The Moorish Wanderer

Believe in Something and Dare Everything

Apparently my very early commitment to vote No on the upcoming constitutional referendum was interpreted by many readers -and friends- as symptomatic of a hard-headed, bitter radical, disconnected from the basic realities of Moroccan politics. I might be. But that does not prevent me from presenting my readers with a more or less formalized version of my own thoughts on what a constitutional reform can achieve, does it?

Morocco has got to be bold in its reforms. It would be a shame to end up in September with an upgrade version of the 1996 constitution (L’Economiste newspaper dared a “Maroc 2.0” headline, while a “Maroc 1.1 Beta” sounds more accurate). Apparently, there’s a member of the Royal Cabinet acting as a liaison with political parties, NGOs, other parts of the civil society. I would very much like Mr Moatassim to have a look at what I, as an enthusiastic and responsible citizen, want to see in this draft constitution:

This regionalisation idea was interesting. Why not push it further? The Commission’s primary findings were at best blurry, if not wilfully vague about the ways and means to implement such decentralization as specified in the King’s speech, January 2010. Why not put together a fully-devolved, full-federalized government? The Sahrawi people would welcome it, the Rif region has already a fierce regional identity that would flourish under a regional autonomy. I posted a year ago my own vision of what decentralisation would look like in a federal setting, and I think it can work, as a way to break up the Makhzen‘s grip on local matters. Regional bodies with attributions and a range of autonomy pretty close to the Länder prerogatives: local finances (with federal taxes and subsidies), regional police forces, regional parliaments and governments. And the symbol presiding over this federal aggregate, the unifying symbol, might I add, would be the Head of State, the King of Morocco.

The Azziman commission, on the other hand, has been very coy in its proposals; let us take a leaf on local finances to make the point: “Sans alourdir significativement la pression fiscale nationale, de nouvelles taxes régionales, adaptées aux spécificités de chaque région, pourront être prévues, […]” (p.18) obviously, the local or regional taxes are not going to be, in the committee members’ mind, a significant transfer of fiscal levy from central to regional bodies, as indeed the next paragraph explicitly shows: “Pour toute recette fiscale ou parafiscale, la détermination et le contrôle de l’assiette, la liquidation et le recouvrement seront confiés contractuellement aux services spécialisés de l’Etat, contre une juste rémunération des charges qui en résultent. […]Le partage à parts égales entre l’Etat et les conseils régionaux du produit des droits d’enregistrement et de la taxe spéciale annuelle sur les véhicules automobiles.” As it is, the present project -soon to be implemented with the upcoming constitutional reform, is no more than an upgraded version of the 1997 government bill: strategic decisions and government budget allocation still remain within the gift of central ministerial government. Central authority retains control over spending and legislation. This upgrade version of the 1997 local government act does not rise up to expectations. Federalism, it seems, was not the flavour of the year among the venerable members of the committee. Judging from this timid, half-backed, sitting-on-the-fence kind of proposals, and keeping in mind that many of these scholars and high-flying commis d’Etats also sit on the Constitutional Reform panel, I think it is safe to predict that they will come up with equally half-backed, indecisive and ultimately, superficial stitches to the constitution.

What would I propose then? Instead of just lining up a few sentences on what a regional body might do or might not, it would be vanguard-like to engrave federalism in the constitution; Basically, to admit it as the official and intangible -within the said constitution- political regime I would like to see take place in Morocco: a fully-fledged federal monarchy, multicultural and unified through the Royal Crown.

Why not a national CoA?

Obviously, a few things are likely to be radically altered: as the 1996 constitution shows, the national motto is “God, Fatherland and the King“. I personally have nothing against it (though I have some thoughts of my own on a more consensual, or shall we say religious-neutral one) but there is a great deal of confusion when one looks at the national Coat of Arms, which happens to be that of the Alaouite royal family as well. These might be trifling symbols, but it speaks a lot about the historical confusion between a dynasty that ruled parts of Morocco since the 17th century, and the state of Morocco that pre-existed even the Muslim conquerors. I would advise for the existing national Coat of Arms to be reverted as a Royal symbol (very much like the Royal Standard) while the Constitution delineate explicitly the coat of arms’ parts (in that Heraldic esoterica description).

On more down-to-earth matters, the new constitution, under a federalist setting, should explicitly specify the attribution of each governing body: the regional and federal legislative and executive branches, as well as the ‘liaison’ federal departments that brings institutions together.

I. Regional bodies

1. Parliament: retains all regional symbols of autonomy, i.e. the privilege of tax levy and spending, the control over regional police force and other civil service department (regional hospitals, primary, high schools and professional schools), and  a certain control over the regional government as well as (but indirectly) the federal government as well. Elections are organized within each region (with the voting system left to each regional legislation) and the elected government gets their parliament’s confidence on a either an individual or coalition-based manifesto to be carried out during the legislative session.

2. Governments: in order to ensure citizen control over local and federal bureaucracy, the legislative branch has a great deal of controlling powers over the local and federal governments. On the other hand, these bodies function just like a regular government: regional ministries with regional civil services. The cabinet is headed by a minister-president, who acts as a prime minister to the region (contrary to the federal Prime Minister, they enjoy only a primus inter pares status).

