For those who are not familiar with the awesome Dailykos blog, NetRoot Nation is the new name of Yearlykos, the annual convention of all progressive bloggers in America. And quite frankly, the keynote address (2,500 fired-up left-wingies in the audience) was the closest thing to a regular party convention in the United States, and we FPC bloggers, have been invited to attend the conference, and even participate in some of various panels, among which I spoke on the Arab Spring and the use Youth make of new media in their pursuit of democracy.
The use of new media in pro-democracy political forces. Ah… I still remember myself and a couple of friends of mine, hammering out the leadership to come up with a media strategy for the party to circumvent the handicap they are suffering from in term of media visibility. Get the internet, set up a coherent communication strategy, and for crying out loud, TAKE OUT THAT F**KING OBSOLETE WEBSITE! The best answer they could come up was: “that’s very nice of you kids, keep it up” which is codeword for “ok kids, are you lecturing us on how to communicate with the masses? you are very sweet, you armchair activists“.
And truth be told, I do feel contrite about that, because as an expatriate, I cannot do much on the field, except perhaps try and convince fellow expatriate students that embracing democracy and lobbying for political awareness is a temporary patch for this hunger for action. Then comes February 20th, suddenly, even the most tech-conservative party leaders come to the conclusion that the internet is a useful tool, and straight up, a video channel has been created, a couple of (ill) produced videos uploaded there… a patchy start, but a start nonetheless.
That was the substance of my intervention on the question whether bloggers and cyber-activists are “arm-chair activists” or whether they can take their issues to the field and campaign accordingly. And quite frankly, the underlying assumption of this idea, following which only a marginal fraction of Moroccans are connected is challenged by the data at hand: there is a growing number of individuals connected to the web, many of whom are connected via mobile device and getting access to mobile and high-debit connections. There is also an increasing number of young Moroccans -and now, even the seniors- who prefer to get their news from the Internet first, as well as spending increasing hours on the web look for the information they cannot find -or with which they can interact- in more traditional media outlets. The figures put forward by the ANRT body are comprehensive on that matter.
In less than two years (September 2009-March 2011) the number of individual internet subscribers have more than doubled, and there are now about 2.1 Million households connected to Internet in Morocco, about 3/4 of these being mobile (i.e. 3G subscribers) Furthermore, an increasing number of internet users have been looking for high-debit connections, a indeed those with low-debit connections have decreased dramatically, and as of March 2011; only 966 subscribers kept on the classic internet connection contract. As a result, Moroccan internet users have become increasingly mobile, and consume larger packs of data, hence the quasi-total subscription to 1 Mb/s offers. Considering these numbers, the potential internet public out there can be at least of 8 Million and counting. The idea that internet is confined to a small population becomes more and more irrelevant.
There was also a discussion on how the civil society, or more generally the public debate might benefit from the new/social media offer. The curse of our own civic society is that it is lively and diverse, but lacks the proper channels to publicize its deeds and attract new volunteers. Because the public media outlets are either locked-in (like the TV and Radio Stations) to those parts of civic society deemed too “politically incorrect”, and if there is no alternative channel for these organizations to express themselves and contribute to any issue of the public debate, then they would ultimately die out, and slowly, only the blandest and uninteresting would survive in an decorum media world.
the new media managed to spice up the public debate among those who care about the issues. We are indeed a small, tiny minority on twitter, less so on facebook, but there are definitely thousands of blogs around the Moroccan web-citizens and NGOs, many of whom are opinion leaders or likely to be so. Since regular media channels are either locked up, or engaged in politically correct soliloquies, social and new media become more attractive to those how cannot air their views and opinions. It is likely to be messy and disharmonious, but that’s a start.
I also had the opportunity to meet Dailykos founder Markos Moulitsas -who was a bit surprised as I was over-excited when I first met him… The “meet and greet” with the Dailykos community session, as well as the other bloggers -most prominently, John Aravosis from Americablog– were pleasing: they were pleased to meet bloggers from around the world (I think the FPC group was the only foreign delegation to Netroots) and where genuinely interested in each one of us bloggers’ issues on political blogging in our respective countries. Special thanks to John Aravosis, who readily offered to arrange short meetings with Keith Ellisson, Minnesota Congressman and the first Muslim to join the House (the meeting was abruptly interrupted when a reporter barged in) then member and media Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (I had to meet one of these people!) Brandon English. Oh, there’s also a short audio interview I made I still need to find… The meetings with these US web-dignitaries were impressive indeed, because these are actually able to influence, or at least to make themselves heard from even the highest spheres of power in the United States. And reciprocally, they were eager to hear about our political blogging in our countries, and expressed admiration for out work (at this point, I think a “Head-Swelling” alert sign needs to be put out)
Last but not least, there was an incident that showed the American paradox: on our second day at Minneapolis, and prior to the Karaoke night (which I have spent with Dailykos contributor UnaSpencer, chatting about politics) a GOP (Republican) Blogger harassed two Hijab-wearing young women by filming them in an outrageous bullying manner under the guise of ‘Freedom Of Speech’.
