The Moorish Wanderer

Is anyone thinking about 2016?

Posted in Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on March 5, 2012

It seems not. A year seems to be a long time in Moroccan politics, and all across the political spectrum, politicians and activists do not seem to take a step back an look at the big picture, even the most experienced and respected of those.

Winners and Losers, but ultimately losers for failing to provide Moroccans with a vision.

Fouad Abdelmoumni, a respected Human Rights activists and a father-figure (of sorts) with the Feb20 movement, expressed short-sightedness in his analysis regarding the future of this government. He claims:

Enfin, les prochaines semaines nous montreront si ce gouvernement est conscient qu’il joue sa survie, celle d’un parti majeur et celle du pays. La crise va bientôt peser de tout son poids, et le Maroc n’a que le choix d’en sortir par le haut, à travers la démocratie, l’effort et les solutions courageuses, sous peine de sombrer à plus ou moins brève échéance dans les frustrations et la confrontation. Il convient surtout de ne pas oublier que les anciens expédients par lesquels le Maroc a pu tenir (répression, corruption, division des opposants, monopole de l’information…) sont révolus, et que la rue ne manquera pas de demander des comptes dès la fin de la “période de grâce” du gouvernement.

And I suspect many activists are thinking the same thing: that PJD-led government coalition, just like the Constitutional Referendum and Parliamentary Elections are a patch to contain the growing social resentment against repression, nepotism and the like. That may be true, but still, it does not absolve the movement -and the Moroccan left- from building a truly comprehensive pro-democracy platform, or at least to provide clear-cut, unambiguous set of principles to which a majority of Moroccans can relate to.

The mainstream political spectrum also seems to be lacking their own political Weltanschauung: can anyone state precisely how USFP, or PAM, or UC stand on specific issues as well as broad principles? In fact, screw broad principles, as they bear little meaning in Moroccan politics: PAM defines itself as a left-leaning party with a former CDG Sovereign fund CEO and technocrat Mustapha Bakkouri, and USFP, a member of the Socialist Internationale, has been a lifelong partner of conservative and crypto-islamist Istiqlal within the Historic Koutla, now a junior partner with the PJD-led government. As for the government, the mere fact a coalition is in cahoots until 2016 makes it sure no viable strategy is devised anywhere near 2016; in fact, it is very likely to be “2016 and bust”.

Since principles bear little significance to party politics in Morocco, only precise, comprehensive sets of policy agenda can be useful in defining the dividing lines of Moroccan politics. As for how parties view themselves in the next couple of years, mum’s the word; and I suspect this is due to their refusal to commit to a long-term vision. And there are basically two ways to go to explain it: lack of vision or excessive caution. Either way, it does not serve the public well.

What’s a vision for 2016? And Isn’t the date itself an example of political short-sightedness? Indeed. But the centrepiece of representative democracy is the rough-and-tumble of political campaigning induced by elections. And these usually trigger timely commitments from representatives and political leaders – perhaps we should consider elections every two years: 4 years of a full parliament intertwined with 4 years of local/regional elections.

Until they can come up with a comprehensive -and I insist on that term COMPREHENSIVE- agenda in all areas of pubic policy, they will have to focus on specific issues, preferably away from identity and culture stuff, like… the veil for instance; I’d rather prefer the public discourse go: “They will tax you back to the stone ages” vs “Tax breaks for the rich, additional burden for the middle classes”

Building a New Progressive Coalition – Looking for New Partners

Koutla, Middle Class civil servant, Unions and radical activists. Give or take, this is the progressive coalition since 1956: contentious, heterogeneous, ready to sell out to seemingly ideological adversaries, and yet much keen to take to the high ground whenever the opportunity arises – USFP’s latest turncoat in opposition is a sight to see. These are just crude generalizations, though I can also provide specific instances of what seems to be an unstable coalition: the first cracks showed with the 1997 Alternance. And quite so, each partner had a divergent agenda, and what is more, there is a constant inner struggle between political organizations to take control of each others; energy initially thought to be devoted to further the ideal of progress was instead diverted into petty politics.

The Core Progressive coalition: Unions, Radicals, former Resistants and new Socialists

The first progressive coalition to emerge in post-1956 Moroccan election was the UNFP-UMT-ALM triumvirate: one political party, one party and one liberation armed organization. But it quickly turned out into a UNFP-UMT Doppleadler with little success to take over power by peaceful -nut not necessarily democratic- means: elections were rigged, and chances of a successful general strikes were stifled by regime oppression or union officials equivocations about their role as defenders of the “Masses”. What follows delivered serious blows to that coalition: student activists split from left-leaning parties, moderate elements from the same parties distanced themselves:  23 Mars and Ilal Amam in the early 1970s, USFP in 1972-1975 and CDT Union in 1978 are all striking evidences of that inherently fragile coalition for progressive values.