3. Regional Courts: The regional courts are an independent body whose members are appointed by a joint recommendation from the federal supreme court and the regional government, and confirmed by the regional parliament. They cannot be impeached or unseated unless the regional parliament introduces a special request to the federal supreme court or on the initiative of the latter.

4. ‘Free Cities’: large cities, i.e. with more than 750.000 denizens can constitute themselves into free cities, with even larger autonomy in levying taxes and implementing local legislation. A free city elects its own board, headed by a mayor, who is independent from the region, even if the city is a regional capital.

II. Federal Bodies

1. Federal Parliament: a bicameral house, with no hierarchy whatsoever (in the sense that there is no order or precedence as in ‘upper house’ versus ‘lower house’). The first chamber -called so because of its nationwide representation- has a fixed number of seats (9 per region, plus a seat for each ‘free city’ with a population over 1 million) whose elections coincide with the general election (for the federal government) The first chamber is elected on a federal level so as to provide the federal government with an immediate majority, as well as a counter-balance to the regional interests that are represented in the second chamber. The regional representatives’ seats per region are commensurate to each one’s population (with a ratio of 1 representative to every 50,000 citizens, a total number of about 400 indirectly elected regional delegates). Both houses vote their confidence on the newly elected government at a majority of 50% plus one vote (upon confirmation of the inner cabinet).

Parliament House, Rabat. What about a larger, more powerful federal body?

The same prerogatives apply to the federal government: they retain control of federal finances (including the federal body overseeing federal taxes and funding), federal police force (with regional deputation/federalization prerogatives whenever necessary) and federal departments, including national hospitals, university centres and research facilities, and nationwide infrastructures. Upon election results, both houses vote, in a joint session, their confidence in the new government (the Primer Minister as the leader of the party, or coalition party the majority of seats and/or votes, depending on the current voting system). Both houses can, when lacking vote majority, retract their confidence, thus compelling the Prime Minister to dissolve their government and federal parliament, calling for anticipated elections.

The Federal parliament has a power to organize public and private auditions of every government official, whether regional or federal, whenever the competent committee sees it fit. This subpoena prerogative can be limited only through a supreme court ruling.

2. Federal Government: officially “His/Her Majesty’s government, by the Will of the People” has the triple legitimacy to preside over Morocco’s destiny: first, national, with a majority in the Federal house, then regional, with a majority in the Regional Representatives’ house, and then royal, when the Monarch recognizes formally the party or coalition leader as the Prime Minister to be, then as the Prime Minister of the Federal Kingdom Of Morocco.

The federal government has a duty to carry out the manifesto upon which it has been elected, i.e. on a pre-election commitment (so as to prevent the post-election back-room deals that blotted all Moroccan elections since 1997, if not long before). In that sense, the federal government introduces legislation and enacts the parliament’s will.All government appointments, e.g. federal agencies, police and security apparatus are conditional on parliamentary consent.

In order for the federal government to carry out its business, ‘specialist’ bodies are attached to the traditional departments, and these aggregate other branches of power in joint-ventures, some of whom are ad hoc, and others are pre-specified:
* the Infrastructures and Transports Federal Board:
The board gathers the Infrastructures and Transports ministries (both at regional and federal levels) as well as Transport and Infrastructures labour and employers unions, the specialized construction and building companies, the Federal Audit Court and the National Infrastructures Parliamentary Committee. The board defines and discusses policies the ministries submit to their government and parliament for execution and funding.
* the Financial Regulatory Federal Board
the board gathers the Finances and Treasury ministries, the Federal Central Bank, representatives from all implanted banks (national and foreign alike), the regulatory bodies of the Stock Exchange, the Federal Audit Court and the Federal Supreme Court.
* the National Health Board
the board gather the National and Regional health departments, as well as representatives of N/RHS labour union, the board of national hospitals directors, the public health and safety parliamentary committee  and representatives from the Medical Profession (through the guild of doctors).
* the Higher Education and Research Board:
the board gathers the Education regional and federal departments, representatives from parents’ pupils societies, the federal and regional boards for curriculum design and assessment, and representatives from the education panel (academics specializing in education issues)
* the Federal Commission for Future Growth and Perspectives
the board encompasses the national statistics office (replacing HCP), the federal economic council board, the Central Bank and the federal budgeting parliamentary committee.

The need for these boards is not to burden the government or other branches of power with unnecessary bureaucracy, but it stems from the need to engage both federal and regional spheres into a cooperative setting; besides, the number of federal employees (that should remain within the ratio of 1 fed to 3 regionals) makes joint-ventures and interdepartmental structures necessary to share the burden of government. It also allows for civil society, unions and employers to convey their own views at the heart of the legislative and executive process.

3. The Federal Central Bank

It remains within the gift of the Prime Minister to appoint the Governor of the Bank, conditional on a joint confirmation from the Federal Parliament. The Central Bank is constitutionally independent from the executive branch, but the governor or their staff are required to testify before parliamentary committees on a regular basis to explain and justify their monetary policy.

