The Moorish Wanderer

False Patriotism and Other Tricks

The trouble with events like those we witnessed on May 23rd, is that temptation to say: “I told you so”, where pessimism takes over. The sudden stiffening of security measures -most probably prompted by the May 15th daring picnic project around the Temara security compound– may well be a turning point in the extraordinary times our domestic politics is living through. I have this strange image on my mind of the security apparatus behaving like a wild beast, a bit intimidated by demonstrations on February 20th (and those following on March 20th and April 23th) and definitely entrenched in a hostile defence. But when demonstrators wanted to picnic outside the Temara compound (dumbed Guantemara) the security services’ own lair, the latter stroke back, with their customary violence.

The Dark Side of the (Police/Merda/CMI) Force is taking over, and the Temara headquarters is their Death Star.

Two events put security forces back into the limelight, namely the Marrakesh bombings and the Temara affair. It is basically a sequential, repeated chicken game between the movement and the authorities: at every stage of this process, Feb20 chose the radical outcome, and one way or the other, got away with it. The first stage was the demonstration itself. Regime made some incredible threats, but the demonstration took place nonetheless. Then after the King’s Speech on March 9th, authorities approached the movement for a possible negotiation on the constitutional reforms, they refused to be associated with the commission; At every stage, Feb20 forced the outcome and turned the tables. But the successive blows these last weeks ring out as a recovery of old stick-and-stick policy our security people have been trained and educated for. As a matter of fact, planned demonstration next Sunday, May 29th are going to determine the movement’s next course of action.

If they fail again to mobilize enough people around Morocco, then our Evolution -in contrast with Revolutions in other parts of the MENA region– is likely to be a short fuse, and the Silent Majority, those who do not demonstrate every week, might well slip back into political apathy. This is even more crucial when considering that the movement does not have the power to set the agenda, the King does. And now time is in favour of the constitutional reform process as designed and prepared by Royal advisers; The margin shifts back to the Empire, and the Rebels are so pressed for time.

Referendum day is now scheduled July 1st. This is the only public date available (with no official confirmation yet) and was leaked to the general public, probably as a heads-up to some move in the coming month (June?) on May 18th Khalid Hariry MP mentioned the date on his twitter feed

Proposition Min. Interieur aux partis: “referendum 1 juillet, législatives 7 octobre” ouverture parlement 14 octobre

Mr Hariry may be just an ordinary Member of Parliament, but his social media activism (there aren’t much Moroccan ministers and MPs on twitter, or posting on their personal blogs around) is a convenient way to get the message out about the hidden agenda -first rule of Moroccan politics, the authorities always have a hidden agenda. This is not paranoia, it is only empirical observation. So the Interior Minister tells the MPs that referendum day might be on July 1st, with General Elections on October 7th, and most probably the new parliament in session for October 14th. That means high up, there is confidence these elections will yield some strong majority, or that party leaders will be amenable to any deal presented to them for some government coalition; better still, the old line of ‘national unity’ government following the new constitution might be appealing to mainstream political parties and large scores of Moroccan public.

This ‘rumour’ (there is no official communication about it yet) has also been mentioned by TelQuel Magazine mentioned on their edition May 19th-20th (about the same day) that the Commission has been asked to make haste on their draft:

Dernière ligne droite pour la Commission consultative pour la révision de la Constitution (CCRC). Le cabinet royal aurait demandé à la Commission d’accélérer la cadence afin de rendre sa copie, avant la fin du mois de mai, au lieu de mi-juin. En parallèle, les listes électorales sont en cours d’actualisation dans la perspective du référendum.

So we might be expecting some news on the issue by the end of this week, most likely early June. Are these good or bad news? From the dissidence’s point of view, this is disaster. Because everyday Referendum day gets closer, and when Moroccan citizens go to the polls and vote massively in favour of the proposed draft, then Feb20 movement will lose one of its remaining legitimacies, i.e. a certain representation among the people.

Repression is still there, and kicking. More than ever. (Pic from Demain Online)

I have disillusioned myself quite early on the outcome of this referendum. What I can hope for, on the other hand, is that the combined numbers of boycott (or blank votes) and the ‘No’ Vote would be large enough (say at least 30% of total electoral corps) to build up on a civic platform that would wage large demonstrations from time to time, perhaps venture to publish some alternative proposals, until it forces another reform, this time more amenable to its own agenda. As for the possibility of a swift political confrontation on July or September, or the likelihood of a mass boycott, I foresee it to be very unlikely.

I also keep thinking about the following scenario: the latest declarations of our own Ron Ziegler, Mr Khalid Naciri (Communications Minister and government spokesman) are very worrying, because the explicit criticism made on the May 23rd demonstrations was that Al Adl and Left-wingers (he did not specify which ones, certainly not his own PPS party) manipulated the youth, and were also guilty of their lack of patriotism. After his blunt denial of any torture infrastructure at the Temara Compound, Minister Naciri only confirms his favourite line, which brands dissidents and ‘nihilists‘ as potentially traitors to the nation and fully-paid foreign agents.

When one considers the previous referendums, the late King Hassan II resorted more than often to this ‘Patriotism’ line (this seem to confirm what S. Johnson said about scoundrels and patriotism) to appease opposition parties and elicit their support for his constitutional projects. Istiqlal was more than often ready to do his bidding, but overall Koutla parties held steady, especially on the 1992 Referendum, but not so much on 1996. The subsequent Alternance was also the result of this alluring proposal to save the country. Former Prime Minister Abderrahamane Youssoufi -as well as his USFP party- still justify their compromise by stating that “Morocco was in danger“. All elements indicate the same old tricks will be used and followed by the gullible.

It’s a bit overconfident -and peculiar- of the Interior Minister to tell Members of Parliament about the project of holding elections straight after referendum (spare August for a Ramadanesque truce), and even more brazen, to call parliament in session ten days after elections. It means there’s strong confidence a government with a workable majority has been formed, or that the King stepped in and called for a National Unity government (a governmental consensus built around the new constitution, presumably). I don’t know why I keep thinking about this. Perhaps because for many mainstream politicians, Feb20 has shaken their monopoly over partisan politics, so they would only too obligingly gather and denounce the demonstrations as unpatriotic and revert back to the old accusations of  ‘Commies, Atheists, Faggots, Islamists and Pro-Polisario‘.

Because of the security tightening, the old mantra of Fifth Column accusations will be yet again put to use to discredit the movement. Last Sunday, ordinary citizens stood idly by while demonstrators were beaten up. If things do get worse, the young people might be branded as traitors and lose whatever sympathy they might enjoy among the Silent Majority. This June will certainly turn out to be the moment of truth, both for the constitutional reform and Feb20’s future as an alternative movement.

The Divided Kingdom Of Morocco

Under the veneer of unity, there are deep divisions running through our society; While population on social networks is not fully representative of the whole body, it gives insights of how different, and ultimately defiant the pro and anti demonstrations are.

Before I start elaborating on that, I should confess something: as an expatriate, I am somewhat disconnected. As a matter of principle, I advocate the February 20th, and yet, on Sunday, I will not take to the streets. Does it sound contradictory? It does indeed, up to a point. Demonstrations as a way of voicing frustrations or grievances is not always effective. In fact it is hardly true. But in Moroccan setting, it emerges as the only way to be heard from the power-holders. it’s not exactly the famous ‘ce n’est pas la rue qui gouverne‘ but it is a way to provide for a signal that a sizeable group of citizens want to voice their concerns.

Now, let us not veil ourselves from the fact that revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the current upheavals in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen and others yet to come, prompted our leaders to have second looks at the current state of things in Morocco. Why would they pour some MAD 15 Billion in subsidizing strategic commodities? Why do they process rapidly the recruitment of unemployed graduates in the civil service? These instances are a blatant evidence that first the policy makers are cautious not to stir trouble and in effect are afraid of any public anger, and second,these last-minute changes are the counter-argument that ‘in Morocco, everything is well’.
I mentioned above that Morocco is divided. Now, internet is the unfettered space were every citizen can voice their opinion whatever its substance and would expect another one to reply. The numerous facebook threads, the posts and tweets are part of a giant cyber-agora, but not necessarily evidence of democracy.

Why so? The main assumption behind a democracy is that every citizen is a fully informed, rational and policy-committed individual, fully aware of all past and present events, which no one can claim to be. So there is little surprise when two sides who disagree quickly reach a fail-safe point beyond which misinformation, derogatory comments and canards fly around. Pro 20/02 are labelled traitors, anarchists, anti-monarchists and mercenaries, while Anti 20/02 are ‘Cyber-makhzenians’ and conservative reactionaries. I honestly cannot claim to be fair in my assessment. And frankly, very few fellow Moroccans can do so.

Where would we be without our ol'faithful? (the one on the right of course...)