The Netroots buddies around swiftly retaliated by filming him too, and then called the police for harassing the two young women. It was quite a sight indeed!Next day, a Flashmob was organized at the GOP Blog Conference at Minneapolis, with Muslim and non Muslim women as a protest against the bigoted attack. Unaspenser explains:
Constitutional speeches are like Earthquakes, and in every sense of the word: they are earth-shattering, and they often come in a pair: the wave and the counter-wave follow each other and when the magnitude is high enough, the effect on the landscape is impressive. But this earthquake is not one. As a matter of fact, it might very well turn out to be a false alert.
Yesterday evening, the King gave the second speech on the Constitutional Reform, and announced Referendum Day for July 1st, just like what Khalid Hariry tweeted about on May 18th when his colleagues and himself met the Interior minister. At the same time, the speech laid out the essential features of what is essentially the new constitution, which is more than likely going to be voted by a comfortable margin. Before considering the political implications of this extraordinary short time span for political debate and campaigning, as well as the already biased rules of the campaigning game.
Contrary to the constitution circa 1996, the project has been carefully drafted, with a special focus on detailed procedure, perhaps to excessive lengths. Because the past constitutions have been written -and then cosmetically arranged so as to give a façade of democratic constitution- by one man, the late king Hassan II, and by his own admission, the writing process is daunting, but in his case, he managed to produce five constitutions that fit his larger-than-life character and lust for power; The latest of these Hassan II-era constitutional pieces of legislation, the 1996 constitution, was supposed to seal the deal on political transition, the so-called “Alternance Consensuelle“. So compared to the succinct constitutions we have had since 1962, this one is a true constitutional lawyer’s piece of work. Too bad it has been written by mainstream and conservative panellists.
The 180 articles in the new constitution, contrary to what has been speculated upon, do not change the monarchy from executive to symbolic, but rather recognize a de facto actual exercise of power; as we shall see later on, the monarch retains a great deal of appointment privileges, and while he did cede many of his formerly privileges, these concessions are not enough for the new constitution to qualify as that of a parliamentary monarchy. This is so because many of its articles are bluntly contradicting various universal standards of democracy, among others the separation of powers, the precedence given to and accountability required from the elected representatives of the people. None of these things have been mentioned in the new draft, and that is why I reiterate my stand on voting against the constitution on Referendum Day.
Of these cosmetic changes, there is also much to be discussed; The word cosmetic is used here advisedly, mainly because while they do provide feedback to long-standing grievances, they remain insufficient as to the expected efficiency, or even with regard to the political symbolism from such measures. Contrary to the 1996 vintage and previous, the new constitution admits the diversity of the Moroccan identity, as specified in the preamble:
المملكة المغربية دولة إسلامية ذات سيادة كاملة، متشبثة بوحدتها الوطنية والترابية، وبصيانة تلاحم مقومات هويتها الوطنية، الموحدة بانصهار كلمكوناتها، العربية – الإسلامية، والأمازيغية، والصحراوية الحسانية، والغنية بروافدها الإفريقية والأندلسية والعبرية والمتوسطية. كما أن الهوية المغربية تتميزبتبوئ الدين الإسلامي مكانة الصدارة فيها، وذلك في ظل تشبث الشعب المغربي بقيم الانفتاح والاعتدال والتسامح والحوار، والتفاهم المتبادل بين الثقافاتوالحضارات الإنسانية جمعاء.
“The Kingdom of Morocco is an Islamic state enjoying an unfettered sovereignty, and is firmly attached to its national and territorial unity, and is committed to uphold the fundamentals of its national identity and all its components, Arabic, Islamic, Amazigh, Hassani-Sahrawi, as well as the fruitful African, Hebraic, Andalusian and Mediterranean influences. Furthermore, the Moroccan identity has a special place for Islam, as the Moroccan people are attached to the values of openness, moderation and forgiveness, in addition to the mutual understanding with all human civilizations”. [all extracts are unofficial translations]
This piece of preamble, while signalling a significant shift in the official narrative, because it now recognizes the obvious, and finally admits that diversity does not harm national unity. But the encouraging opening soon fades away, and the disappointing, almost insulting order of precedence reminds all of us who credited the commission with some amount of good faith that the centre of power, with all its legitimacy, is not yet ready to abandon the Arabo-Islamic hegemony. Notice the order: Arabic, Islamic, then Amazigh, Hassani, and the Hebraic heritage is relegated to the rank of a mere “influence”. Though this might sound like a fickle, this ranking is actually important because the preamble does not explicitly put all these ‘fundamentals’ on an equal footing. And judges can justify many of their ruling by this, as it might come up. Consider the example of a citizen suing the local administration because they refused to register their infant’s Amazigh name. Suppose the case goes all the way up to the Courts. It might very well be that the Judge would sustain the administration’s decision by invoking the order of precedence in these fundamentals. And considering how conservative the Judges’ corps are, this instance is more than likely to be observed in the near future.
