The Moorish Wanderer

“New Politics” Inc.

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on July 19, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I had this most peculiar conversation with someone “in high places”. I mean, I did not meet that person for an official purpose – it was a social visit, I leave official meetings to senior bloggers. The person’s rank and occupation were not obvious to me, as I was told, much later on, I was talking to an official from the Interior Ministry. And so, the summary of our discussion is a bit at odds with the kind of posts I usually publish: this is, if anything, a first-hand account of what seems to be the prevailing argument up there. Alternatively, I could be mistaken, and the green I am in practical politics might have been fooled with a tailor-made speech for would-be “young politicians”.

The thing is, the argument was extraordinary to my ears, simply because it betrayed what seems to be a newly developed, intelligent approach. That’s why I am posting about it: Intelligent. By intelligent I mean a very perverse – adulterating- policy into systematically chaperoning whatever novel proposal might pop in the Moroccan political discourse, carefully taking into its confidence any initiative likely or potentially likely to change things too radically. In a nutshell, the idea is to encourage young Feb20 activists to join mainstream political parties and shake them to their foundations. And as my interlocutor said, they have the next 5 years to achieve the following set of objectives: take over the partisan apparatus, topple down the old-guard leadership and before you know it, the Palace will hand over its powers and obligingly establish itself as a true parliamentarian monarchy. The perfect scheme, even to my taste. Who would oppose this offer? it sounds responsible and moderate, plus it has the advantage of cleaning political parties’ Aegean stables.

But there’s a catch to it. In fact, there are several of those: first off,there are boundaries not to cross -and those are tighter than you might think- second, there are “Moroccan exceptionalism” features one needs to take into account, i.e. not to rush things; and last, the State tropism is the only viable paradigm in Moroccan politics, i.e. the very concept of individual welfare, or community well-being is necessarily encompassed within the State, whether Makhzenian or modern. Supposing these young people manage to take control of these political parties within the next half a decade, the ensuing struggle would leave them paralysed, and in any case unable to put forward any controversial proposals. It might go otherwise, but one cannot erase 40 years of meaningless politics with one clean swipe of 5 years of fresh, youthful activism.

There was one aspect of our discussion I founded quite interesting to mention in extenso here: the official was very relaxed when I contradicted him, in the sense that he didn’t behave in that typical you-republican-in-disguise-plotting-for-the-downfall-of-our-beloved-fatherland and was very open and forthcoming in interacting with me – I mean he admitted the existence of dissent, and was generally in agreement that its existence and activism were strengthening more than threatening Moroccan democracy and development. But past beyond niceties about general principles, the typical Dakhilya way of thinking took over: “No, the Ministry or the Civil Service can’t supply you with Demographic features of specific boroughs. No, a Federal Morocco is out of the question. No, it will be chaos and mayhem if you make Mokadem and Caid positions elected offices“. In short, as long as a certain political project was deemed in compliance with certain guidelines (carefully laid out in High Places), then it is fine to be creative; Other than that, you are simply, and I quote: “Hard-headed”. Actually, this applied to those political parties he quickly guessed I was sympathetic to, or even a member of: PSU, PADS (and a little of Annahj, too).

The other thing we agreed upon was that the Feb20 demonstrations were no threat to the regime’s stability. Quite the contrary, I was comforted in my belief that the blueprints of 2011 Constitutional upgrade -for this is not a genuine reform- were already in place (apparently as early as 2000-2001) and needed only some acceptance from the partisan spectrum. Rather, political parties themselves felt threaten -after most of them castigated the daring youth for being either manipulated, unreasonable, radical, and finally stubborn. The Monarchy, the system surrounding it to be precise, is stronger both domestically and abroad.

Old Faithful

The gamble is subsequently very audacious: it is common knowledge the present political personnel is ageing, incompetent and/or largely corrupt. Palace has been trying to revive some Royal opposition, but failed with large parties, mainly because of a past policy of constant corruption and house-training. Parts of these high circles, it seems, understood the dangers of a too house-trained political personnel. Luckily enough, there’s a bunch of motivated, enthusiastic and pure new players around who seem to have as keen interest in politics. They can provide the suitable relief to political parties, and who knows, some fresh ideas to the other side as well. As a matter of fact, the whole argument can be summed up as follows:

“join political parties and make them look credible so as to seize power. The monarchy will not obstruct”.

Other things of peripheral interest to the main subject were mentioned as well: for his perspective, the 40 years long struggle between the National Movement and the Monarchy was very damaging to Moroccan perspective in growth, development and advancement in civilization. But then again, in his view, National Parties shouldn’t have engaged in a bras-de-fer with the Crown Prince, then King Hassan II. That curious (from my perspective anyway) interpretation of modern history was his reply to my favourite line: if the Monarchy was indeed keen to accept a real Parliamentary Monarchy, why was Abdellah Ibrahim Government systematically ambushed by the Crown Prince? It was as though his mind was definitely made up about that era, only he was respectful enough not to express it in blunt terms: the National Movement was the only responsible political body for the loss of time and resources Morocco suffered from over the last half a decade, not the Monarchy.

So here it is: at least one school of thought within the regime pushes for a renewal of politics, because it prepares an alternative power and so enact a smooth transition from the “Executive Monarchy” to  a true symbolic one. However, the transition has to be done on the regime’s term, and they will pick who qualifies and who does not. Even though the stated standard selection puts a large weight on competence and talent, the principle is un-democratic, and furthermore, the dictated terms are such that there is little room for political innovation: the State is still perceived as benevolent and in charge of individuals and communities, even though it has a poor record in achieving common wealth.

In short, I came back home even more convinced I should stick with the Hard-headed bunch. First because I don’t like patronising tones and schemes, and second, while I agree political personnel needs renewal and a great deal of political savyy, I do not believe the movement should be hurried, or artificially created. That reminds me of the Charm Offensive Fouad Ali El Himma undertook vis-a-vis the Radical Left – presumably as a vanguard of a Modernist-Monarchist movement- around 2005-2006; once in a while, the regime wants to pick the brains of its non-governmental elite by means of alluring promotion or honouring their scholarly work for instance.

Leave it Governor, the New Politics you are advocating cannot be the process of political engineering. the Changing of the Guard is coming, but on our own terms and time.

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.

Thank You Your Majesty, But No Thanks.

Cooler heads prevail. Though it is now almost 48 hours after the King’s Speech, and it is still early to say, I have made my mind up on the very issue of constitutional referendum: I will be voting No, and depending on the date, I will do my best to be in Morocco and campaign there, to the best of my abilities, to convince my fellow citizens not to abstain, and to think carefully before they vote Yes.

My stand on the issue should not be construed as the typical moaning of a ‘professional complainer’, or worse, the dangerous plotting of a full-paid agent provocateur. It should however be considered for what it is: the logical conclusion of lucid expectations. And I should think my nihilism (to paraphrase our matchless Communications Minister and official Government Spokesman, Khalid Naciri) remains constructive (I would not agree with those calling for a boycott, though I am sympathetic to their action as we do have a great deal in common). The panel in charge of re-writing the constitution has been appointed– and as far as regular citizens are concerned, no one was consulted on these appointed panellists (many of whom are respected constitutional law professors, but with no proven record of baldness in terms of constitutional reforms. His Majesty and his counsel played safe by choosing dull people. For the disgruntled citizens like me, it is a disappointingly sad omen on the likely drafted constitution.

Before I start elaborating on why I have made my mind up very early, I should perhaps address a ‘methodological’ issue: I have already recorded feedbacks on such early pledge, and these are not very encouraging; In a nutshell, we should all be grateful to His Majesty to grant us, contumacious subjects, our wishes (by

the way, it was a delight to read or listen to artistic flip-flops. God Bless the Internet and the snapshots.) So now, dissident voices should rally behind and mute their concerns. That, in my opinion, destroys the very basic idea of democracy. This timid reform is a first step or rather a substantial step in a never ending democratic process. And I believe expressing dissident opinion does not weaken this process, but strengthen it instead. Would you imagine a dull campaign where everyone calls for ‘Yes’?

Now, back to the process itself: it is quite obvious that 3 months are not enough to debate a genuine constitutional reform, and if I had access to some inside intelligence, I would say that the document in question has already been drafted in its core dispositions, and the 3 months are just a time lag to ‘educate’ the public –and mute the dissidence- on the idea that this is a ‘frontier constitution’. Alternatively, I can put on my optimistic hat and praise this time period as whip-up for all interested citizens to get their heads together and come up with whatever necessary or useful as a contribution to the debate.

Everyone of us, citizens at heart (and de facto subjects of the Crown) is eager to see that this reform unlocks the largest possible set of Royal prerogatives, so as to move from a constitutional monarchy (with virtually all executive powers concentrated in the hands of the King) to a parliamentary monarchy (where power resides effectively in the hands of the Moroccan people and their elected representatives). This commission is unlikely to deliver on the reforms front, not the least because its legitimacy is not popular, and the panellists are also likely to play safe and push for an upgraded version of the last constitution (1996). Under the assumption that the draft has not been prepared yet, It would have been best to table a longer time period (say a year instead of 3 months) and with a larger and more diverse commission (come to think of it, a constitutional convention is a much bolder, albeit much less expected move) whose members would not be restricted to an assembly of law scholars.

We still have 3 months to go. And when this commission presents its findings to the King and to the People, those of us who care about such things are presented with three alternative courses of action: either accept the draft and call for an affirmative vote, refuse the proposed constitution and vote no, or refuse the whole thing and refuse even to show up to the ballot. As a show of good faith -and an extraordinary effort in looking optimistic on my part- I will do my best to campaign intelligently for a ‘No’ Vote. Boycott, in my opinion is likely to undermine its goals more than it would help (the pro-boycott and I are of one mind on the undemocratic selection and outcome of such commission, that goes without saying)

Why vote no: as it happens, I have been involved with a certain political apparatus that has been remarkably constant and faithful to the concept of a constitutional reform. The Moroccan radical left has always been critical of the ‘the granted constitution’ and this stalwart stand on principles should be underlined when compared to the spineless, obsequious and unimaginative stand of mainstream political parties, who suddenly champion these reforms as ‘necessary’ and ‘beneficial’. I think a ‘No Vote’ or a boycott are only remaining faithful to their proclaimed principles.

My minimal set of reforms is unlikely to be matched. It simply means that I am not going to be satisfied with the draft constitution tabled for popular referendum, and as such, I would vote against it. This is democracy 101: I don’t agree, ergo I vote against. Any Belkhayat-style anathema implying I would be a traitor to the King and to the Nation should be dismissed as incoherent and shallow dithering of flip-floppers and opportunists.

A friend and fellow blogger expressed his concerns about the campaign itself, and I fully share them: are people like me be allowed to express their views on the public media outlets? Am I guaranteed that, if I ever was on the street, distributing leaflets and engaging with citizens to convince them not to vote in favour, no one will threaten my physical integrity? In short, will my voice be heard and not suppressed? And in a sense, it is worrying that I should ask these questions: I blog in English, and many of the issues I post about are not of the bread and butter kind of issue, but what would happen if I decide to go off-line and engage with other Moroccans in Morocco?

What is to be done, then? First, I will try to do what the commission is doing: draft my own recommendations on the upcoming reforms, simply as a passionate citizen doing their best to make their voice heard on the internet, democracy lives by informed and diverse opinions.

Coat of arms of Morocco

So, thank you for the Window Opportunity, but No Thanks. The Game Rules are biased right from the start.

Second, we need a target for No-voters. The good news is, such popular consultation is not one about outright majorities, and the symbol it embodies has a far greater reach than the actual result: I should like to think that a minimal figure of 30-40% ‘No’,  though a minority at the end of the day, is too high a figure for the Monarchy and its courtesans to parade around the ‘undying union between the People and the King’ line. Such figure would genuinely show that a sizeable chunk of the population wants some change, real change. And as long as nihilists like me are allowed to express freely their views on the field, as long as everyone play by the rules, the referendum outcome could bring some surprises.