The divisive line is one about a dilemma: should one commit to the ideal of democracy and the perspective of change with a random outcome? Or should one stick with a motley consensus and settle for the existing compromise? For anyone in Morocco, the status-quo, however incomplete, unfair and detestable, there are a few perks that go along with it: certainly the upper class has everything to lose if there are changes of the scale of Egypt or Tunisia (and to some extent, so do even middle classes like me). Lower classes, on the other hand, have some sort of trade-off: to the taxi-driver, if the grima-holder loses their rent, so goes down their living. To the low-grade functionary, there are risks to lose a comfortable stipend if anti-corruption rules were enforced vigorously. Even to the unemployed, a fair and democratic government would never put up with the claim to be automatically recruited in public services.

Incidentally, an acquaintance of mine, whom I hold to be politically conservative (close ties to the Union Constitutionnelle, just to give you the gist), told me he was in favour of the 20/02 demonstration, because he felt the King has too much economic power. ‘what about political reforms ?’ I gleefully asked, sensing a premature flip-flops. ‘no, I’m fine with it. What matters is to dilute economic concentration’. I disappointedly abandoned any effort to prove him that both policies go hand in hand. But his reflection on the present debate is eloquent, in the sense that even among each side, motivations are too heterogeneous for the other side to group them under one single banner. Yet it is hard to try to reason when things are so confused, when the state apparatus plays dirty in circulating false rumours on the demonstration. I mean, if it was really a democratic debate, why would official channels try to discredit 20/02? Stands to reason, that.

One would argue that because such demonstration is planned that we found ourselves in such divided setting. That would be quite extraordinary: if Moroccans were so united, such a (relatively) marginal project would have little impact on our unity. No, this is the tip of an iceberg that has been hidden with smokescreens, like our Sahara struggle, the need for economic development at the expenses of political development, and the house-training of the political field as well as the press corps. Whatever the freedom of expression one enjoys in Morocco, the lack of institutional check and balances to the almighty monarchical power makes it difficult to even consider policy to be applicable if they are not run through the royal cabinet et/or consultancy firms. What good is democracy and freedom of expression if the institutions tasked with implement them are dysfunctional? And here lies the nexus of the current problem: while pro 20/02 are confident and optimistic about the changes a constitutional reform would have on the political powers (hopefully the whole political spectrum), anti 20/02 are more comfortable with the current state of things, because they got used to it, or because of attached perks.

There’s an anecdote that proves my point: a friend from childhood vehemently put the case to me that His Majesty is doing His best in changing things in Morocco. Now, I am sure he does, but the fact my friend volunteered that statement proves one thing: that she lost confidence in the current institutions -as I do- but reaches another conclusion: instead of renewing them, why not rely on the one considered to be functional, and efficient too?

What about the silent majority? Those that do not have access to facebook, twitter or blogoma? What about those that rely solely on newspapers, TV news and rumours to update themselves on the Moroccan news? Are they fundamentally for or against such project? In the absence of reliable statistics, there’s little to be said about their mood, and any comments on their opinions would be idle speculation, and anyone claiming to capture their mood is at best a charlatan, whatever side they might be in. Plus even those on the internet were misinformed about the aim of such demonstration (constitutional reforms? really? is it that serious to be charged with treason for advocating more powers to the representative institutions?), portrayed as a plot to circulate republican slogans, to stir trouble in the Sahara, and God knows what else.

Playing dirty: the young lady on the video is not the one hugging El-Marrackchi (how can we account for the 5 years differences?), and, well, has anyone ever visited Notre Dame of Rabat? It's a beautiful site really.

Whatever efforts put into informing internet-users and even the wider public, misinformation, intoxication -as the intelligence boffins would say- is running high. Plus in troubled times, the less politically committed usually wait by and look on as events unfold. Who would blame them? Plus numbers in absolute terms are not relevant. What matters is how people actually take to the street, how they behaved, and how widespread the protest is going to be.

I don’t know, but if Casablanca and other large Moroccan cities less than dozens of thousands demonstrators took to the street, that would be a storm in a teacup. A rule of thumb I don’t claim to be representative, reliable or normative, though.
On a less conciliatory tone, there are alarming news that pro 20/02 figureheads are being harassed and abused by the police. And I am not referring to children, but to party activists, known for their stand on constitutional reform. The regime seems to be preparing for pre-emptive measures, a scare/intimidation campaign in order to deflate the number of potential demonstrators, and in effect, putting the halt on a basic constitutional right.