The positive contribution in the preamble is the unequivocal support and endorsement of international treaties on Human Rights and International Law. This was one of the most important pledge activists wanted the government and the regime to honour, without restrictions or reservations. This does not mean the end of police brutality, or the abuses citizens have to endure whenever they need to deal with the local administration. Again, the liberal tendency within the document itself is hurriedly curtailed in the name of sovereignty (and thus, local context, a window of opportunity to conservative interpretation of international law) -Another peculiar article I noticed was the “Right To Live” (Art.20) and yet death penalty is not explicitly mentioned and abolished; alternatively, this could also be a constitutional roadblock against any pro-abortion legislation. In both cases, a well-meaning established principle is going to yield the opposite, reactionary outcome.
The articles themselves operate pretty much under the same mechanism, especially on the executive branch: the King heads the newly-established Security Counsel (Art.54) still retains the General Staff (Art.53) religious leadership (the 1996 Article 19 turns into Article 41) and finally all cabinet meetings where the strategic decisions are made.
الملك، أمير المؤمنين وحامي حمى الملة والدين، والضامن لحرية ممارسة الشؤون الدينية. يرأس الملك، أمير المؤمنين، المجلس العلمي الأعلى، الذي يتولى دراسة القضايا التي يعرضها عليه. ويعتبر المجلس الجهة الوحيدة المؤهلة لإصدار الفتاوى المعتمدة رسميا، بشأن المسائل المحالة عليه، استنادا إلى مبادئ وأحكام الدين الإسلامي الحنيف، ومقاصده السمحة. تحدد اختصاصات المجلس وتأليفه وكيفيات سيره بظهير. يمارس الملك الصلاحيات الدينية المتعلقة بإمارة المؤمنين، والمخولة له حصريا، بمقتضى هذا الفصل، بواسطة ظهائر
الملك هو القائد الأعلى للقوات المسلحة الملكية. وله حق التعيين في الوظائف العسكرية، كما له أن يفوض لغيره ممارسة هذا الحق.
يُحدث مجلس أعلى للأمن، بصفته هيئة للتشاور بشأن استراتيجيات الأمن الداخلي والخارجي للبلاد، وتدبير حالات الأزمات، والسهر أيضا على مأسسة ضوابط الحكامة الأمنية الجيدة.
The innovation in this constitution comes from the appointment of a Prime Minister from the majority party after a general election. The perverse established mechanism is too obvious: should a political party not amenable to the King’s views win a seizable majority of seats, the King, or his advisers, can weaken them by picking a Prime Minister other than the Party Leader. Divide and Rule, so that only obedient Prime Ministers can be appointed. Other than that, the King still retains power to hire and fire Ministers.
On the Judiciary, nothing has been done. Judges are not independent, because the King still chairs the Supreme Judiciary Council (the name changed a bit, but the attributions remain the same)
يرأس الملك المجلس الأعلى للسلطة القضائية.
يوافق الملك بظهير على تعيين القضاة من قبل المجلس الأعلى للسلطة القضائية.
Article 64 is a concrete threat to the Members of Parliament’s freedom of speech and immunity. The fact that the article enumerates these highly political cases instead of those potentially related to common law matters is not only a political threat to outspoken MPs, it is also an implicit invitation for the peoples’ representatives not to be bold, and whenever they can get away with it, engage in corruption and other improper behaviour from an elected office.
لا يمكن متابعة أي عضو من أعضاء البرلمان، ولا البحث عنه، ولا إلقاء القبض عليه، ولا اعتقاله ولا محاكمته، بمناسبة إبدائه لرأي أو قيامه بتصويت خلال مزاولته لمهامه، ماعدا إذا كان الرأي المعبر عنه يجادل في النظام الملكي أو الدين الإسلامي، أو يتضمن ما يخل بالاحترام الواجب للملك.
