The Moorish Wanderer

Wandering Thoughts Vol.11

So that was fun; re-writing the budget I mean. Just as fun as re-writing the constitution. It seems so easy and yet whoever tries to reform the system will either quickly abandon their quest, or get so involved with it till it drains any will to live. That’s the trouble with arch-conservative systems like the Makhzen -and its objective allies.

Obviously, reforming the whole system supposes taking on other organizations, including those supposedly allies of ‘the good cause’: trade-union leaders are deep down afraid of any changes that might affect the gossamer balance they achieved, with all the ensuing perks and privileges. Even regular citizens might oppose changes out of fear of the unknown, even though it could bring up benefits in the long run.

A respected opposition politician, even a potential statesman, former PM Youssoufi gave in too much and eventuallycompromised the Alternance experience right from the start

Once my fingers (and my mind) rest from re-designing Morocco according to my taste, I take a step back, talk to a few friends, and then reach that unfathomable conclusion: that’s too much of a ‘all or nothing’ sort of package. The trouble is, any consensual approach, with respect to past experiences in Morocco, has not delivered: negotiations are supposed to get both parties to meet halfway through (or at a certain point depending on how much both are willing to compromise upon) and since 1970 (the day the first Koutla was formed between Istiqlal and UNFP parties) opposition and the monarchy have been at loss to meet some sort of agreement. And when they did sign in on one of those in 1996, it was such a bad deal for democracy that we are likely to pay for it for in the years to come.

That may be an explanation why USFP grandees are so desperate in their defence of ‘the national consensus’. Hunger for power, whatever illusionary (with its nonetheless solid perks) was, it seems, stronger than principles. ‘Human, All Too Human‘ would one say.

Other than that, I remain quite surprised at the way many consider the upcoming constitutional referendum; I wasn’t old enough in 1996 to vote, much less in the previous consultations (not very much born back then) but come one people! those of you who lived through the 1970s and 1990s were certainly aware of the superficial changes the late Hassan II wanted to introduce in order to please his opposition, right? How come the Moroccan people are endowed with such short and bad memory? Can’t they remember a thing 10 or 15 years ago? Is the voice of sanity so much at odds with the bovine -like public opinion? We certainly have a problem with our history, whether ancient or contemporary. That might date back to the school curriculum (where Moroccan history starts off with the Idrisside dynasty and ends up at 1956) or the subsequent punishment upon those trying to demystify our national legends.

That holds for extra-governmental institutions too: left-wingers, USFP, Annahj and others alike, are very jealous of their respective martyrdom. This also might be due to the fact that we have yet to put an effort in establishing an authoritative and neutral historical research – and a whole generation of historians, whatever their inherent talents and academic competency, doesn’t have what it takes; We have yet to acquire a culture of constant archives system -that might change with the internet: for instance, all the 6 volumes of IER findings have been pulled out of their website (I had to bypass this to acquire their pdfs, all 6 volumes of them).

On a lighter -but related- note, the subject of referendum came up during a (pleasant) conversation I had with an acquaintance of mine not so long ago. the said friend (that might be reading these lines) ventured the possibility of a ‘No’ majority (let’s say, a 60-40 against)  the likelihood of such result was, in my mind, so remote, so unlikely, I was taken aback, and actually had to think a while about the consequences before I can reply.

The shortest and most civic word in English language.

Why, a majority of Moroccan people rejecting a Royal constitution! That’s like the end of the world as we know it. Yes, I am aware some (most prominently the MAP news agency) will spin it as a popular refusal for the King to abdicate some of his powers. But whatever way the regime spins it, it will carry such an earth-shattering symbol: the ruled (الرعية) says no the the ruler (الراعي). What will happen then? Well, it’s a bit like science fiction: as long as you keep it likely, anything can happen.

