The Moorish Wanderer

Wandering Thoughts Vol.7

Posted in Ancient Times, Happy Times, Flash News, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on February 15, 2011

I do beseech the reader to allow for a self-indulgent post. Nothing peculiar, just a post that would not try to consider its subject to be serious, nor would it adopt a serious, formal tone. To my horror and surprise -not that much, though I suppose I can be allowed a bit of dramatization- that I can sometimes be pompous, if not entirely bombastic (pedant, was the word a young lady liked to use in describing my prose) and in any case tedious and sometimes esoteric.

Well, I suppose I am. I should perhaps confess a 180° about-face on many issues. First, this ‘dividing line’ about liberals and radicals. It seems to me that, as far as Morocco is concerned, the line is blurry, non-existent, almost. In these troubled time (another related thing upon which I might be digressive) even radical proposals, such as a constitutional convention -something I believe to be premature, even on a long-term time scale- look benign now.

Kalâat Megouna? Tazmamart? Moi?

I mean, one has only to look at the changes Morocco underwent in the 1990’s, when the late Hassan II moved from ‘Kalâat Magouna? It’s the capital of roses, dear lady‘ -a flat denial of the existence of hell-holes like Tazmamart to ‘that shows that if Morocco made mistakes in the past, it is willing to address them, and more importantly, not to repeat them ever again‘, an implicit recognition of ‘human rights abuses’ to put it euphemistically. And whatever -well-founded- criticism international NGOs made on Morocco’s records on human rights, the overall geopolitical changes, i.e. the end of the cold war and the shifting behaviour of western powers over ‘friendly’ dictatorships, compelled the late king into taking steps, the least of which was trying to make some efforts to improve the country’s image in terms of human rights (particularly the pardon to exiles in France and elsewhere), and one can even find commentators to claim that human rights and political freedom were at a better level in the late 1990’s than the late 2000’s.

This got me thinking: is it that much of a sign of weakness, from the top brass to start shuffling the government, the constitution, the economic structure, in short, the lot? Does it sound like panic? I mean, what sort of risks do they run through? I don’t know. There goes the other U-turn: I used to consider the Royal Cabinet -I don’t know why precisely this institution. Perhaps because it wields much more power than does the government- I used to consider it to be the symbol of absolutism. Now, I surprise myself into thinking: ‘how do they take their decision?’. Well, the premise of such seemingly foolish question is logical: they swept clean the Grandes Ecoles looking for new talents, so they are bound to be very rational, very thorough in their decision-making process. So, when all options are emptied, when all issues are discussed, dealt with, rationalized, there remains the only relevant question: “how do they take their decisions?”.

Sorry, I forget myself. Drifting in politics when I promised I should keep it ‘superficial’. What would I be posting about then? I do apologise for the digression, something that would perhaps explain why the feedbacks I got were generally pointing how utterly out of touch I can be in my postings. That is true, and it is multifarious: First, and I think I mentioned it before, there are very few things I care about, setting aside economics and Moroccan politics. I mean the only thing related to the Arab World I ever got close to get involved with was Colonel Lawrence Of Arabia’s wonderful book ‘The 7 Pillars of Wisdom‘, or perhaps a propaganda book I bought not so long ago about Gamal Abdelnasser.

T.E. Lawrence.

Other than that, I have to confess how shockingly disinterested in the recent events in Tunisia or Egypt, or even Algeria, I have felt. I am becoming even increasingly sceptical that the planned demonstrations on February 20th would not really help tip the balance toward more democracy and more equitable redistribution of wealth. That, of course, remains a subjective opinion (sorry for the pleonasm) and as the late Hassan II once said, as such it is not subject to criticism.

Second, when one is out of the country, one tends to be out of touch, not of the course of events -I claim I am more informed than many of my acquaintances back home- but in the little details, what pollsters sometimes fail to grasp; Something quite subjective, fainting, something that only instincts can get. And instincts feed on field experience that requires physical presence. Again, I don’t claim to have toured the country and thus know what every denizen of every god-forsaken spot in Morocco thinks about the constitution, the level of prices or the distribution of income, but living among fellow Moroccans, in a Moroccan context confers a great deal of information that can be captured as ‘the mood’.