All in all, the reports on newspapers that the King has curbed some of his powers is an attempt to polish a timid political process, or outright ignorance of Moroccan politics since 1956. While it is true the new articles spend a great deal of lengthy and tedious enumeration of dispositions, they do not bring new concepts other than those necessary for the decorum. Actually, if it was not for these accessories, the constitution just writes down the powers ” The King discovers while He practises them” as Professor Mennouni once said.
This lengthy overview of the new constitution is two-fold: it explains why I stand by my decision to vote against the new constitution, and it describes quite eloquently the new regime we are living under. We have moved from the dictatorial Hassan-II era to that of Soft Authoritarianism. The red lines still exist, but there is no systematic repression on those who cross it. But to these impudent, contentious subjects, the retribution is random and sometimes harsh. In any case, both eras share the random-looking pattern of repression; But now that the Monarchy’s legitimacy is firmly and strongly entrenched, they can engage directly into formalizing their patronage over the other institutions.
From a historical point of view, and bearing in mind the evolution of the balance of forces between the Palace and its real opposition, this new constitution does not take away powers from the King, it does not add up some more (if that was ever possible) it simply recognizes the Regal Hegemony.
Newspapers and Media Coverage
- Full Transcript of King Mohammed VI’s Speech – June 17, 2011 (moroccotomorrow.org)
- You: MOROCCO: King to curb his own power in far-reaching reforms (france24.com)
- King declares Morocco a constitutional monarchy (cbsnews.com)
- Morocco’s King Outlines Reforms (online.wsj.com)
- Moroccan King Mohammed VI Announces Constitutional Reforms (moroccotomorrow.org)
I did not have time to blog about the second day last evening because of the exhausting flight route we took, a strange one in fact, as the flight from Washington DC to Minneapolis MI had to go through Atlanta GA, which is 872km South… (incidentally, I found out that Washington has a “small” national airport named after President Regan, while Atlanta was honouring the former Georgian governor and President Carter. It reminds me of places and significant infrastructure named after former significant leaders in Morocco as well…
The second day had a lighter timetable, and changed focus from official policy to a more grass-root activism in new social media use for advocacy and causes. The morning event was hosted by the National Endowment for Democracy, based too in Washington, with some significant panellists and organizations, notably Robert Guerra from Freedom House. The conference main themes evolved around the tools developed and used by cyber-activists, with an emphasis on the Arab Spring, as well as internet safety for these activists, and -surprisingly enough- how private corporations can indeed participate in this process by committing to what Susan Morgan (Global Work Initiative, GNI) described as a kind of ethical policy in protecting freedom of speech and digital gathering.
Of all four panellists, Meier’s contribution was interesting to listen to: his remarks focused on the live reports on the Internet during the Egyptian uprising, as well as the very promising Ushahidi project. He was quick to point out that the pure web-activism, in terms of time allocation and resources consumption, is comparatively less important (Meier gave a rule of thumb estimation of 10%) than the essential grass-roots work, to gather up testimonies, videos, pictures, and quite simply to report on the ground situation.
Though it was an NED conference, there were some interesting people attending the meeting, and among those were internews, who basically design softwares and train bloggers and cyber-activists on how to bypass governmental censorship (firewalls and others) and basically work on the ways and means to insure freedom of speech.
It was quite strange to notice that these people, even though they do receive some kind of public support, actually contribute more -in efficiency and resources- than the State Department. It might have to do with the fact that any support from an official body of the US government would be construed as foreign meddling in domestic affairs, and that the cause of Freedom of Speech, as the official goal of governmental policy, is best advanced with NGOs with seemingly no ties to any public American institution. So it was a bit peculiar for me to note that they are doing more on the ground by designing pieces of software and training cyber-activists how to use the internet safely, and by raising awareness among international -and in our case, American- public opinion. And quite frankly, my Bahraini fellow FPC blogger and journalist, Lamees, might actually benefit more from their support than that of the State Department’s.
The second day following touch down at Minneapolis was lighter, and we had the opportunity to visit the University of Minnesota’s‘ campus, more specifically the School Of Journalism who accepted to host a morning meeting for all of us. The talks evolved around the impact of use of the internet on reporting news. Now, because it is a school of journalism, and because the scholars and graduate students who attended the talks with us have a focus on Journalism, the various talks evolved around how journalists can use the social media to get the story out, especially in the case of the Tahrir Square rallies. There was also a discussion on the shortcomings of such tool, more specifically how to verify ‘the story’ and how journalists can make sure the local contacts are reporting genuine facts from the ground.
Today is the second day with NetRoot Nation 2011 Conference. Follow the Hashtag #nn2011 on twitter to keep updated on what’s happening!