To change the subject completely, I can’t get enough of Anas‘ joke about me if I ever get the finance ministry, and the first enacted policy would be to nationalize the piciri -small shops-. I wouldn’t dare do it, first because I owe it to fellow Soussis shop-keepers  (I’m not Soussi myself, but there is some blood tie in the family, and yes, I am capable of ethnic racism too, why should it be confined to Fassi master race?) and second, because I would have another target on my sights. A much bigger business, one that actually hurts the economy more than anything else.

How about  a temporary nationalization of ONA-SNI, Attijari-Wafa, Ittisalat Al Maghrib, BMCE Capital for a start? I haven’t worked the details yet, but the idea is to nationalize these companies (and others) with or without compensations (IAM might prove to be even a diplomatic problem) pump the cash out of the company and into the public finances for 3 or 4 years, then spend 2 years tops to restructure the companies, break them down into smaller companies and then re-privatize. (a back-of-envelope computation points out to an indicative net yield pre-nationalization of about MAD 20 Billion on banks alone)

Soon the people's property.

Why would one take so much trouble (and show of force) when a court proceeding can do just as well? The aim is symbolic (the money part was there to insure it wasn’t costly to the taxpayer) A radical (or liberal left-wing) government will most certainly be ambushed by big businesses, representatives of the economic Makhzen, and act as a hindrance to the Open Society project. Nationalization is the most straightforward approach to break these monopolies’ backs, and when there’s a sufficient time-lag for this influence to fade away, then normal market conditions can be re-introduced, hence the re-privatization in chunks, so as to induce competition  (and lower prices). The argument these businesses are ‘natural’ monopolies is uncalled for: banking has too high a margin rate (as pointed out earlier on) telecommunications, food supplies and related products empirically thrive in competitive environement rather than oligopolistic or even monopolistic settings.

Monopolists of Morocco, you have been warned.

History rather than Law: What needs to be Looked at in Reforming the Constitution

There are so many things to look at, and so little time to do them all.

The constitution embodies past (and present) historical balance of power; and, the way I see it, the 1996 Troïka (Ali Yata, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, M’hamed Boucetta) accepted the new constitution, and its ensuing political ‘Alternance‘ out of a sense of historical duty, that the text itself didn’t matter, and whatever roadblocks, they perceived some good faith from the dying late king Hassan II. Abdellah Ibrahim and Mohamed Bensaïd Aït idder, on the other hand, did not seem so sure or so well-disposed towards the Royal overture.

Hassan II managed a remarkable tour-de-force the 1996 Referendum, by splitting the Koutla over the issue

This might explain why Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), Istiqlal (PI) and Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme (PPS) parties engaged enthusiastically in the ‘Yes’ Campaign for the 1996 referendum: after all, their leaders were all prestigious former resistants, statesmen and respected opposition politicians that put principles before interest.Of course, there was a whole-hearted concession that the 1996 constitution was not all that good, but the text didn’t matter much: there was a new alliance with the monarchy, one that is going to oversee transition; the so-called democratic process was going to be the brainchild of these founding fathers of Moroccan modern nationalism.

15 years on, these leaders, and their respective political structures have moved from a status of intellectual and alternative elite reserve, to that of fully-fledged government parties, house-trained to a man and blatantly stifling the very democratic principles they called upon as their ideal not so long time ago:

Istiqlal has never been such a party, and the Alterance Consensuelle did nothing but confirm this image of a mafia-like party, a bit opportunistic when it serves them well (let us remember they have been part of every government since 1977).Paradoxically, its permanent compromise made it look like ‘the natural party of government’, and many Istiqlal grandees were gob-smacked when they realized not enough departmental portfolios were allocated to them.

USFP leadership went against its party base feeling; not necessarily an intrinsic bad move, but did so by antagonising so many factions the party was on a split, and regular breakaways from then on delivered fatal blows amplified by its failure to deliver on their electoral promises.

As for the PPS, its intellectual status was gradually drained by the need to get as many parliamentary seats as possible, simply by endorsing local notables instead of lining up party activists for election.

This strategy also compromised the USFP over the intermediate run, but the PPS’s small intake made it quicker and more flagrant. Further more, the sudden death of Ali Yata, and Moulay Ismail Alaoui as party leader put the final nails on the party’s credibility. Eventually the Alternance Consensuelle did not work all that well, not even on the expected time frame; by 2002, electoral results, the ever-increasing royal intervention by means of non-governmental institutions and extra-constitutional tools, and the growing islamist threat (a threat that culminated with the 2003 bombings). This might explain why some USFP members (whether party grandees or ordinary activists) defend so staunchly their Alternance legacy. 6 years were enough to demonstrate that, while this unspoken pact worked more or less fine with the dying monarch, the age and experience discrepancy between the new King and his ageing Prime Minister and government, as well as the increasing difficulties the ruling coalition encountered, took the consensus to its fail-safe point, broke down and reverted back to the old ways.

That’s what we need: historians rather than constitutional law scholars. The trouble is, modern history has been literally confiscated by the monarchy -by using preposterous concepts like The King’s and People’s revolution, or myths like the Green March, while the Nationalist Parties built their own martyrdom out of their struggle for democracy. There’s a long way to go in order to allow for a fair perspective in historical research, a position until now filled with foreign scholarly work. It is quite disturbing that we need foreign historians and political scientists (bearing all respect due to their academic work and scholarly skills) to understand our institutions. Very few Moroccan nationals have managed to distinguish themselves, but unfortunately their voices are still to be heard.

This might be a way out for a genuine constitutional reform. There is a trade-off to be arbitraged: on the one hand, the monarchy will never allow, in view of the current balance of power, for a constitutional convention that would deliver an outcome the regime cannot predict (or ‘accommodate‘), on the other hand, an appointed commission has lost right from the start any genuine credibility (especially when connected with recent statements from the Ouléma islamic scholars, or the foreign minister’s declarations)  in putting forward sensible recommendations. So a compromise -over which I still have doubts not to be at fault with some professed principles- would be for the King to call upon not the political party leaders, but the intermediate, younger generation of party activists.

When the Koutla was still unified... (Credit to Larbi for the picture)

Outsiders that would have more political courage in speaking their minds. Alongside the political personnel, civil society, human and Amazigh rights activists should be called upon as well, a royal consultation as wide as possible, including the persona non grata Al Adl society. The ensuing constitution is not a boundary, but a frontier: in a pre-specified time frame, the very same gathering would come back with renewed grievances set to be the initial platform for a constitutional convention. Such process, thought lengthy and potential hazardous, has however some benefits: it avoids the monarchy a shameful abdication of powers, while it provides political forces and the civil society a run-up exercise to real power.

So history teaches us some valuable lessons on what ideal institutions Morocco needs: the Monarch ‘Reigns but doesn’t Rule’, A strong Prime Minister, a compact parliament and an independent judiciary.

– The Monarchy: in order to avoid the impact of regal personality, any powers the monarchy might possess should first be specified in minute details if necessary, and then curtailed by even more constraining constitutional dispositions. Never mind historical legitimacy; some sort of amnesty over concepts like “أمير المؤمنين”, hereditary rights are quite enough a symbol for state continuity. Does it sound un-islamic? Well, other contradictions spring to mind: the very concept of hereditary transmission of power, the confusion between Kingship title and the Kalifat, the twisted ritual of allegiance ” البيعة “… instances are numerous when it comes to question the very Islamic essence of the Moroccan monarchy. Since we have gone down the path of westernisation, why not go to the bottom of it, keep so fancy rituals and cast away any extra-constitutional powers the monarchy might derive from the Imarat?

Note that I don’t disagree with the idea of a Parliamentary Monarchy for Morocco. Let’s just say I am agnostic over the matter of specific political regime, with a default setting for a monarchical regime.

