The Moorish Wanderer

The rise of Conservatism and Reactionaries

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on June 2, 2011

There is at least one good thing about Feb20 Movement, and that is has brought a fresh dimension to our moribund public debate. I try to remain optimist in view of the recent tightening of the screw, but since February 20th, we have been witnessing a flourishing number of individual opinions, on various web media outlets (especially on Youtube) expressing a motley of frustrations, hopes and various thoughts on what goes well and what doesn’t in Morocco. Paradoxically, this temporary outburst of freedom generated some by-products that might prove to be a nuisance.

Before March 9th, or even February 20th, anyone calling for a constitutional reform was dismissed as a utopian freak. If one insisted, the reply was annoyed and caustic: would the new constitution put some meat in Moroccans’ meals? And the truth is, such rarefied matters do not speak to the hearts of the average voter; And though institutional issues are sometimes related to more earthly ones, the link is not always obvious, and way too tenuous to be turned around as a political argument. Things changed dramatically when the demonstration took place, and especially when the King delivered his speech: a constitutional reform, the first since 1996, is under way. What many of my friends and I humorously refer to as ‘turncoats‘. It has suddenly become THE issue of the moment, though mainstream political parties and organizations failed to think outside the box; Some of them built a box inside the one as defined per the royal speech. These have been so hostile to dissent and vitality within their structure that it was no wonder their constitutional output was of poor quality. There is however the other side of unfettered freedom of speech, and that is the rising voice of conservative voices. As a matter of fact, the term reactionary amply applies here. The most exasperated voices of the silent majority, unrestrained, passionate, went back on the offence.

As a matter of fact, and contrary to left-wing politics, the conservative side in Morocco has not enjoyed very much autonomy from the incumbent regime. It was either its official line, or some proxy puppets that get the word out. The conservative argument is boiled down to one crucial -and alluring- point: stability. Do not try and gainsay the validity of present institutions, a change is likely to make things worse. And because conservative ideas are too simple -if not simplistic– they did not have intellectual roots, the way left-wing, progressive ideas have in Morocco. And it is not as if there was a shortage of conservative thinkers: Allal Fassi is the archetype of a conservative thinker (even though his whole paradigmatic thinking evolved around improving things) and yet it is not a reference to the conservative side. The main reference, the idol is the late Hassan II. And that is the strange part of freedom of speech: the freedom to support the argument we are not ready for democracy, and that the monarchy should rule all.

The new conservatism I would like to talk about is of a new brand: it seems spontaneous, very direct in its criticism, and adopts a nationalistic stand that basically wants to preclude any dissident view on the King’s powers. The trouble with this observation is that it is based one what I have read or seen about this new generation of alter-nihilists.

We do know Moroccans are not, in their broad numbers, interested in politics. By that, I mean they do not consider political parties and unions to be representative and efficacious vehicles of their will. The 2005 Values survey of the 50th independence anniversary report points out the paradox of a large registered electoral corps (82% have registered, and 70% voted at least on one election), and yet a very weak political registering (4% in political parties and unions). Even modern politics of left and right elude the electorate: 43% of the sampled population was unable to provide indications on their political preferences, and 38% had no political opinion. Only 12% positioned themselves on the left or the right. Whatever the eminent benefits Feb20 brought to the public debate, the vast majority, the silent majority does not necessarily care; quite simple, the silent majority doesn’t know:

Le même problème se pose lorsqu’il s’agit d’évaluer l’avancement de la démocratie au Maroc. 25% n’arrivent pas à se prononcer sur le processus démocratique. 6% trouvent que le pays ne connaît pas de démocratie, 15% pensent que le processus démocratique est lent et 30% pensent que le processus d’avancement est moyen. Ceux qui trouvent que l’avancement vers la démocratie est rapide représentent 24%“. (p.51)

Assuming the results of this survey still hold, the silent majority is evenly split: half of them do not know what politics is about, the other half is convinced we are rapidly converging toward democracy. The conservatives are hiding within these 24%. And funnily enough, these are not the most well-educated among ourselves: the same survey finds a negative correlation between electoral turnout and achieved education degree.

Il semble paradoxal de constater que d’une part 75% des analphabètes votent alors que 45% d’entre eux déclarent ne pas s’intéresser à la politique, et que d’autre part 58% des instruits universitaires votent alors que 5% seulement d’entre eux déclarent être indifférent à la politique. Plus le niveau d’instruction est élevé plus l’indifférence à la politique baisse“. (p.56)

Check one of the people’s representative of the new conservatives:

I don’t know, but it looks as though some Moroccans -with a substantial audience- have voluntarily taken over the regular stifling mechanisms exercised against serious dissent. A certain category -we now know to be quite large- seems to be appalled that some would gather support and momentum for some constitutional scheme that would limit monarchical power in favour of other branches of government. The eternal Fitna argument, this hostile rapport to democracy and political dissent has prompted activist reactionaries -and I assure the reader I employ the term with no derogatory connotation in mind- to stand up for their ‘ideas’ and well, answer in kind to what they consider to be a danger to the fatherland, our stability and the ‘Moroccan Exception’. My opinion lacks the metrics of how representative this conservatism is among the silent majority, but there is good money in betting that it is a substantial body of opinion, and it would be unwise to disparaged them as mere grotesque gesticulations.

This the by-product of bursting freedom of speech: anyone who dares and criticize these people will quickly be put to shame for trying to impose on them as proponent of a Pensée Unique scheme. But contrary to the pro-reform argument, diverse and sometimes well-constructed, the conservative/reactionary/right-wing side does not bother and come up with a counter-proposal. They are after all, whether they like it or not, defenders of a status quo they do not benefit from, but do cling on because, well, there might be some rewards at the other end for being fiercely monarchist; by doing so, the terms of the debate become dangerously skewed: instead of taking time to describe in length what each caucus within Feb20 believes to be democratic reforms, time and resources are wasted on proving that we are Moroccans too, patriotic and deeply concerned about the well-being of our nation, and that our call of diversity is not a danger of unity, but an opportunity we would do well to seek.

Good things could emerge from this: ambassadors of this new conservatism are not always old and cranky; some of them are young,  and can, up to a point, sustain a high-brow argument and might, just might, be endowed with a spirit of bipartisanship. In any case, I view the referendum as a gauging the balance of power; It is a curse and a blessing in Moroccan politics, to consider time as a purely secondary variable in political strategies. The referendum merely postpones the real reform a couple of years to a decade away. Meanwhile, if conservatives could up the ante and come up with substantial arguments, it would benefit to everyone and level up the playing field. Left-wingers and tired of being the band-wagon of ideas in Morocco – and perhaps would benefit as well from a contradictory opinion that would push them harder.

My thoughts are with the relatives of Kamal El Amari, who died of injuries sustained during the May 29th demonstrations. This tragic loss should remind Moroccans that it’s a long way to true reforms that would at least abate police brutality against peaceful demonstrations.

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.