I have to say, when the shit hits the fan, I am glad to revert to moderate. Or rather, I am glad to look moderate when compared to others 🙂 But on the other hand, I am sadden by the fact that because the regime has been deaf to grievances of moderates like me on economic and constitutional reforms.
In any case, we need this demonstration: the timing is right, because it puts pressure on our government (the official and the actual) to seriously  consider reforms. At the moment the top brass are messing about with subsidies to calm things down, but this does not help in the long run (for one, I foresee even greater troubles ahead, when all this borrowed money is due to be paid back). The timing is good because in all North Africa, and in the Middle East, leaders are finally aware that the cup is bare, and that economic growth alone is utterly inefficient in stifling dissent, or keeping the rabble under control.

Governments should be afraid of their people, not the reverse.

Best of luck to the demonstrators, may they enjoy a festive and peaceful Sunday (including the security forces)

NB: on a different note, I shall drop political matters for the time being, on this blog and elsewhere (mainly because my views are usually very clannish and divisive) and concentrate on economics and history.

Who’s Next?

I did not get elected. That was expected, though I was disappointed I did not get enough votes for the MBAs. Never mind, perhaps next year, and a great thank you to those who supported me throughout. I will nonetheless continue in my folly, those who appreciate it can be assured of that.

Yesterday, late at night, after one too many Jack Daniel’s & Vodka shots (at a birthday party, mainly mingling about), I was staring at television, watching news from Egypt. I dare say it gets pretty hard to impress me, but the pictures of demonstrators on a tank (alive and joyfully chanting ‘Down With Mubarak !‘) took me aback. Drunkenness only just amplifies the sense of amazement that, if something is happening in Egypt, it might not be the same as the Tunisian uprising, it remains a historical day, and a memorable month.

Central Cairo. Demonstrations are genuinely popular and demand ousting Moubarak (Guardian Picture)

If dices keep rolling, the whole MENA region’s geopolitics might be profoundly altered: perhaps my analogy is wrong and misplaced, but it feels quite like the late 1980’s behind the iron curtain: the GDR, the most trustworthy ally to the Soviets, went down as the Berlin Wall was joyfully torn apart by enthusiastic demonstrators. In Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, oppressive Stalinist regimes faded away like houses of cards. If the analogy is far-fetched, the symbolism of iron curtain can be considered to be relevant: in MENA, there is indeed an iron curtain, between the oppressed denizens and their rights, whatever basic they are, between the oppressed and squeezed poor-working classes and the apparatchik, greedy, rapacious cronies. An iron curtain between eternal, sometimes senile rulers and youthful, healthy ruled. In every sense of the word, there is a huge asymmetry between the body politics and the body citizens. Truly, we live in interesting times, and this is not a curse.

Humour me: is there is country where a part of the population desperately rallies behind the ruler, re-affirms its love and devotion for Him, and reiterates the line “we are different”? Hint: It’s most westerner one in North Africa. Moroccan policy-makers are watching carefully, and delivering even more careful statements, trying to anticipate what was already managed but was yet to get worse.

I think why I did not get enough votes for the MBAs. Perhaps I was too critical of the ruler(s) of the land. Perhaps I should have watered down with some lauding comments, or perhaps by expressing understanding sympathy to a Regal will for reform. Cheap lines, as it were, that, even in real life, are of little help: the policy-maker works better when facing opposition, and the more the latter is involved in real debate, enjoying a say on matters of state, then the very epitome of democracy are there for citizens to enjoy. In time of crisis, hurriedly rallying behind His Majesty looks at best sheepish, if not entirely lick-spittle behaviour. What, are all Moroccans -especially on the web- eager to show their monarchical sympathies like a badge of honour? Is there is some greema for every spine-less, herd-minded fool enough to change their profile picture on social networks, start posting fulsome praises to the King, and worse, stifle those questioning their sanity. That, dear readers, is a fit of panic. And with it, the shadows of doubt, indecisiveness begin to close on Morocco’s future.

The next Lego Ad, Perhaps?

It is true Morocco is different. This is such a tautology, considering that all countries are different one from the other when considered globally. Egypt was different from Tunisia, and yet there is an ongoing successful, large-scale protest against the incumbent ruler. What is meant by ‘difference’ is that the reasons why Egyptians, Tunisians and Yemenis took to the street differ, although there can be found some pattern, which can be found in Morocco too. Now, we should address two questions: is Morocco’s profile risk bound to deliver some large scale protests, and what is the ongoing reaction among officials.