– The Prime Minister and their Government: I always like to say Morocco had only two strong Prime Ministers, Abdellah Ibrahim and Hassan II. Though the individual personality somewhat shapes a premiership -and the incumbent prime minister’s diffident personality only justifies the proposed changes- we need institutions that ensures a strong Premier position, closer to that of a German Bundeskanzeler(in) than it is to the French Prime Minister: the head of government is not only leader of a parliamentary majority, it is the working leader of the country (and effectively, co-head of state). The executive branch has extensive powers in law enforcement, though checks and balances will be introduced to ensure governmental doesn’t go off-course or wildly partisan.

My kind of Prime Minister: Strong-willed, principled... and a committed lefty

This is due to the fact that, historically, Moroccan government were -and still are- notoriously weak, either because of the parliamentary backing, or simply because the centre of power was localized somewhere else (i.e. the Monarchy).And when a genuinely democratic government wanted to do things, it could never have its ways, because extra-constitutional lobbies managed to ambush its projects with successful outcomes: between 1959 and 1960, Abdellah Ibrahim was constantly road-blocked by the then-crown prince Hassan and his chums (among which a former Istiqlal security minister Mohamed Laghzaoui, or the Crown Prince’s long-term favourite Ahmed Reda Guedira, or an even closer friend at the time, General Mohamed Oufkir). A similar pattern can be recorded with the Youssoufi early government when it wanted to implement reforms, but to no avail. A strong executive is thus necessary; one way to ensure such a transition is a transfer of Dahir executive powers from the monarchy to the Prime Minister: though it loses some of its powers as a document emanating from the head of the Islamic Community, the executive powers it retains are likely to be very useful to a strong Premier.

– Parliament: Though it is worth noting the main feature of weaknesses that blights the political spectrum is only of relatively recent origin, the inflation of political organization does not serve democracy well. It is true Morocco chose the path of diversity instead of a One Party rule -Istiqlal founding father Allal El Fassi famously once stated: ‘God Unified Morocco under One King, Mohammed V, and under one party, Istiqlal’- diversity served as a façade for local democracy more than anything else. On the other hand, when the new law on political organization was enacted, it has been skewed favourable toward existing large parties, not necessarily a good idea considering how their own internal democracy is defunct. And yet, we need a lower number of political parties in Morocco: 1 Conservative, 1 moderate Islamist, 1 Social-democrat, 1 far-left and a couple of Regional parties would be nice. Stronger government coalitions are usually built with large organizations instead of a motley of heterogeneous organizations, each pushing for a portfolio. A federal bicameral house can be a good compromise: the regional representatives can be part of smaller parties -that can afford only a regional base- and support governments closer to their ideological affinities, while federally-elected members of parliament would support nation-wide parties. The balance is thus preserved: we can afford to have a multitude of political parties, and those able to lift up from a regional level are the ones worthy of leading a federal government, alone or in coalitions.

Overall, parliamentary coalitions are likely to be stronger: first because the main motivation will not be that of a majority at all costs, but that of a homogeneous group. second, because a lower number of federally-represented parties allows for more clear-cut majorities, something Morocco hasn’t witnessed since the very first general elections in 1963.

– The Judiciary: it goes without saying courts and judges need to be entirely independent from the executive branch. In that spirit, I wouldn’t mind abolishing altogether the Justice Ministry. If government wants to prosecute or needs representation for justice proceedings, a general public prosecutor with a rank of secretary of state can do. Otherwise, the Judges’ corps should be entirely independent, appointed only by parliamentary confirmations.

The constitutional reform in Morocco needs to care more about past mistakes and try to scale monarchical powers back and revert them to the people’s representatives. The argument that political personnel is childish, corrupt and incompetent is idle, because the very same can equally be applied to the close circle of his Majesty’s advisers; The difference however, is such that when genuinely elected and accountable before the Moroccan public, the former can quickly adapt and eliminate its incompetent elements. The latter, not so much.