4. The Federal Audit Court

The Federal Audit Court is another independent body who acts on its own will or upon request from any of the other branches of power. The appointments are jointly made by the King and the Prime Minister when a new government is elected. The Audit’s findings and decisions are transmitted to the Federal Supreme Court who then enforce it when necessary

5. The Federal Supreme Court

The Federal Supreme Court is an independent body, and judge appointments remain within the gift of both the Prime Minister and the King, conditional on a parliamentary approval

6. The Kingdom’s Mediator

The Mediator is an multi-partisan institution, i.e. only the house makes the appointments with no interference from other branches. The Mediator acts as a go between as a preliminary step when various litigations arise.

III. The Monarchy & General Principles

1. The Monarchy

(Apparently, I sound a bit like a republican to many. Let me square this once and for all: I remain conveniently agnostic on this issue. I do believe however that if the Moroccan people clearly chose a monarchical regime, it has to be parliamentary with honorary duties to the monarch.)

The Monarch, as a non-partisan figure, represents a symbol of unity, and the guarantee of our ethnic diversity within this unity. The Monarch, being above all political competition (or other), performs honorary duties, among which, recognizing the elected government, delivering opening statement to the annual joint session of the federal government, represent the Kingdom abroad on their own right. There remain some particular appointment that remain within the Monarch’s gift, conditional on a vote of approval from the parliament.

No more 'Beya'. There's no need to pay respect and submission time and again, for free and respectful citizens, is there? (Image Paris Match)

Rules of succession are not constitutional, and should comply with gender-neutral obligations (which means effectively, that we can end up with a Queen, hence the constitutional denomination of ‘the Monarch’). All symbols of respect and sovereignty are recognized, including a civil list (computed for the core Royal Household as a Civil Servant salary), honorary military and spiritual titles (but with no constitutional enforcement power, including the ‘Commandship of the Faithful’ title), the privilege of carrying a royal flag and coats of arms and royal designation of ‘His/Her Majesty’. As Head of State, he ‘Advises and Guides the Government of the Day’

2. General Principles: All international conventions signed have precedence over local legislation, especially in matters pertaining to human rights (including a full commitment to the International Penal Court) as well as a re-emphasis on the Universal Human Rights, their acceptance in their full universal meaning. In matters of Human Rights, Morocco surrenders all sovereignty and accepts international law as its own.

Now, if the Constitutional Commission comes up with something close to this aggregate of general statements, I will be more than happy to revert my position and enthusiastically campaign for a Yes vote. Now, I have to go back to my planet, I miss utopia so much…

Thank You Your Majesty, But No Thanks.

Cooler heads prevail. Though it is now almost 48 hours after the King’s Speech, and it is still early to say, I have made my mind up on the very issue of constitutional referendum: I will be voting No, and depending on the date, I will do my best to be in Morocco and campaign there, to the best of my abilities, to convince my fellow citizens not to abstain, and to think carefully before they vote Yes.

My stand on the issue should not be construed as the typical moaning of a ‘professional complainer’, or worse, the dangerous plotting of a full-paid agent provocateur. It should however be considered for what it is: the logical conclusion of lucid expectations. And I should think my nihilism (to paraphrase our matchless Communications Minister and official Government Spokesman, Khalid Naciri) remains constructive (I would not agree with those calling for a boycott, though I am sympathetic to their action as we do have a great deal in common). The panel in charge of re-writing the constitution has been appointed– and as far as regular citizens are concerned, no one was consulted on these appointed panellists (many of whom are respected constitutional law professors, but with no proven record of baldness in terms of constitutional reforms. His Majesty and his counsel played safe by choosing dull people. For the disgruntled citizens like me, it is a disappointingly sad omen on the likely drafted constitution.

Before I start elaborating on why I have made my mind up very early, I should perhaps address a ‘methodological’ issue: I have already recorded feedbacks on such early pledge, and these are not very encouraging; In a nutshell, we should all be grateful to His Majesty to grant us, contumacious subjects, our wishes (by

the way, it was a delight to read or listen to artistic flip-flops. God Bless the Internet and the snapshots.) So now, dissident voices should rally behind and mute their concerns. That, in my opinion, destroys the very basic idea of democracy. This timid reform is a first step or rather a substantial step in a never ending democratic process. And I believe expressing dissident opinion does not weaken this process, but strengthen it instead. Would you imagine a dull campaign where everyone calls for ‘Yes’?

Now, back to the process itself: it is quite obvious that 3 months are not enough to debate a genuine constitutional reform, and if I had access to some inside intelligence, I would say that the document in question has already been drafted in its core dispositions, and the 3 months are just a time lag to ‘educate’ the public –and mute the dissidence- on the idea that this is a ‘frontier constitution’. Alternatively, I can put on my optimistic hat and praise this time period as whip-up for all interested citizens to get their heads together and come up with whatever necessary or useful as a contribution to the debate.

