The Moorish Wanderer

The House Of Cards and the King of Aces

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 New Royal Motto: "Monarchy Rules All, and That's Official Now"

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.

الفصل 41

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

الفصل 53

الملك هو القائد الأعلى للقوات المسلحة الملكية. وله حق التعيين في الوظائف العسكرية، كما له أن يفوض لغيره ممارسة هذا الحق.

الفصل 54

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)

الفصل 56

يرأس الملك المجلس الأعلى للسلطة القضائية.

الفصل 57

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.

الفصل 64

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.

Old Makhzen Never Dies

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on June 9, 2011

…And the recent horse-trading these last couple of days reminds us of the one viable rule in Moroccan politics: the Makhzen Giveth and Taketh away. The agenda is set by and not imposed upon the Regime.

The nation-wide road-show Menouni’s commission has engaged in over the last three months, and the rounds of presentations political parties and other organizations did in explaining their respective views on the constitutional reform was initially supposed to be concluded with a circulated draft of the future constitution. We now discover -basically at D Day-2 from the official deadline set for the commission to make public its recommendations, that it would be best for the commission and the abnormal entity attached to it (headed by Royal Counsellor M. Moatassim, as per March 10th Royal Speech) not to circulate a written summary, but rather give a brief oral presentation, included in a 6 hours meetings, during which the invited organizations need to accept it as the accurate description of the upcoming constitution. Parallel to this manoeuvre, the Makhzenite minions are spreading ‘The Good News‘ about the changes made in Article 19, about the new powers the Prime Minister will enjoy, as well as the new concept of regionalism and extended autonomy for local democracy. Overall, and to the public opinion, these little manoeuvres go by unnoticed, while the narrative concentrates on how important the new constitution is going to be. A breakthrough in democracy, as it were.

According to these reports, the 2011 constitutional vintage is going to be unprecedented – Just like the 4 reforms that came before. If the official propaganda was to be traced back as far as 1963, we would have been at the all-times vanguard of a democracy such that no scholar in political science ever dreamt of such edifice.

The Dark Side Of the Commission. Mohamed Moatassim, Counsel to the King (Picture TelQuel)

Today marks the 3-Months anniversary of the King’s Speech on the constitutional reform. Much has been said, written about it. And, truth be told, whatever the plethora of opinions that followed the news, it has been a remarkable exercise of freedom of speech. However despicable and contemptible some of these pieces might have been, they were, quite simply, the true exercise of the most basic civic right: the right to discuss important public matters without self-censorship. And I am afraid the break is not going to last long. The Headmaster is about the blow the whistle and disperse the party; What is truly harrowing is the way the whole thing is carried out: sneaky, basically a Fait-Accompli. The grievances of a large spectrum about the way the commission has been set up have not been heard, and to those who refused to give it further legitimacy, they were criticized for being too ‘dogmatic’ or ‘extremists’ as if Menouni’s real boss, Counsellor Moatassim, was a beacon of democratic proceedings and a transparent operator. The burden of guilt was easily shifted to those who refused to be robbed from the essential claim for a genuine democratic, parliamentary monarchy, and little by little, these have been muted out of what can be charitably called a ‘public debate’.

Well, with these backroom manoeuvres, there is an additional body of evidence that the Regime did not fundamentally change. The traditional opacity and conspiratorial tactics are still employed. The argument, alas endorsed by many well-educated people, is that when it comes to serious stuff, all these noble gestures about democracy and public participation are useless; Writing the constitution is too serious a matter to be left to its citizens. The commission has heard those it considered fit to deliver a meaningful message, and then selected whatever suits the Monarchy best. Menouni is, at best, providing the legal phrasing.

Let us look at the numbers. At a first glance, the argument that we are not ‘ready for democracy’ might find some support in the overall picture of Moroccans’ interest -or rather, lack of thereof- in politics. The values survey has compiled data on Moroccan politics, and although the vast majority of likely voters registered -or had at least one opportunity to vote on a national or local elections, they do not give the impression of active involvement in the said political process. Indeed, 82% of all likely voters registered, and 70% already voted during an election.

But then again, past elections have been so manipulated -by the late former Interior Minister Driss Basri that these numbers might be meaningless, especially when compared to the lack of interest in politics itself: 26% of the polled sample said they “did not care much about politics” (and the proportion goes as high as 35% for rural dwellers) and only 1.7% expressed an interest in signing up for a party. Finally, 1 in 4 admits they cannot assess the state of democracy in Morocco, even though 64% are confident in Morocco’s future. As a matter of fact, there is very little interest in partisan politics: the first quality voters look for in their prospective representative is “Ma’qoul“, or integrity. 63% are unable to think within the Left-Right political spectrum.