First, Morocco shares common features with Tunisia and Egypt, and up to a point, these indicators are even worse concerning Morocco. Their respective economies grew at comparatively high rates, but failed to benefit all but a few members of oligarchy. While the three countries signed free-trade agreements with each other and with other major economies, they commit to free markets and limited state intervention, and yet the economic structures is either monopolistic (private monopolies, that is) or oligopolistic; Furthermore, there are numerous records of opaque relationships between some state officials -some quite close to the rulers’ inner circle- and the largest economic players. In a word, all these countries -and others in the region- are, as far as economics is concerned, crony capitalism. With respect to economic structures, and regardless of regional variations, each countries has a concentrated distribution of wealth. In social and human rights terms however, the differences are more acute: Benali’s Tunisia was considered the ‘Mother Of All Oppressive North African Regimes‘, while Egypt and Morocco, mainly because of their large population -compared to Tunisia- did not crack down on Human Right activists and bloggers with the same viciousness as in Tunisia, but still, both regimes exercise a watchful -and sometimes vengeful- eye on dissidence. Morocco however, has a more liberal dealing with dissidence, though it remains highly repressive.

Second, Morocco witnesses quasi-everyday protests: the unemployed graduates in front of Parliament alley in Rabat, or in the hinterlands, the so-called “Maroc Inutile” the ‘useless Morocco’, where denizens have access to basic services, but only just: reliance on rain barometer, high unemployment, arrogant, corrupt and rapacious local administration are but a few items that sometimes lead these parts of the realm to social resentment, and ultimately, popular protests that are either  put down by use of police force, or defused with usually empty promises. Compared to Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and other countries, Moroccans are more willing to take to the streets, but only to protest for Palestine, and sometimes, just sometimes, against rising prices. When local demonstrations are staged, they do not usually target anyone in particular, and political claims are watered down by claims for more affordable cost of living. My theory is that by tolerating some minor, localized demonstrations, officials provide the people with an air-valve to defuse their frustrations and neutralize any possibility of a larger, more dangerous uprising. If that happens, there are thousands of unknowns to be determined: if the police is not enough, they might wheel-in the army. Are soldiers going to shoot live rounds to demonstrators? Who will give the ultimate order of ‘fire at will’? what part political powers are likely to play? Is the Regal institution going to be gainsaid too? All of this makes any prediction one way or the other most blurry, most difficult to estimate.
One thing for sure: these idiotic gesticulations about ‘love march’ and ‘we heart the King’ betray an increasing unease about the prospect that, after all, Moroccan people are not so fond of their Sovereign. It’ high time we faced the eventuality of such outcome.

What is to be made out of calls to stage a pro-monarchy demonstration on February 6th? Not much in fact. It could look like a makhzenian demonstration, but things could also turn sour with the police and security forces butting in. And before they know it, the brass would find themselves with a de facto revolt: riots, injured, possibly dead, worldwide TV cameras and bad publicity for a regime dying to distance themselves from the turmoil and marketing its institutions as an isle of democracy and freedom of speech.

The Unknown Lurks in the shadow of sudden twists in History.

So far, theses calls for ostentatious monarchism look at best laughable. It does not make sense, or it looks like a staged coup to reassure the policy-makers: “look Your Majesty, your Regal picture is all over Facebook and Twitter. Your subjects love you, sire”.

As a monarchy, we have a court. Favourites and courtesans prance about, trying to catch the Sovereign’s good graces. It could indeed be a re-enactment of a millennium-old ritual: when the Sultan visits a contumacious province, the local governor lines up the men and women, chanting and dancing for the pleasure of His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, providing such Thespian skills to provide for a façade of submission, good will and undying loyalty to the ruler of the day.

The trouble is, our governance modus operandi is so opaque, so esoteric that whatever event cannot, and will not be considered at its face value. Sane commentators and fair-minded citizens will ultimately see an anxious regime, trying to re-assure themselves that, no, the Moroccans are not Tunisians or Egyptians, and love their King genuinely. As far as things are, the angry mob would direct their frustration to other potentates: Wealthy families, essentially, with some figureheads as scapegoats (that the King might dismiss, when needs to be). But if old farts stick together, there will be a time, we’re no way near it, but still, were such fine nuances would be wiped out.

I hope the fine minds monitoring Morocco would take that into account, start defusing things by preparing real political reforms, and start addressing the economic weaknesses and shunning the fat cats they take to their bosom. Start pumping reforms, before the street takes you over !

(I can help the Royal Cabinet if they want me to. Please contact me for CV and Interview. MAD 80k entry salary, a car and an up-state house, opportunities to travel abroad)