Everyone of us, citizens at heart (and de facto subjects of the Crown) is eager to see that this reform unlocks the largest possible set of Royal prerogatives, so as to move from a constitutional monarchy (with virtually all executive powers concentrated in the hands of the King) to a parliamentary monarchy (where power resides effectively in the hands of the Moroccan people and their elected representatives). This commission is unlikely to deliver on the reforms front, not the least because its legitimacy is not popular, and the panellists are also likely to play safe and push for an upgraded version of the last constitution (1996). Under the assumption that the draft has not been prepared yet, It would have been best to table a longer time period (say a year instead of 3 months) and with a larger and more diverse commission (come to think of it, a constitutional convention is a much bolder, albeit much less expected move) whose members would not be restricted to an assembly of law scholars.

We still have 3 months to go. And when this commission presents its findings to the King and to the People, those of us who care about such things are presented with three alternative courses of action: either accept the draft and call for an affirmative vote, refuse the proposed constitution and vote no, or refuse the whole thing and refuse even to show up to the ballot. As a show of good faith -and an extraordinary effort in looking optimistic on my part- I will do my best to campaign intelligently for a ‘No’ Vote. Boycott, in my opinion is likely to undermine its goals more than it would help (the pro-boycott and I are of one mind on the undemocratic selection and outcome of such commission, that goes without saying)

Why vote no: as it happens, I have been involved with a certain political apparatus that has been remarkably constant and faithful to the concept of a constitutional reform. The Moroccan radical left has always been critical of the ‘the granted constitution’ and this stalwart stand on principles should be underlined when compared to the spineless, obsequious and unimaginative stand of mainstream political parties, who suddenly champion these reforms as ‘necessary’ and ‘beneficial’. I think a ‘No Vote’ or a boycott are only remaining faithful to their proclaimed principles.

My minimal set of reforms is unlikely to be matched. It simply means that I am not going to be satisfied with the draft constitution tabled for popular referendum, and as such, I would vote against it. This is democracy 101: I don’t agree, ergo I vote against. Any Belkhayat-style anathema implying I would be a traitor to the King and to the Nation should be dismissed as incoherent and shallow dithering of flip-floppers and opportunists.

A friend and fellow blogger expressed his concerns about the campaign itself, and I fully share them: are people like me be allowed to express their views on the public media outlets? Am I guaranteed that, if I ever was on the street, distributing leaflets and engaging with citizens to convince them not to vote in favour, no one will threaten my physical integrity? In short, will my voice be heard and not suppressed? And in a sense, it is worrying that I should ask these questions: I blog in English, and many of the issues I post about are not of the bread and butter kind of issue, but what would happen if I decide to go off-line and engage with other Moroccans in Morocco?

What is to be done, then? First, I will try to do what the commission is doing: draft my own recommendations on the upcoming reforms, simply as a passionate citizen doing their best to make their voice heard on the internet, democracy lives by informed and diverse opinions.

Coat of arms of Morocco

So, thank you for the Window Opportunity, but No Thanks. The Game Rules are biased right from the start.

Second, we need a target for No-voters. The good news is, such popular consultation is not one about outright majorities, and the symbol it embodies has a far greater reach than the actual result: I should like to think that a minimal figure of 30-40% ‘No’,  though a minority at the end of the day, is too high a figure for the Monarchy and its courtesans to parade around the ‘undying union between the People and the King’ line. Such figure would genuinely show that a sizeable chunk of the population wants some change, real change. And as long as nihilists like me are allowed to express freely their views on the field, as long as everyone play by the rules, the referendum outcome could bring some surprises.

The King’s Speech (That Shook Morocco)

Sorry, but the pun was too obvious not to state, and I always wanted to quip about John Reed’s book (‘Ten Days that Shook the World’)

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting something bland, written in traditional makhzenite with blurry objectives and pompous expressions inherited from the glorious era of Hassan II. I was referring to the speech-writers of course (well, the constitution is bound to be changed, so I can afford to discuss the speech, am I not?) But no. The one thing that eluded the Monarch since he inherited the throne, the constitutional reform is finally on the table. When previous speeches read and minutely deciphered, the upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East, and domestically the stalwart dedication of ‘February 20th’ movement did play some significant part in gently pushing the core policymakers into a major shift in their political tactics (I still have doubts whether there’s a sensible strategy, or any organized thinking on the long-term)

The Blogoma already started to post on the Speech: Larbi, DocteurHo and BigBrother, to name but the well-known few, already spoke their minds (well, some did, others just plugged into propaganda-mode) and the Twittoma is saturating with opinions and 140 characters-strong discussions. I wish I could contribute too and live up to the standards they set (famous or infamous may they are). Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, I would dismiss this very post as too premature and ill-informed, but still, I would like to venture an alternative view; Because let’s face it, historical tough it is, all indicators, hints and symbols are cleat about one thing: nothing essential is changing or likely to change.

His shadow looms over the upcoming constitutional reform

But then again, for all the disagreement with, say, DocteurHo, I should admit my gut-feeling over this: it remains a historical day (I allowed for a joyful shout briefly when I heard about the constitutional referendum!). Not for the upcoming constitutional referendum -a consultation on which I will most certainly vote ‘No’, unless some very, very unexpected project is presented to the People’s will. It is historical because less than two months ago, what was considered to be a definitely confirmed balance of political strength heavily in favour of the Monarchy, has been suddenly reset to a different equilibrium. We have moved from an executive monarchy –with no constitutional reform agenda in sight- to a blitzkrieg-style commission with a June 2011 deadline. In 10 years reign, it is going to be His Majesty’s first constitutional referendum: such electoral consultation is quite different from regular general and local elections. It is a decisive test no doubt. And contrary to ‘classical’ elections, He needs a clear win, overkill: even a 70-80% win is a half-defeat for him. This is my view of the referendum, but then again I am getting ahead of myself.  Overall, the official line is likely to be that of a giant political and institutional spring cleaning, but not in the ‘right way’ (i.e. a genuine political reform agenda). I should exercise caution here, a ‘wait-and-see’ till the commission members are officially called up. Caution doesn’t prevent one from expressing views, or speculating about the future, does it?

I did mention that as a self-defined left-wing radical, and with a lawyer like Abdellatif Mennouni heading the commission, I would find any proposal (again, unless there’s some fireworks surprise) well below my minimal set of grievances: I’d very much doubt the new constitution would abolish altogether Art. 19 or change the succession rules to be gender-neutral. I don’t expect the new constitution to even get close to confirm institutions like the Kingdom’s Mediator and existing institutions as constitutionally independent like the Supreme Court, the Court Audit or the Central Bank, I wouldn’t expect the King to relinquish all executive powers and perform essentially honorary duties. And most of all, I don’t expect the new constitution to write a precise notice of establishing a constitutional convention for all core institutional changes. But still, this is an opportunity window (small, cloistered and actual reforms are unlikely to fit in) but still, a window. I have to pluck up my good faith and summon all my hopes to say that this is a historical opportunity (again, historical because it has been broached on us, and for a long time!)

I’m actually in two minds: best case scenario, the commission gets out of (Royal) hands; a maverick like Mohamed Sassi would do wonderful damages to the cranky Makhzenian legislation, and we end up with a ‘moderate’ but certainly workable constitution that gets unanimous support. Hopefully an election is called up and a strong coalition rules with a charismatic Prime Minister. There’s another dream scenario, whereby the government calls up for a constitutional convention in a year or two years time with nationwide debates, but this is too orgasmic for me to contemplate…

Worst case scenario, the only real thing that changes is the ‘regionalization’ stuff, with an upgraded version of the 1997 local government bill. End of story, end of constitutional changes, end of the line. Next. It depends on how bold His Majesty’s moves are going to be, and whether His circle would now understand it is high time they dealt out substantial scores of Royal prerogatives and transfer them to the people’s representatives.

So here’s my opinion: I’ve heard the speech -live- and then read it in extenso. I had a quick discussion with a number of friends about it.

Realistically, it is not going to be satisfactory to me or those close to my political leanings, nor would it meet the set of grievances put forward by the Feb20 movement and the non-mainstream political parties supporting the protest. But it does show that somehow, somewhere behind the walls of Bab Assoufara, the policy-makers finally awoke to the need to change the fuse. An acquittance of mine has this interesting theory about the Makhzen and its favourite fuses:  whenever a crisis looms, Makhzen elite either hold on to the existing fuse (a political party like the USFP in 1998, or the Sahara issue since 1975) or when the incumbent burns up, there’s a quick switch, and a brand new fuse is brought in and manage to exhaust the dissidence (the fuse in question can be a technocratic don like Jettou in 2002 or Azzimane in 2010, a turned-out dissident like Herzenni or Sebbar), which gives the impression of deep reforms but concedes in reality nothing substantial. It is not remote from the realm of possibility that this seemingly audacious announcement is  a smokescreen constitutional changes.

I would selflessly contribute to such scheme by joining the Central Bank –or the Finance Ministry- for fresh input and ideas. (if anyone scanning the blog from the Royal Cabinet’s office, please contact me for more information, you’d gain a lot with a yahoo, gun-ho leftie within the Establishment, believe me !)

Wandering Thoughts, Vol.9

Posted in Ancient Times, Happy Times, Flash News, Read & Heard, The Wanderer, Wandering Thoughts by Zouhair ABH on March 9, 2011

Enjoy the little things. Perhaps I am turning into a crap Buddha. I could never enjoy the little things. There’s always that sense of urgency, that even at that very moment I am typing this post, there’s a feeling of time waste. Like there is something more urgent to do, more important (like my MSc thesis, for instance, or taking out the garbage). It actually depends on what one defines as ‘little things’: books are not ‘little things’. Reading is a serious activity, however trivial the book is. These menacing pages plough seeds of compunction, hanging like vocal reproaches: ‘why wouldn’t you finish up the book?’

Karl Popper in 1990.