That is why the ‘Yes’ vote will win with a landslide majority -perhaps not as large as the ones observed since 1963- because a vast majority of Moroccans -as the numbers show- will register and vote, not out of political principles, but because the vote is still a collective endavour, and not the expression of individual will. as the report notes:

22% des citadins et 35% des ruraux déclarent ne porter aucun intérêt à la politique. Cependant, lorsqu’on prend comme indicateurs l’inscription aux listes électorales et le vote, on remarque que les ruraux sont plus intéressés par la politique que les citadins. 86% des ruraux et 80% des citadins sont inscrits aux listes électorales, 77% et 66% ont respectivement voté aux dernières élections. Deux explications peuvent être apportées à ce fait paradoxal.

On peut supposer que la mobilisation en milieu rural est collective et que souvent le vote est considéré comme un acte collectif guidé par des affinités familiales, de voisinage ou clientéliste. Les gens se déplacent en groupe pour voter. Dans ce cas, il ne s’agirait pas d’un intérêt porté à la politique au sens moderne du terme où l’individu, en tant que tel et de façon autonome, serait libre de participer ou non. […] Dans une société rurale, et dans toute société de face à face où tout se sait, rester à l’écart des processus politiques impliquant sa communauté constitue un grand risque“. (p.54)

It is therefore safe to say that indeed, Moroccan voters are not ready for real politics. But that is confusing the outcome for its cause: Moroccans do not care about politics because they have not been given the opportunity to debate things; they have been prevented from trying to make Cartesian sense out of the political sense. Political apathy is, in short, result of the lack of their involvement in real politics, not the opposite. Indeed, the younger generations were more ready to define themselves on the political spectrum (22%) than their elders (12%) There is a high potential among the 18-35 demographic segment to take their political interest to field application. Now, how could they do so, when, on the instance of the constitutional reform, they are hurriedly prevented from having their say within a nationwide public debate?

The other figures in the report do, in a sense, explain Feb20 demographics, as well as the lack of participation in the last elections, and when one carefully reads them, can explain the need for a genuine constitutional reform, and not that half-backed, crooked deal likely to be imposed on us. Even though 18-24 Moroccans are less likely to register for voting (55%) only 13% of them declare their lack of interest in politics. They are about twice less likely not to situate political parties (29.8%) than their elders from the 45-59 segment (50.2%); Overall the 18-35 are more likely to be interested in politics than the 35+ segment.

A Nihilist Strategy since 1963

Political apathy goes back to the fact that the more educated one is, the more convinced pseudo-representative institutions are unlikely to do their job they grow. A college-degree graduate is almost twice less likely to be optimist about the country’s future (36%) than illiterate Moroccans (70%). The problem is not in voters apathy, it is in the institutions seemingly put together to represent the people. This is why I -and many others- rant against the very short period allowed for the Referendum campaign.

Whether Moroccans are ready or not to democracy is irrelevant (and quite insulting, especially from the sanctimonious bunch that portray themselves as patriotic) because there is no definite state where ‘Democracy’ is achieved. It can be so only through practise, and we are in the process of being robbed away from the perfect opportunity to exercise our civic right.

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.13

Word is out, Mennouni & Co are looking for a few good (wo)men to contribute to their task; After all, those with relevant opinions, the Feb -20 movement and stalwart real opposition parties and NGOs did refuse to meet with them. Let us therefore try and show some good will, and meet them half way, shall we? Of course, they will have to show a proof of good faith beforehand, won’t they?

When the long arm of the law wrestles lawmaking away from the judiciary and the legislative branches

First, Mennouni and his minions need to go back to the palace, and present the King with their collective resignation: if any serious constitutional reforms are to be undertaken, it is not through such a gross mismanagement of such assembly of scholarly notabilities, they are not, after all, properly equipped to dream up a whole new constitution… They are technicians trained to prepare the legal argument for broad principles, not politicians that cannot clutter their thinking with the former, but are able to embody the latter.

I am aware the commission is not very bright; not from an academic point of view of course, but when it comes to new ideas, lawmakers, especially in Morocco, are not, in their large majority, firebrand mavericks, but rather cosy scholars with well-established credentials, intrinsic conservatism and patent hostility towards novelty: when lawmakers like the late Driss Basri preside over the legislative output for more than three decades, the sky’s the limit kind of thinking is not what one would expect from our eminent panellists. And so, the decent thing, if we ever are to have a real democratic constitution, is for these people to resign and let others to design a new constitution, then, if they are asked to do so, give assistance of their judicial expertise over what is essentially a political matter, and when their job is done, retreat peacefully back to their books and wait till a younger, more open-minded and more ambitious generation of lawyers takes over and reform radically the whole set-up. Basri’s influence has a far deeper reach and exceeds the sole legislative paradigm our scholars evolve within; institutionalised corruption and political transhumance are but a few of his masterly works.

He dresses with style, but he is hardly going to get his name in the history books...

Omar Azzimane, for instance, might have been respectable enough in the early 1990’s to  the late King Hassan II‘s transitory reforms, but his ministerial tenure, age and constant compromise for office over principles make him such a poor choice as a panellist. His boss is no better.

But that is not what the regime wants. In fact, for all the stunts pulled these last days, and even though presentational skills have been improved, the very heart of governmental power, those prerogatives related to power-sharing, remain untouched, just as as proximity to power still protects the crooked and corrupt lackeys. On that subject I wonder whether some infighting within the rarefied circles of power has tickled down and fuel attacks on Minister Belkhayat… Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see this smug businessman turned politician out of office, but the intense criticism he is subject to seems to me a prelude to a sacking (either by a demotion of his master or a demise of the said puppet)

I shouldn’t wonder, as even the hyper-mediatized democratic societies resort to such tactics in order to rout out some rival -though when public scrutiny steps in, the culprit, when indeed found, leads the guilty politician to take the humiliating, albeit self-purifying, decision to step down; if the culprit is indeed of a serious criminal nature, then the scapegoat is duly sacrificed to the greater good of the smeared public office the unfortunate politician was holding.

Babyface: "Your money is mine. My Familys and my bosss, anyway."

In our case, not only Minister Belkhayat acts as the middle man for a higher -and much more powerful- politician/businessman/palace favourite/royal minion (Mounir Majidi) he is engaged in some very questionable business dealings, all of which, if he is indeed the new-model politician he boasts to be, should compel him to resign his post and request a full independent inquiry on the subject. Oh, sorry, I have forgotten, we are in Morocco, and ministers do not resign, they get the (Royal, not parliamentary) boot; And this holds especially when the minister has things to answer for. It’s a long way to the top, Minister, but it is reassuring to see that you are not sparing effort to climb the greasy pole. عقبى للوزارة الأولى يا سعادة الوزير but wait: which party will Minister Belkhayat lead to electoral victory? Istiqlal? RNI? sorry, I am a bit confused…

Last item on the agenda, the scare campaign begins only now. The beardy fellow is barely out of jail, and already anathema and excommunication are flying around on the heads of those who happen to disagree with the dogmatic Salafist. And there dividing lines start to make things turn sour: on the extreme end of political islam spectrum, Salafists like Mr Fizazi (and, to  will no rest until they impose on the Moroccan society an Islamic (Islamist) straitjacket that is vry unlikely to improve ‘the morals of our decadent society’ without leading to a totalitarian state, and on the other end (but excluding house-trained PJD), the dissolved party ‘البديل الحضاري‘ progressive islamists (I personally find any synthesis between religion and progressivism very hard to understand) that do not gainsay, in their universal definition, the basics of democracy, and even engaged in an alliance with secular left-wing parties. Incidentally, Al Badil party boss Mustapha Moatassim was portrayed by the prosecution as a dangerous terrorist, which compels us to ask the following questions: if he was indeed so dangerous, why was he released? On the other hand, since he was released, that means the charges against him were fictitious, so someone screwed up (but will never answer for it, unfortunately) In between, Al Adl fluctuates with no definite agenda (has it to do with their self-professed ‘التقية’ ?).

The victims of blind Makhzenian repression (and the idiots utiles malgré eux) are those innocent victims like EMI (Ecole Mohamedia des Ingénieurs) engineer-graduate Mehdi Meliani or apolitical Mehdi Boukillou both illegally arrested and charged under false counts. Makhzen stupidity, far from shielding Morocco from the Islamist threat, only increases it either by radicalising young people, or makes it harder to speed up the necessary secularisation of Moroccan minds.

Every Word Means No

It’s a funny business, this constitutional thing. The more one looks at past referendums,the less they would be inclined to give it a chance as a pro-democratic move.