So yes, I have to admit my utter failure in meeting the criterion Gramsci set for the organic intellectual. Hell I might as well forfeit my status as a intellectual (I am clearly not doing much thinking, you know). The blame is not entirely mine, though my guilt is substantial.

Perhaps it is a growing exasperation with a political system so senile, so concentrated, so hermetic to outsiders that whatever ambition I was grooming for a potential career have been gradually wiped out to be the shattered boy-dreams of a caustic wannabe policy specialist. End of story, the final act of the burning vision of a holy city.

On the virtual front however, the seeds of civil war have been sown: the anti-February 20th are stock raving mad against what they hold as the ‘enemies within’ or even worse, as an insidious ‘fifth column’. At this very day, I still do not understand why our valiant nationalists cannot accept the fundamental centrepiece of this democracy they are so keen on flogging as the main feature of the ‘Moroccan exception’: in a democratic society, there arise, almost inevitably contradictory opinions. It’s called diversity. On the other hand, trying to stifle opinions that do not ring harmoniously with the doxa, or what is hold to be common sense looks, sounds and feels like dictatorial behaviour, worse, self-enforcement of intellectual terrorism, the means of which are all too familiar and reminiscent of earlier, darker era: the would-be demonstrators are thugs, spies, professional activists and traitors. denigrating dissidence is not democratic, for those claiming that we are such democracy.

What is to be made out of this February 20th business? Overall, the claims are reasonable, in the sense that even some mainstream political parties took the same view -albeit some decades ago-. In fact, save for the minimum wage and the recruitment of unemployed graduates, I wholeheartedly agree with the need for a genuine democratic constitution, an independent judiciary and the rest. I disagree with tenants that such demonstration is not likely to change things. In fact, it shows how ignorant one might be of how the regime (these individuals are Makhzen-deniers) behaves: the top brass are scared witless of any infilat, any large scale riots not for fear for public safety, but because it hurts the PR image our leaders so carefully try to build.

Let me put to the reader this question: what makes a political power’s strength? What makes Al Adl or a couple of decades ago the CDT and USFP so powerful? Simply their ability to get people in the streets. In the perpetual muscle flexing and balance of power between dissidence and the Makhzen, those able to convince large numbers of citizens to demonstrate are considered with caution. Our policy makers would do their best to denigrate first, suppress the ringleaders second, then try to bribe and adulterate these social and political movement. Because the 20Feb movement is not structured as other past movement, only the figureheads are demeaned -through abject means- so as to destabilize and de-legitimize the demonstrations. Everything is done so as to monopolize all opportunities, all legitimacies, as J. Waterbury once stated: ‘It alone claimed to be something of an institution, and it alone combined the elements of […] legitimacy and the rudiments of an administrative and military apparatus

I need however to stress my own scepticism on the outcome. While the imminent showdown might -just might- compel the regime into making concessions on the institutional front, I’m afraid it is going to do its best to defuse it by promising the immediate measures that would pull the movement apart: jobs for the unemployed graduates (who usually abandon every bit of militancy and activism when they get recruited) or by promising subsidies for essential goods. I’m afraid that the demonstrators on February 20th would not be large enough, or geographically diverse enough to be considered a nation-wide. but as the saying goes: “بيناتكم آبضاوى”

I remember a tweet-discussion with our valiant MBA-winner (a feat on which I did not have the opportunity to congratulate him) on the existence -or not- of the Makhzen institution. I put to him, and to those who deny its existence, this paper by John Waterbury, so they can try and find the many occurrences of surviving patterns of behaviour.

Oh, and I reiterate my welcoming of any debate on whether Morocco is going the right path, or whether there’s still a Makhzen dominating the country. Debate anyone?