of receipts have not been considered yet). Consumption taxes, food and commodity subsidies and Income taxes are not commensurably shared by the community, and as such, profit largely to the more affluent. For all the changes and reforms that need to be introduced, as well as the forward-looking investments that are needed to push our potential further, state finances (expenses and receipts alike) are to be radically altered: out of MAD 219 Billion, only 12.5% is devoted to Public investment, and double this amount (24,8%) goes to pay wages. In addition, real executive power bypasses ministries and departments, which creates an addition burden on the taxpayer. And yet, there is a need to double the budget for reforms and projects public authorities need to undertake: there is a need for funding downsizing and improving the civil service recruitment, provision for legislation and coercive actions against private monopolies (the proposal of temporary nationalization of SNI-ONA and its subsidiaries for instance) and the implementation of social investments such as the introduction of the universal benefits program.

These expenses are necessary to improve our exports (which destroy value rather than create it) and our terms of trade. We also need these undertakings to catch up a long-lost 1 point GDP growth over the last 20 years (which would have placed our GDP per Capita on par with that of Tunisia’s) And finally, these investments are more than needed to expand our GDP potential and move from a catching-up process to a productive and innovative venture.

[More to come on that open society bit. The idea of a Moroccan diverse society and consciously admitting so might bring some benefits]