Karl Popper (1902-1994) Image via Wikipedia

Oh, I am reading ‘From Russia With Love’; With all due respect to Sean Connery’s talent and Harry Saltzman’s artistic craftsmanship, the movie is not up to scratch. Just to set the record straight: up to the Pierce Brosnan period, James Bond movies were artistic jewels. But right now, the novels –at least the one I am reading now- are way more engaging, more exciting. I’m also re-reading Karl Popper -I read a book of his in French at first,  and in English now- it seems my concentration span has shrunk since the days I read it first. Ah, happy days, prep school days…

There is no specific subject in the wandering thoughts series. Perhaps it is just a pretext not to post on something serious (or as I like to re-write such sentences, to look like I am posting on something serious). Something superficial, like Dita Von Teese: I keep bringing up the subject, but that is so because of the numerous visits from Burlesque-related keywords (every time I tag a post with her name, total visits increase by some dozen Google search results). Ego has to be satisfied from time to time, and for a blogger to stand up, take up the microphone and spill their political guts, it either takes a lot of balls, or an ego so huge the Internet is not enough to satisfy.

On the other hand, in an institutional framework that excludes everyone that does not belong to the Master Race, or the offspring of a local notable, and/or did not graduate from a Grande Ecole (all right, I may fall into that category, but that’s not the point), or affect an indefectible support for the official line. After all these draconian filters have been applied, the field is wide empty, with either the product of con-sanguine mating, or the by-product of local baronetcies that are actually groomed for leadership. The aspiring Rastignac like me have only their anger to voice and their bitterness to nurse. On top of that, the field is mined. Talk about Moroccan meritocracy (actually, I heard that lousy line from someone).

‘The Wanderer is bitter about something’, one might think. Damn straight, and it might explain why I would be supporting constitutional reforms or indeed opening up power to outsiders and mavericks, and at the same time ousting some patronyms from power.

Petit-bourgeois reflex: I am prevented from joining in power; therefore I support any mechanism that allows me to be powerful. Constitutional reforms allow me to get political power, therefore I support them. A very cynical view indeed, but it is rooted in the obvious observation that a lot of key positions are trusted by young heirs, albeit with some prestigious degrees; Ah, there goes the unmasked thrust of an ambitious careerist. Not so simple. As Pareto did say, a society crumbles when the incumbent elite slips into an aggregate of effete, inbred, mafia-like apparatus. And when things do go tumbling down, the non-governmental elite goes away too. And there goes the petit-bourgeois instinct again: loosen up the co-optation mechanisms: marriages for instance. Diversify upper-intermediate echelon, affirmative action for Amazighs and ‘Aroubis. I don’t know, something, anything to keep the rabble -like me- happy and at the same time reach a more peaceful status-quo. [It feels good to voice one’s frustrations, doesn’t it ? Thank you for contributing to my group therapy]

The trouble with what many still fail to recognize as the Makhzen, is that it cannot be reduced to a set of historical institutions, in the western sense (i.e. in the Weberian sense). Makhzen also encompasses less formalized items: tribal loyalties, family ties. It’s a bit like Victorian England: purchased positions, family influence and hermetic elite. But there’s something else to it: a mixture of rigid bureaucracy and the idea of submission that goes with it. Hierarchy is not a matter of technical organization; it evolves into a disciple-master relationship.  So in that sense, Makhzenian ‘way-of-life’ extends to all forms of social organization: families, mainstream political parties, charities, etc. The hierarchy relationship is just a make-believe. This rotten superstructure is the blocking institutional element that prevents the radical changes we need. The trouble is, it looks a bit like a Quixotian struggle: The windmills are there, but they are not there.

So that was the politics two-bits. Keep it wandering.

Twitter is such a wonderful instrument: as you may know, the blogoma lacks formal connections between its distinguished members. I mean in that sense that bloggers, like writers, do not take the trouble to engage in meaningful discussions (I might be missing scores of fruitful blog-epistolary correspondence) so we do our best to compensate on twitter. 140 characters do not help however, to formalize these discussions, which are doomed to remain chit-chat. But a couple of days ago, there was some interesting chit-chat about Economics in Arabic. An interesting suggestion came by to post on economics in French, or better still, in Arabic. I’d love to, but -as far as both languages are concerned- there is a formidable obstacle -among others- that prevents me stepping up and meet the challenge: lack of proper vocabulary.

French language has exhausted very early its vocabulary span to keep-up with the essentially Anglo-saxon scientific production in the economic field. Sometimes, it goes as far as literally using the same words: ‘Averse au Risque‘ for ‘Risk Aversion’, for instance. Native French economists seem to be either poorly educated in English language (an ordeal I had unfortunately to put up with time and again) or with little or no imagination to come up with alternative translations. In terms of scientific production (and I refer here to breakthrough academia) the French academic world is senile if not already dead (did you see the way they treat their PhD Student? And I don’t blame the state-controlled scientific research schemes, I blame the political will to adopt Anglo-saxon procedures with half-measures). plus their clinging to their language as the primary language is just ridiculous.

What about the Arab-speaking/writing academia? What words can be devised to refer to concepts? inflation is معدل التضخم but more sophisticated concepts are difficult to translate, or even to find words that can approximate the meaning. I looked up some vocabulary, and here’s what I’ve found:

Inflation: معدل التضخم
Goods & Services: بضاعة و خدمات
Deficit: عجز
Unemployment: بطالة
GDP: الناتج الوطني الخام
Monetary Creation: معدل طبع النقود
Recovery: إنتعاش
Capital: رأسمال
Labour: اليد العاملة
Import/Export: إستيراد و التصدير
Wage: أجر
Utility Function: نظرية المنفعة
and the killer, privatization: خصخصة

As long as the concepts are often used in media outlets, or belong to the basic notions of economics, there are plenty of words out there. But in hardcore academics, concepts like Risk aversion, liquidity trap, savings glut, etc… are simply missing, not because of lack of words, but because contrary to the more popular concepts, these belong essentially to a rarefied audience. And such as it is, the Arab-speaking research program is unable to come up with new concepts. At best, there might be some clever translation, but there you go.

Now, I haven’t given much thoughts about it, since I am utterly uninterested in the future of Arabic language: I can read and write it, and I enjoy a good reading when I find one,  but I simply cannot feel that fire and brimstone pan-Arab passion and Arab revival. I feel some ideological sympathy towards Gamal Abdel Nasser, but I don’t buy into this ‘great Arab nation’ grandiose project, not to mention the supra-national pet project of any political islamist movement, the much fantasied about Umma.

Hit’em all, God will reward you

(Pedantic note: the title is a slight alteration of the famous “Kill them all. For the Lord knows them that are His”. Nice story about how the Catholics slaughtered fellow Christians…)

HCP provides all kind of statistics, and violence against women is no exception. Sadly enough, I am not entirely surprised by the figures. Though the numbers need to be detailed (violence as defined in the document subsumes economic as well as physical and moral ones), it is undeniable that the traditional family structure and the gender approach allow and, to some extent, encourage a machist type of behaviour in Moroccan households. But first, let us have a look at these figures, because there is unfortunately little surprising material there;

According to this survey, 63% of surveyed female population mentioned they were subjected to a violent act, and almost one out of two declared they experienced psychological violence (i.e. insults and verbal abuse). The other figures look a bit sketchy –and for once, HCP interviewers are blameless- because the subject is such a taboo among Moroccan households that I was surprised to read ‘only’ 2.2 million rural women went on record to state what they experienced. Tip of the iceberg, I shouldn’t wonder.

It’s complicated stuff. Surveys show that Morocco is on a steady path of modernization, which implies a greater respect for women and gender equality, at least as a stated principle no one would gainsay. This enthusiasm for a shiny and secularist Morocco has to be curbed though, as other numbers also mention a revitalized interest in religion, and a new sort of reaction that justifies itself with modern language. A sort of ‘back to basics’, so to speak.

Tough Love

We are however discussing violence, not something that belongs to our ‘fundamentals’. I mean, no one in their right mind might advocate that violence, whatever its form, is good for women (unless the author of such statement of belief is a one-eyed, insulated, bigoted wahabbi-trained Islamic scholar, or something of the like). And yet, it is much easier to brandish some argument that violence in households and outside in the public space is a collateral damage, and that if you look closer, it’s the victim’s behaviour that brought it on her, and as such deserved it: if a young women gets harassed on the street because she was wearing a jean’s deemed too tight, that’s her fault, because she was too alluring. If a wife gets manhandled during conjugal sexual intercourse, that’s because she was not enthusiast enough to please her husband. Stereotyped instances, to be sure, but do nonetheless convey my point: everyone is against violence, but there’s easy justification for it, because at the end of the day, it’s not the man’s fault; it’s the woman’s.

The values survey –undertook for the 50th independence anniversary did point out that one of the traditional values in the Moroccan society was ‘Sbar’, patience. And when one is talking about the ideal woman in Morocco, it’s a patient one. Better (or worse) still, according to the same survey, 79% of the interviewed sample believes that ‘female obedience facilitates harmony within the household’ (p.29) no wonder that 1 out of 2 acts of surveyed violence happened in a domestic context. Coming back on patience as a reference virtue, the report stress that it is mainly a feminine value (i.e. patience is more expected from a woman than a man, and more specifically from a married woman, whom is expected to be bear with an unhappy relationship, for the sake of their children) Other professed reference values elicited submission (or euphemistically, obedience) parental endorsement (‘rda) or decency (7chouma).

Is there an actual relationship between reference values and the recorded violence? According to the Commissioner’s testimony, there is. Now, these values do not call explicitly for violence against women (save for the Koranic commandment of chastising one’s wife, albeit gently) but because they act as a sort of moral justification, younger generation, due to the confusion of transition (or the sole effect of confusion) resort to it more than often.