It is true we had some 5 major constitutional amendments (including the very first 1962 constitution) and yet we got stuck with the same old farandole: the King has it all, his powers derive from positive law (and the executive body in residence) and spiritual legitimacy (as the Commander of the Faithful in a De Jure Islamic community). And no matter how hard one tries to prove that such exaggerated concentration of powers is incompatible with basic democratic principles (as well as a gross distortion of Moroccan political history) the story goes unchallenged. Only a small core of resolute radicals gainsay the Regal supremacy, either on the premises of religious misgivings, like Al Adl, or because it contradiction a secularist and democratic values upheld by left-winger like the Democratic Left (i.e. PSU, PADS, CNI and Annahj parties) and Human rights activists AMDH.

"شعبي العزيز أدعوك لتقول نعم وأنا على يقين ستقول نعم"

Mainstream political parties, whether in government or parliamentary oppositions cosy up to the monarchy by trying to smooth as much as possible their position (if they’ve ever had any) on constitutional powers. Consensus is the word. Cranky, hurriedly patched-up in their defeat and taboo, but a consensus nonetheless.

It would be dishonest of me not to share regular doubts I have on that particular issue of voting. I don’t doubt my intrinsic position (that’s what you usually might expected from stubborn radicals) on voting No; It’s the whole exercise that could be qualified at best as political jocosity, if not outright ridiculous travesty of democratic debate. How can one lonely blogger, an expatriate student on top of it, engage in a confrontation with what is essentially a royal will. It can still be considered a Lèse-Majesté crime to stand up and call for anything else than a ‘Yes’ vote (a ‘No’ or a Boycott are equally an offence).

Will me and my likes be permitted to go on radio and TV to explain themselves freely? Will newspapers’ columns open up for contradictory views? Aren’t we -I assume there’s at least one other person that already made up their mind as well- crossing His Majesty’s will by calling for a different vote? That’s what happens when the constitutional is rigged so as to provide the ruler with discretionary powers. The game outcome is known even before it is played. Why, might one ask, waste time, energy and resources for a lost cause? These are my doubts. Are my actions going to matter?

On a  different subject, the recent interview Foreign Affairs Minister Taib Fassi Fihri gave on France24, as well as his statements in the US are unequivocal: there is a ‘glass roof’ for constitutional amendment, and though many consider this roof to be reasonable, it doesn’t change much then present regime structure; worse, it doesn’t introduce those changes we direly need-and for which serious political parties have been militating since 1962-. These statements also confirm -or at least do reinforce it- the opinion the future constitution has already been written, and the next two months are going to be be there for political theatricals.

The Highest rule of the realm: a devolved Constitution since 1962

The No vote is based on two main and succinct arguments: first, we, as aspiring citizens, have not been consulted on this; The whole matter. Formally, the Highest Authority, according to the constitution, is not the King, but the People of Morocco (yes, it’s crazy, isn’t it?); and in this particular instance (as well as countless others) we have been robbed of our right to look into the amendments before they are cooked up.The same argument applies to the appointed members of the panel; they might be respected scholars in their own right, but Mohamed Q citizen has not been consulted beforehand.

Second, 3 months is deviously too short a period to discuss a seemingly important amendment. Actually, it amounts to even less than that: the commission has 3 months to dream up its recommendations, and in the happy event His Majesty agrees to its output, then immediately put it to the country. Those calling for a nation-wide debate will look like idiots, a new constitution will be voted and this brief interlude of unfettered debate will be closed. There are a lot of assumptions in this scenario, but the fact remains, an ambitious new constitution (that’s the sense it conveyed in the March 9th speech) cannot be wrapped-up in 3 months and voted on the fourth. That’s robbing the Moroccan people from a long-deserved new, actual democratic constitution.

Coming back on the sporadic doubts I have on the whole issue, It’s the expected impact a No campaign might have on the voters, regardless of any parasitical intervention from the Makhzen administration (I know my local Moqadem is a nice man, but if he has orders to dispatch his Mokhaznias, I don’t think I stand much chance to reason with them)

Assuming I would be allowed freely to distribute leaflets in my neighbourhood and engage with neighbours (a genuine democratic exercise, one might point out), how will we affect the final outcome? I am quite disillusioned when it comes to that: the new constitution will pass with a majority, and I have the feeling the size of such a win is going to matter more than its likelihood. I referred before to a vote of less than 80% Yes as a defeat. One of the main features our ‘National Consensus’ tenants like to boast about is that the Throne and The People are of one mind.

How will this square with say, a 30% no? Will the King put to practise the old Malekite saying that goes like: “The Khalifa can do away with the rotten 1/3 of His population in order to salvage the remaining 2/3″?