History still leaves its fingerprints over the sorry state of progressive thinking in Morocco: sorry because two large, governmental left-leaning parties have long lost been discredited, and the host of smaller left-leaning parties have been blinded by -or made themselves blind with- Feb20 glitter of rejuvenation. Although I should mitigate this by stating the pre-2011 balance of power: the 2007 Elections have seen all left-leaning political parties garner 67 seats -on par with the RNI-UC alliance, and 21 more seats compared to the PJD caucus. In fact, the Moroccan left could have carried a lot more seats (about 120) has it decided to run unique candidates to stand for parliament, and carried some 1,232,024 votes back then – some 23.66% of all electoral votes.

How about the middle class civil servants? they made up until recently (say 2002) a sizeable chunk of the progressive coalition electorate; not out of love for progressive ideals, but perhaps because the liberal discourse in Morocco emphasised for a long time the need for fairness, the left has been advertising itself as a defender of the underdog; needless to say the underdog/populist discourse was echoed by union bosses as well: Noubir Amaoui CDT (former?) boss, a former schoolteacher, managed through populist and strong-worded speeches to make many Moroccan civil servants to identify with him. Paradoxically, that progressive coalition went even more fragile with the mid-late 1970s when the more moderate elements (USFP and later on OADP with the early 1980s) ditched their hard-liners, and accepted to go alone with the conservative elements; the Koutla from 1970 to the early 1990, formed on the premise of a ‘reasoned’ alliance to prepare for a peaceful alternative, traded ideological coherence for murky common historic struggles. The progressive coalition nowadays relies heavily on the new breed of activists, very much into Human Rights and specific causes; it tends to hurt more than anything else the coalition itself, because it inevitably falls into parochial interests: for sure, a small-coalition interest can do with specific issues, but this is a coalition with a self-allocated task of bringing people together, or indeed to be as inclusive as possible; needless to say, narrow -sometimes obtuse- dadas tend to alienate a lot of potential supporters of the progressive coalition.

The first example to come to mind is this strange union fetishism: every left-wing party, from USFP to Annahj, tends to try very hard to take over a specific union to make it its own . This may be so because of an inherited -but no longer true- perception of unions’ political strength. This might also explain why USFP for instance never bothered to put forward a much needed Strikes and Industrial Relations bill in parliament when in office for the last 14 years to fill in a void ongoing since 1962.

Human Rights issues were a good bet in 1979, when AMDH was founded, perhaps well into the early 2000s, too. But an HR obsession could -if it has not already- damage political activism in 2012. There is nothing wrong to stand for Human Rights, in fact, it is a noble pursuit that honours those who care for it. But there is a danger of depriving the mainstream discourse, more specifically the liberal and progressive discourse from any other topic worthy of public debate, thus permanently labelling every left-winger in Morocco as a potential “Looney HR”. It also induces the coalition to go into all-out opposition to the regime, because Human Rights violations occur inevitably (and more often that possible bearable). These abuses must be publicized and their perpetrators held accountable, no doubt about it, but by doing so systematically, the most committed members of that coalition fall into some kind of miserabilisme and tend to get blind-sided too: who cares about private monopolies cashing-in juicy profits when one (second-rate) pro Feb20 rapper is imprisoned?

All-out opposition is also a killer, within as well as outside institutions: USFP -and to some extent, CDT and UMT- are represented in parliament, and recent news indicate the opposition caucus will be bitching a lot. As for extra-parliamentary opposition, and for all the talk about democracy and power to the people, their activism tends to side with the more obvious victims/dissidents: a rapper, a world champion boxer, the unemployed graduates, all of which drives the left-leaning pro-democracy platform into supporting narrow interest at the expenses of a wider, more comprehensive reform agenda.

82 seats - for old times' sake.

I would argue the progressive coalition has a huge potential in claiming back popular mandate: while it is true voters can be very shifty in their voting patterns, it is always possible to assume they would go back and vote for a particular candidate given some prerequisite indicators of good faith.

Rabat, Casablanca, Tangiers and Agadir urban rings, long held by left-leaning candidates, concentrate now about 5 Mln urban voters and carry some 47 seats. In addition, Benimellal, Khouribga, Kenitra, Taounate, Alhuceimas, Taza, Tetuan, Fez and even Guelmim, at one point or the other in history, have been either carried by a left-leaning party or the aggregate left-leaning votes have captured a sizeable majority. In terms of current electoral votes, that’s 82 seats, almost PJD’s strength by the 2011 elections. Demographics changed meanwhile, to be sure, but the progressive coalition ought to outperform PJD’s victory – especially since both share similar constituencies.

My point is, the coalition needs to be radically rebuilt and distance itself from the old “National Movement”: in with the fresh up-and-coming, out with the decrepit, and old. And that means specifically the Koutla has outlived its supposed term limit.

Most importantly, agree on a wider platform that transcends parochial interest, which makes it more urgent to widen the coalition to a new constituency.

