The Moorish Wanderer

I Say Yes, You Say No. Now Shut Up.

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on June 22, 2011

The Campaign for Referendum Day has already started, and it is more than likely the next couple of weeks are going to be ugly, with Moroccans brocading others as traitors and un-Moroccans while others are branded as Makhzenian puppets.

At least we are sure of one thing: our society is deeply divided; Whatever our political -however firm they might be- there is hate for those who do not share our beliefs, and there is active hostility to those who try to voice them. Such a rift between dissidence and conservatism is wide enough for the regime not to interfere, or at least not to do so publicly; they have now their minions to do the ugly shore of suppressing and harassing dissidence, while keeping up the decorum of democratic debate. Not to mention the earlier communiqués released by our significant partners (the European Union‘s Commissioner Catherine Ashton and United States Department of State Secretary Hillary Clinton, among others) all supporting and praising our unique experience in MENA region. Yes, it is depressing for the dissidents in Morocco not to find support or forum -but the social media- to voice their opinions.

Now those crossing swords on Facebook, twitter or other social networks do not represent the larger population in Morocco, whether ‘traitors‘ or ‘chlahbya‘. There is such a thing as The Silent Majority among Moroccan voters. Those who vote but do not have a good grasp on what they are voting for (or against) and those who know exactly what it’s all about, and yet do not want to get involved in the issue. And between those groups (large enough and yet difficult, if not possible to gauge because of the polling restrictions) there are those who do not care, or simply cannot make their minds up. But the thing is, those who care about politics need to engage in a dispassionate debate, otherwise, the essential exercise of democratic debate will be marred with over-excitement and these violent salvoes of criticism and verbal abuse only confirm further the prejudice many Moroccans hold on democracy: a factor of dissension and deadly fitna.

You have been warned. (Italian SPA Ad 'arranged')

So many Moroccan institutions and political organizations are calling for a positive vote on the draft constitution. I suppose it is a commendable position, as long as it is buttressed by sensible arguments, even though I tend to disagree with their judgement. But that is the nature of democracy, and the diversity of opinions does contribute to its strengthening. I wish that was true, but the pro-No and Boycott are utterly handicapped by a plethora of reasons, the first of which is the impossible task for voicing their position on public media, either because of the obscure HACA (Haute Authorité de Communication Audiovisuelle) regulations regarding political campaigning on public media outlets, or because of the illegality of publicizing a boycott. The only open spaces on which the dissidence can express itself freely remain the private newspapers -with the financial and trial hazards such venture entails and the social networks, uncensored but still messy and unpredictable as means of mobilization for advocacy and public causes. And even on those unfettered forums, violent discussions and insults flare up against those of us who dare express a different opinion.

I believe the pro-Yes vote has enough support -genuine support- for the authorities not to interfere and let the ball rolling, business as usual. My theory-sustained only with subjective impression- is that the violent events that occurred yesterday -and very likely to happen in the next days and weeks- are not the signs of a nation-wide policy from the highest authorities to stifle No/Boycott dissent, but rather those of zealous local officials, ready to muster the needed support from obliging local neighbourhood NGOs, thugs and tramps to enforce the “National Consensus”. Such as it is, the wonder of Makhzenian machine is to work efficiently with no paperwork, no written directives, not even a concerted policy. And in this unique brand of authoritarianism, the regime can successfully manage to keep their hands clean, and at the same time elicit active support from mainstream political parties and local elected officials. “Do you want democracy? Here’s your neighbourhood’s favourite tramp threatening you with a 15-inch machete“.

On the other hand, these occurrences of foul play only confirm how divided our society is: major political parties show how disconnected they are from their grass-roots (if they have any)as examples of Benabdellah’s PPS shouted down

or indeed the RNI’s rally turned ugly after individuals brought in to fill in the seats voiced their anger and started throwing plastic bottles and cans to ministers Salaheddine Mezouar and Moncef Belkhayat.

The political rift also allows to glimpse at the dangerous levels of social and economic frustrations among the lower bracket of working class, whether in their anger towards local administration, or in their open hostility against middle-class protesters. Social frustration can also be observed in the kind of insults directed to Feb20 supporters: traitors, republicans, islamists, whores, atheists, homosexuals and ‘ramadan-breakfasters’ are the recurrent sobriquets bestowed upon those who happen to be motivated by the need to shake up things in a stagnating Morocco.

The same rift runs along the traditional antagonism in the Moroccan public debate: Amazigh vs Arab-supremacist, Secularists vs Religious conservatives, “Traitors” vs “Patriots”. In normal times, these clashes would be confined to newspapers, blogs and social networks, but these historical times -both at home and abroad- amplify and exacerbate the tension. And though we need these opposite opinions to be voiced, it would be better to do so within a mild-mannered, democratic debate. The coming weeks however, allow to foresee but further violent debate and clashes.

Good Ole’ Tricks

I do feel like an idiot just right now.

Basically, the Diaspora vote is going to be lower than expected. It so happens the registering period closes on Friday 20th May (I doubt the consulates open on a Saturday 21st, even for an important matter such as the constitutional referendum) while it was “officially” announced on May 11th. I used brackets because as far as Moroccan embassies’ websites are concerned, there is a worldwide disinterest in the matter. Latest news on these sites, the glorious autonomy plan for the Sahara dispute. Lots of water went below the bridge, and yet the news for embassies got stuck on triviality (yes, the autonomy plan is a triviality unless a referendum is carried out in order to confirm the power transmission to the new autonomous Saharan authorities)

I thought it was my own negligence that prevented me from inquiring about the registering process, but it was not. On May 11th, I had to go to the consulate, so I can renew my passport. At the end of the procedure, I asked the clerk there whether I can also register for the referendum. His bewildered look told me that no instructions were passed on to the consulate personnel on the matter: “I don’t know about it” he told me.  For the record, the registering “campaign” has started on May 7th, and is to end on May 21th. Even for Moroccans living in Morocco, it is too short a time period to register for the referendum (for those who are first voters or moved in between elections). The Diaspora it seems, has been given only 10 days to register and get their things together. 3 Million Moroccans, about 12% of total potential votes, cannot on a 10 days’ notice, register for a consultation we did not have the opportunity to vote on since 1996.

Let us check what Consulates and Embassies display in their news feed:

New York Consulate:

May 15 & 16, 2011, INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM

2,000 YEARS OF JEWISH LIFE IN MOROCCO: AN EPIC JOURNEY

Click here for more information

The Consul General of the Kingdom of Morocco in New York is pleased to announce that the deadline to apply for the new Moroccan ID (the CNIE) is December 31, 2011, and to urge those who have not yet applied to either come to the New York Consulate General, or visit one of the closest locations of the Mobile Consulate to their place of residence

Moroccan Pianist Marouan Benabdallah in Concert, Thursday, May 26, 2011, 8:00 pm

Marouan Benabdallah, part of the new generation of emerging Moroccan pianists, makes his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall. With a thoughtful approach to classical western music cultivated at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, Benabdallah’s international career began in 2003 following his success at the Hungarian Radio Piano Competition and his winning the Andorra Grand Prize…

Click here to learn more

 Moroccan Embassy in France:

Sa Majesté le Roi réitère son ferme engagement à donner une forte impulsion à la dynamique réformatrice profonde en cours

Rabat- SM le Roi Mohammed VI, que Dieu L’assiste, a réitéré, mercredi 09 mars, dans un discours à la nation, son ferme engagement à donner une forte impulsion à la dynamique réformatrice profonde en cours, et dont le dispositif constitutionnel démocratique constitue le socle et la quintessence…….. [Lire..]

Réforme constitutionnelle : Le Président M. Nicolas Sarkozy félicite Sa Majesté le Roi

Rabat, 10 mars (MAP) – Le président de la République française, M. Nicolas Sarkozy, a félicité jeudi SM le Roi Mohammed VI, au lendemain de l’annonce par le Souverain d’une réforme constitutionnelle profonde……. [Lire..]

La France salue un discours royal “majeur” annonçant des réformes “déterminantes”

Paris- La France a qualifié de “responsable”, “courageux” et “majeur” le discours prononcé mercredi soir par SM le Roi Mohammed VI, saluant les reformes constitutionnelles “déterminantes” annoncées par le Souverain, a déclaré jeudi le Quai d’Orsay…… [Lire..]

Visite à Paris de M. Saad Hassar

Paris, 27 avr (MAP)- M. Saad Hassar, Secrétaire d’Etat auprès du ministre de l’Intérieur, en visite mercredi 27 avril 2011 à Paris, a été successivement reçu par M. Henri de Raincourt, Ministre chargé de la coopération auprès du ministre d’Etat, Ministre des Affaires étrangères et européennes, et M. Clacudie Gueant, Ministre de l’Intérieur, de l’Outre mer, des collectivités territoriales et de l’immigration….. [Lire..]

These two instances (you can always check with other embassies and consulates, the announcements on their websites are outdated and certainly bear no mention to the referendum) Furthermore, I can assure the readers that for at least one consulate, there was no public display of any administrative letter regarding the organization of registering campaign (as of May 11th). None whatsoever. Consulate personnel were as in the dark as we were.

Edit: The Moroccan Consulate in Paris displays today (May 19th) an announcement for the registering process and its extension till May 31th 2011.

I wish it was just an incompetent civil servant who forgot about it and did not send the administrative form to embassies. I really wish it was so simple. But it seems the old tricks are back: This is, quite simply, good old gerrymandering at the expenses of the one Moroccan community whose vote is difficult, almost impossible to ‘control’: the Moroccan diaspora, wherever it is, can vote on Referendums, and that constituency is particularly contumacious, or at least unpredictable in its voting pattern.

I though the referendum was too important not to associate the Moroccan Diaspora to the process. I thought Moroccans abroad were given the same rights; They certainly have the same obligations and do after all share with their fellow citizens the green-ish ID card and full-green passport. It is already a humiliating punishment not to vote for representatives during legislatives and local elections, so to be the victim of such backstabbing processes of disenfranchising likely voters is not only anti-democratic, but it confirms the authorities high-up, very high-up indeed, fear an unlikely outcome, one that might tip the balance in favour of the No Vote. Because there is no legal or constitutional minimum requirement for the turn-out, the only variable they need to keep at a minimum is the No Vote.

Basically, there is no particular political message carried out in boycotting, because a Yes Majority will carry the new constitution, no matter how low the turnout was. Boycott and laziness cannot bifurcate, and so the only political powerful message sent to the regime is to refuse the new constitution and force a new deal where the Moroccan people would be closely associated with the process of re-writing the 1996 constitution.

I mentioned the word gerrymandering. It is. Absolutely is: there is no constituency boundaries when it comes to referendums, direct democracy is plain arithmetics, the objective is simply to take over a majority of votes. Sadly enough, the Moroccan diaspora, in France, Spain, Netherlands or the Italy are not an aggregate of Moroccan citizens whose votes are just accrued to the overall voting turnout: polling stations, i.e. consulates or embassies, are often located far away from their homes; they need to take a day off in order to perform their civic duty. To add yet another hardship to sacrifices they would have consented out of patriotic or civic sentiments is not only a slap in the face of their commitment for democracy, but it also shows the regime does not trust citizens it cannot control or check on.

It shows the old authoritarian reflexes and behaviour did not fade away, but show surprisingly robust recovery.

I got lucky: I registered in 2007 for the general elections, and I will be spending most of September (the likely date for the referendum) in Morocco, so I can and am going to vote there. But for first-time voters, or those who will be in their host country, and couldn’t register in time, their voices will be lost. Muted. Is this democracy? Does it square with that brazen line that ‘All is Well in Morocco?‘ Because we have reached very quickly the boundaries of this farcical democracy.

So, dear fellow expatriates, think of that: a constitution is on the making, it may close down an unprecedented period of liberated free speech, and the worse thing is, you may not have a say in it because, quite simply, you missed the deadline.

There Is No Alternative… and a U-Turn is no alternative, either

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on February 9, 2011

The looks were pretty similar. Baroness Thatcher is not natural blonde, though.

Did you see the picture? Meryl Streep bears striking similarities with the Iron Lady, and I am looking forward to the movie. But that is another matter. What I want to post about is Constitutional Reforms. “Oh, that old pensum”, one might think, that pops around when the left-wing radical has no other idea to discuss. Yes but this time, it’s real politics. And perhaps the chance for the monarchy to choose a different course of action.

It is rumoured, more and more insistently too, that there is a constitutional reform in the offings. The wires might be crossed, but it seems now -and I thank Annouss for this idea- that the new frontier for constitutional change is the extended de-centralization, a devolution as it were, that would end once for all the Sahara problem, and at the same time square the last advocates for real constitutional reforms. The Modus Operandi is still unclear, and the most moderate among the pro-reform radicals are gambling on that to take away the maximum amount of reforms, which ranges from an upgrade version of the 1997 de-centralization bill, to a full, federative monarchy, which would be not only a breakthrough in the MENA region, but would even set the standards in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

To put it bluntly, this regionalism stuff could be either a bitter disappointment or an unexpected stunt. It is high time M. Azimane presented His Majesty, and the nation, with his findings, so that the officials can proceed with the process. (come to think of it, His Majesty might have already received the report…)

Unless the recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, most likely in Yemen or even neighbouring Algeria were putting off the officials from implementing the reforms, for fear it might be construed as panicky concession, thus furthering public thrust for more freedom. The slippery slope, they would argue. (From now on, I’d refer to the officials in charge of policy-making as “the top brass”, just a matter of convenience) Perhaps 2012 is the new deadline; Constitutionally, the King is entitled to call off elections when sees fit -and that resulted in a brawl in the 1980s when rebellious USFP Members of Parliament refused the Regal decision- but still, it would be construed as a cooling-off period for a great design that, in the top brass’s view, should not be sullied by electoral process. Who knows how these people think… (Note: again if they recruit brainy people to sort out the policies, I may be interested… )

Let’s cast aside the prepared February 20th demonstrations and the frenzy of the half-witted ranting tediously against them. Tabula Rasa, ok? I understand my approach is somewhat flawed; Political science and real-life politics do not work like economics. There is no point in trying to isolate effects; This approach however, allows to consider the constitutional reform in a broader sense. As a principle. And when time comes, I’d try to link it up with the current events. First, by conventional standards, it has to be agreed that the current constitutional set is not democratic: the monarchy is constitutional, but the constitutional is not democratic. And the press, as well as the public should do away with the rather cheap argument that ‘our neighbours are worse’. Because it contradicts the other popular argument ‘Morocco is different’. In any case, Morocco might end up in the stead of East Germany: late 1980’s, Erich Hönecker was adamant East Germany already had its Glasnost, and yet, it was the first country on the iron curtain to come tumbling down. Not that I see any parallelism between the MENA region, Morocco on the one hand, and East Germany and Eastern Europe on the other, but I’d broach the top brass to think twice before claiming -or getting their puppets to do so- that Morocco have already implemented its reforms, and that it might not go further.

Going back to the constitutional reform; It is now obvious that not only the reform is necessary, but it is officially considered as a ‘political correct’ kind of political claim, and that even the top brass is getting amenable to the idea. The vehicle to achieve this reform is of course the regionalization card, the last one the official line claims to be the last piece in the grand democracy Morocco is enjoying. The recent troubles are just putting the implementation of such reforms off.

What does the man in the street thinks? Not much perhaps. He or She are more anxious about rising prices -a possible trigger for social unrest- and the immediate measures the government takes to defuse any possible crisis. Plus word have been put on not to antagonize the regular demonstrators. To be ‘nice’ to the underdog for fear they might turn berserk and spark the much feared riots. But then again, the more ostentatious these policies are publicized, the more conspicuous the top brass look in their inability to come up with a more long-term, sensible solution. Unless they would prepare for a stunt in 2012.

So 2012 could well be the constitutional year. A word of caution though: whatever the decision they would come up with, there is a high probability I would find it to be half-backed. Too shy in reforms at best. So I am speculating on 2012 as the possible turning point for the speculation’s sake. So, 2012, instead of delivering an election, would give us a Royal Speech arguing for wide-ranging consultations that would eventually lead to a constitutional referendum on the new de-centralization. The centrepiece would be devolved assemblies with relatively extended powers. A good move to strengthen local democracy, and in the Sahara, undercut separatist claims (an even bolder move is to appeal to Polisario to join in and run these assemblies from within Moroccan sovereignty). In any case, it’s going to be wait and see for 2012: either an election or a constitutional referendum (or both !)

The trouble with such promising perspective, is that it is the final frontier. There is nothing beyond this ultimate set of reforms. The finally final concession -and even yet another harvest of ex-left wing radicals turned zealots for the regime. The question remains: can the regime afford to duck pressing institutional calls for reform by pulling together a half-backed reform? The writings’ on the wall. And failure yet again might just feed growing resentment and increase the likelihoods of a disastrous outcome sensible minds would not contemplate for Morocco.