It’s not the traditional set of values that should be incriminated directly in the violence against women. The present world we are living in has lost what philosophers define as the intelligibility, it’s meaning for many Moroccans (including women); I am not referring specifically to the elderly or the hardcore traditionalists, but to the lofty, reassuring effect traditional values have on Moroccan society. It might be true that in the 1960’s-1970’s the general setting was more liberal, and that is the case because there was, in my opinion, a linear perception of  struggle between conservatism and liberalism. There was also- again, to my opinion, a wait-and-see behaviour among many Moroccans. This is to say that in their broad majority, Moroccans are not ideologically conservative, and do not systematically justify their behaviour towards women with ideology; indeed, numbers show that economic and social vulnerability are the prime elements influencing violence against women: young, working-class and poor backgrounds, divorcées, large families, inadequate housing are but examples violence is not institutionalized as such, but it so because no one cared about addressing the underlying factors.

The enumeration of these factors is not a sign of solidarity to exculpate fellow males from their despicable behaviour, but rather an attempt to look further, and in depth to understand why they would allow, for a brief moment, or deep down their sub-conscience, a complete dehumanization of women: one shocking instance is that divorcées are 3 times more prone to get harassed at work than married or single ones. (Can someone explain to me why divorcées are always worse-off?)

In matters like these, social engineering takes a bit of time; and furtive public campaigns that are staged from time to time are a shameful waste of public money, and a cruel joke on a reality government and policy makers are too coy to address directly.

Legislation can be useful on the medium term by implementing deterrent measures (where the proof of harassment or abuse is on the male defendant, the so-called reverse burden of proof), but changing minds takes a lot more time, and for politicians, a lot of guts to devise policies shifting minds and reference values from Islamic-oriented, backward and conservative mindset to a more secularist, modern and progressive set of values. It’s much easier the other way round as experience shows.

However, the narrow window of attractive modern values to the younger generations of Moroccans allows for a certain margin for these sentiments to foster, rather than shut them down with half-backed measures, or flip-flops. I understand I am preaching from a utopian perspective –that the Moroccan government lacks the power, and the will to carry out in-depth policies – but let’s just keep on dreaming, for the sake of the exercise itself: violence, whether against women or generic violence, is omnipresent in our society. How could a government get rid of it, or at least make it social deviant?

As mentioned before, there are several axes to discuss for a policy: there’s the strategic setting, i.e. eliminate the economic roots of prejudice against women: it can be proven that when improved, economic conditions (GDP per Capita, material wealth) tend to allow individuals to experiment more freedom, and thus achieve gradual de facto equal status. Such objective is out of reach of direct government policy, and as far as available data tells us, women in Morocco are more and more integrated in labour market, and many of them are actually head of household. The first step to achieve gender equality is that of the general improvement of economic conditions, and the empowerment of female population through work (if it was not for the Nazi-blot on it, I’d say the Hegelian quote ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ is a good motto for this kind of policy)

The more down-to-earth policy does not leave government empty-handed: as mentioned before, legislation can be marshalled into making violence, whether physical or moral, so expensive – in terms of financial compensation and ruining reputation- so as to deter machismo display. Some might argue that it is a sell-out to the feminist lobby (and I am 100% ok with it) and the institution of bland gender relationship, but it is cheap a price to pay for respect and equality. Plus our streets would be much cleaner, and safer for the Moroccan women to walk in without the degrading comment on their garment or their physical appearance.

On even more practical measures, it is high time the government was to introduce welfare payment for single mothers, divorcées, and unemployment benefits. The community needs to support the misfits to its values, not ostracize them and harass them. These proposals are certainly politically skewed, ideological and divisive, but someone needs to stand up and channel public money into real policies: the Families and Social Affairs department has an annual budget of about half a billion dirham, in total. The best it can do is to launch educative ads campaigns and open shelter centres. It might have been good some years ago, but such problem needs to be tackled decisively. Many women are left to rely on traditional family solidarity, and when public welfare does step in, the same traditional reflexes cast them aside. Need we to remind the reader of the Fadwa Laroui case? She suffered the double infamous mark of being a woman, and then for being a single woman.

More and more female breadwinners of Moroccan households, HCP Projects says.

A pledge to reform the marriage institution is another policy that needs to be taken into account: the HCP projections show that more and more Moroccan women, now and in the future, are going to be head of households, and many already are the breadwinners, often sustaining large families. The 2003 Moudawana reform has unveiled only a tiny tip of the iceberg, and legislation, even though it recognizes gender equality, still does not empower women as the main breadwinner in many households.

There is a need to re-think the marriage institution in Morocco, as it does no longer suit a growing number of young Moroccans, its supposedly social stabilization effects do not offset its financial cost and even its claim on social cohesion are subject to discussion – number of divorces on the rise after the Moudouwana relaxed divorce law. The socially conservative would argue that ‘now women have it easy to divorce, they just go ahead’. The truth is that marriage as an institution, with all its pomp, and given the circumstances (excuses de pun) is flawed and does not perform the traditional task of social cohesion; If anything, it tends to destroy it.

Deterrent legislation and serious government welfare benefits are two faces of the same medal: legislation provides the institutional framework to secure prosecution possibilities for women (the survey points out that there are more and more women willing to take on their aggressors and sue them) and the stricter legislation is, the more these women are encouraged to file a complaint.

Welfare and marriage reform are, on the other hand, women’s empowerment tools: providing financial safeguards, and recognizing their role in the national economy. Equality is achieved through productive contribution to economic activity.