Moroccan Elections for the Clueless Vol.14

Posted in Flash News, Intikhabates-Elections, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on November 6, 2011

There are going to be 13,626,357 registered voters going (or not) to the polls; since the last parliamentary 2007 elections, some 1,836,005 voters have vanished away from the then 15,462,362 registered voters. This post will try to find out what happened.

How can a Moroccan citizen lose the right to vote? Short of dying or serving a prison sentence, there are very few ways a Moroccan citizen would be denied registration. In fact, those cases where registered voters have to undergo some administrative changes have been listed in a communiqué from the Interior Ministry:

أما بخصوص التشطيبات التي باشرتها اللجان المذكورة، تنفيذا لأحكام القانون المنظم لعملية تجديد اللوائح الانتخابية العامة، فقد بلغت في المجموع 694.594 شطبا، منها 284.360 تهم حالات نقل التسجيل، و136.718 تهم الأشخاص الذين تأكد للجنة المختصة أنهم لا يستوفون شرط الإقامة الفعلية بتراب الجماعة أو المقاطعة، و95.704 تتعلق بعدم إثبات الأشخاص المعنيين بالأمر لهويتهم استنادا إلى بطائقهم الوطنية للتعريف، و63.740 تهم حالات الوفيات، و60.578 تتعلق بحالات فقدان الأهلية الانتخابية، و53.374 تتعلق بالتسجيلات المتكررة، إضافة إلى 120 حالة شطب استنادا إلى أحكام قضائية.

Those changes that actually reduce the number of registered voters are those unable to produce compelling ID documents (95,000) those who passed away (63,000) and those ex-voters who lost the right to vote (60,000). The other cases only re-arrange the total electoral corps. These changes, incidentally, are relative to the last time Electoral lists have been updated, and that was on May and June 2011, prior to the July Constitutional Referendum.

18-35 make up the bulk of total voters. But where are the first-time voters?

The communiqué boasts an additional 1,214,003 new registered voters, but one needs to take into account those crossed off the electoral list, which means that the actual new batch of fresh registered voters is only 519,409 and the sad news is, that’s roughly the number of voters PJD candidates got in 2007. More saddening is the fact that out of 21,586,000 adults (according to HCP computations) only 13 Million will be allowed to vote: more than a third of eligible Moroccans will not vote, and that alone says it all: our fellow citizens are not interested in national politics. While it might be true that 56% of those voters are less than 35years-old, it does not provide enough insight of how many of those first-time voters (specifically the 18-25 bandwidth) make up; more specifically, how many of the 4,453,000 young, first-time voters Moroccans are registered in these 7Mln?

With these figures at hand, I have to admit all those computations and speculations about the Youth vote, the Turnout and related indicators have been built out of thin air, and therefore lose all meaningful purpose, just like the next elections; this is the defeat of political activism on behalf of all political blocs before political apathy: Feb20 activists failed to enlist Moroccans in their struggle for democracy and their challenge to the regime; Officials failed to convince Moroccans to register en masse and thus buttress the claim these elections will have granite-solid legitimacy, and finally, political parties who did not seem interested in widening their popular base, and instead went for knifing each others – like in this unfortunate video where a petulant Benkirane blows off unnecessarily:

(video circulated by RNI-ADI activists)

This still does not explain how 1.8Mln voters vanished away from the registrars’ books, but it rather points out the way to explain it: fewer young voters are making up for the elderly -necessarily registered- who pass away. It is a known fact older people have higher registration rates; as reported by the RDH50 Report. While this does not show political apathy per se, it does however stress the lack of confidence partisan politicians enjoy among that population, one that makes up for 1/3 of total population.

The same HCP projections show that adult population aged less than 60 increased 1.4Mln between 2007 and 2011. The elderly population (60 and above) on the other hand, increases some 282,000, and among those aged 65 and above only 100,000. In other terms, the population that expericenced high levels of registration (a 60years-old Moroccan would have been a registered voter in 1972 with a much higher proportion back then) is giving way to one wtih much lower registration rates; indeed, while the elderly scored a 11% increase, the number of first-time voters (the 18-25 interval) managed only a third of this growth rate; so the replacement ratio, so to speak, does not apply; even under the most optimistic projections, only one out of three old voters is replaced at the other end of the age spectrum; When the mortality rate (around 120 per 1,000 adult) is computed on the elderly population (around 300,000) we can account for 1.2Mln out of the missing 1.8Mln. The rest being mainly split across population deprived from civil rights (with a prison population standing around 63,000 according to reports) and the migration effects.

But one can be sure of it: the decline in the electoral corps is due to the non-replacement of old voters by the new generation; While it is true those born after 1975 make up half of total voters, those born in the 1980-1990s did not register in commensurate proportions to make up for demographic decline, and they certainly did not register in large numbers enough to match the adult population.

FPC Tour – Netroots Nation Conference

Posted in Flash News, Read & Heard, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on June 22, 2011

It feels good to be (liberal/radical) home.

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.

2,000 to 2,500 delegates at Netroots Nation, all progressive and left-wingers.

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: