The Moorish Wanderer

House Of Cards – “Playing The Last Cards On The Deck”

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on January 23, 2012

It’s a bit of a lullaby, more of a leitmotiv really: many dedicated Feb20 activists and supporters believe the Regime is burning their last fuses to save its skin. I would tend to offer a different point of view, though the premise of both theories is one.

The fuse theory is a good example of how the Makhzen apparatus works: as a small-coalition government, there is every now and then a growing resentment with say, elite circulation or social mobility, or indeed the widening wealth gap among the lesser population, not lucky enough to carry the right family name or degree to be co-opted. And so, the ‘Blob’ neutralizes a potentially troublesome player by giving in seemingly on what they covet most: in Mr Benkirane’s case, his appointment as Head Of Government was Aid Kebir come true. He wanted to be the guy who got the moderate Islamists into government, and that he did. He has made it into the history books, and it is up to his party to live up to this promise. A Win-Win for both the palace and PJD, to the tune of 45% turnout and the fairest elections yet.

I'm sorry, but you have got it wrong

But this is not how the regular Feb20 fan would see things: the PJD election is a last-ditch effort to defuse public discontentment, and sooner or later, this unpopular government will crumble before our very eyes, and only then the regime will officially start to negotiate by then with a victorious Feb20 movement. The script goes wrong however, for it understates, or completely preclude other variables.

– Numbers that do not exist: PJD has mustered a historic 1 Million votes (historic for one single opposition party, that is) and well, in so far, there are no quantitative measures to speak of when it comes to the Feb20 coalition-building, and that is the clinch of the game: a social movement keen on changing things cannot afford to entertain a foggy estimation of their strength. And for a group of people ready to take to the street every Sunday, the sole indicator of popularity and efficiency remains the number of demonstrators; and the way I see it, this is a losing battle; So buying off PJD for government does look like an overkill as per the fuse theory: if anything, the coalition will last in all likelihood all the way up to 2016. 5 years are too long a time horizon for the movement to sustain itself, not the least in terms of popular support, if any.

– What the movement wants: no way a constitutional reform is back on the table in a year’s notice, let alone the dissolution of government or parliament; liberation of political detainees, well… easy come easy go, and even if HRW frowns upon Morocco’s less than pristine Human Rights record, our officials can afford to look bad, in fact, every released prisoner is a show of good faith, and it keeps the Feb20 crowd busy, losing sight of the broader picture. The remaining pieces of the agenda are less consensual, though.

The remaining points are policy measures the motley of platforms within the movement will clash on: minimum wage, employing jobless graduates and improving public services involves a lot of technocratic stuff that many Feb20 slogans have abandoned; And the truth is, the constitutional reforms and human rights are basically the only slogans vague enough for many HR activists to rally behind; anything beyond it is so contentious that every interest just gives in to a blurry consensus.

– No One Speaks for the People: it is just right down pretentious to believe that the movement speaks for the people as a whole. No one does in fact, and there is no way to check it out unless one is running a successful and reliable polling company. The movement speaks for a coalition, a subset of the heterogeneous crowd, and so far that coalition has failed to move up from the initial stage of breaking ice to boosting up organizations and parties.

Bottom line: there are other ways for pro-democracy activists to show their strength and in their own terms – get people registered to boost the electoral corps, lobby policy-makers through policy proposals, and most of all, re-arrange priorities. I assume a pro-democracy platform looks for the broader and most inclusive coalition of interest; then go to the bottom of it and hit on the hot buttons: a simple link between private monopolies and the high level of prices is just enough to get a lot of people behind the cause, for instance. While it is true these slogans are chanted from time to time, they are not the centre-piece of Feb20 agenda, even though these particular bread-and-butter issues are more likely to cause damage, not the release of a second-rate rapper. In a sense, it is rather the movement, not the regime, that is running out of time.

I do realize I am definitely drifting toward an all-technocratic discourse, and blogging in English doesn’t help. But let us face it: there is a mainstream discourse within Feb20 that does care much for policy proposals and methodological thinking. Too bad, I’m perfectly content by remaining confined in my (convex) universe

Reform or Radical Change: a False Debate

The following post is a personal account of a pleasant late evening meeting organized by Cap Démocratie Maroc (Capdema) society, a debate in the lines of the theme “Reformism or Breakthrough change?

Before I go on, I should perhaps specify a declared interest, as a (senior) member of that society. Although this is not necessarily a sponsored post, it is merely the expression of my sentiment over what has been said during the first hour and half. As always with that kind of debated abstract concepts, the conclusion -if there was to be any- would be ambivalent: in essence, the real question looming ahead was: do we need reforms in Morocco, or is it radical change we are seeking? The various remarks and mano-a-mano discussions do suggest that it is, above all, a matter of perception. And perception, indeed, already framed the terms of the debate.

The idea of holding such a debate originated from a previous epistolary discussion between Capdema President, Younes Benmoumen, and a young Annahj top activist, Abdellatif Zeroual -a member of a panel held during Capdema’s Summer University– the former has a self-proclaimed reformist streak, while the other is living up to his party’s revolutionary past, and acts as a herald of crypto-communism, Maoism style (yes, they still exist) while he lambasts reformists for being too timid. Anyway, that discussion, for all the important principles and issues it raised, is, to put it politely, a boring one. But then again, it seems not, many young people joined in a week ago to discuss the issue.

Now that the backdrops of the debate has been delineated, let us go back to the terms themselves. It was framed, not out of malice, but because of, essentially, the prevailing sentiment things are going too slow. But then again, that is the polymorphous feature of Feb20 movement: there are too many, if not contradictory tendencies within, and from what I have heard on behalf of prominent Feb20 activists (Omar Radi, for one) the immediate agenda for the movement is to accommodate these groups and make them work with each others. Not very ambitious, and at the same time a necessary preliminary step not to be taken lightly.

V. Lenin, President of Government in Morocco?

I was actually disappointed by Radi’s analysis of what’s reformism, and what is not. The youthful demeanour of many Feb20 belies some old-fashioned approach to political analysis: an analogy with Russia circa 1905, or the split in the Russian Social-Democratic Party earlier (1902) was, in my opinion a bit over the top and far-fetched, while it betrayed a very anachronistic way of thinking. I can understand the common features between the timid reforms we have had and the Czar‘s decision to re-establish a Duma a century ago, but that’s about it. Plus that analysis suffers from what Karl Popper referred to as “The Poverty of Historicism“: Human history is a succession of single event. Popper’s criticism does not contradict the existence of a historical trend, though, nor does it conflict with the possibility of iterative events.

I believe this is to be the focal point of the bias: because there is a systematic definition with respect to historical events in other countries, we end up forgetting that Morocco has a much lower threshold for these grievances (political or others) and so, any demands climbing above the mainstream/average set of demands will be construed as radical and subversive. And the peculiar thing is to find Annahj activists labelling their PSU and PADS comrades as “soft on change”, even though they are, to many other fellow Moroccans, the spearhead of radicalism. It does not matter to be overtly republican, or to support parliamentary monarchy, both numbers are rabid radicals.

The other misconception around the described duality evolves within the rapport a young activist might have with history. There is need to thread carefully in these territories, but then again, when there is a lack of historical knowledge, inexperienced activists (and would-be politicians) tend to consider themselves as White Knights and the founder of true activism.

The Royal Grand Helmsman. Er...

That claim to be the one and only renewing power in the field has been overused: Istiqlal pushed for a one party- one monarch state; Allal El Fassi famously said: “God has united this great nation under one King, Mohamed V, and one party, Istiqlal”. In its first convention, UNFP defined itself as a lot more than a mere partisan organization engaging in petty party political. It defined itself as a movement, instead. Same rethoric can be found in 1970s radical left, the moderate (PJD) and radical(Al Adl) islamists. The rhetoric of breakthrough thinking and brand-new renewal has been overused, indeed, even by the Makhzen regime too: haven’t we celebrated, just a couple of days ago, the “Revolution of King and People”? scores of progressive discourse have been plagiarized by PR officials. A 4-centuries-old monarchy manages to capture that discourse to its own use, and successfully manages to convince many citizens that it is standing at the vanguard of change.

And so, the rhetoric is not the problem. The content, however, is critical to that idea of reform/radical change. Some interesting ideas have been tossed around: Agrarian reform, regulations over mineral resources, taxation, etc… but that was considered to be “basic reforms”, i.e. that’s how radical change starts. Well, to many, many people out there, it is the thin end of the wedge, not because it is too radical, but because of that lower threshold of attitude toward reform.

I did not attend the full debate, although I left at the point when a bearded gentlemen tried a nasty Ad Hominem attack, implying chain-smokers (and there were many of those around) cannot look after commonwealth, whereas they are destroying their own health. I guess some dog-eats-dog politics won’t die away…

My assessment is very optimistic: save for some rusty ideological background, practicality prevails, and while the rhetoric still needs to be renewed and beefed-up, the idea of change is there. The kind of political regime ranks way behind the real needs of Moroccan households and their future.

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.

Wrap it up, Time is of The essence

It has been about three months since a group of young people, eager to make their voices heard loud and clear, staged the first of the three demonstrations calling for constitutional reforms and policies to rout out corruption and nepotism. The momentum built steadily, the youth managed some spectacular stunts, but now is the time to cool off and set off a precise agenda.

Paradoxically, “Feb20” ‘s main strength turns out to be its deadliest weakness, and if it does not try and do something about it, perhaps the cause of its demise. Indeed, the movement is heterogeneous: old-guard left-wingers and human rights activists coexist more or less peacefully with Salafists and Al-Adl religious conservative. This strange alliance of social progressists and reactionaries appeals to a broad spectrum of the public opinion, but that unity comes at the price of ambiguity. Both wings -and the motley of nuances in between- wholeheartedly agree on the need for establishing democracy, but still fail to define a common manifesto, as it were.

Consider the main 20Feb. grievances, those that gathered masses of demonstrators on February 20th, March 20th and April 23th:

” دستور ديمقراطي يمثل الإرادة الحقيقية للشعب.

– حل الحكومة والبرلمان وتشكيل حكومة انتقالية مؤقتة تخضع لإرادة الشعب.

– قضاء مستقل ونزيه

– محاكمة المتورطين في قضايا الفساد واستغلال النفوذ ونهب خيرات الوطن.

– الاعتراف باللغة الأمازيغية كلغة رسمية إلى جانب العربية والاهتمام بخصوصيات الهوية المغربية لغة ثقافة وتاريخا

– إطلاق كافة المعتقلين السياسيين ومعتقلي الرأي ومحاكمة المسؤولين.”

Among these items, the manifesto does manage to find common ground: the liberation of political detainees (a clear rebuttal of Morocco’s boasting about its human rights record), an autonomous judiciary and court action against corrupt officials appeal to every Moroccan citizen, whatever their political allegiances. There is even a great deal of potential consensus on parliament and government dissolution and the appointment of a transitory body to oversee the constitutional reform aimed at. But the niceties stop there. There is an explosive disagreement potential on what everyone of the Feb20 supporting organization means by “a democratic constitution representative of the people’s will”; It ranges from Soviet democracy to an Islamist Caliphate based on the Islamic notion of Shoura (شورة) democracy, or indeed a Libertarian, crypto-anarchist democracy, whatever wing each member of the movement belongs to. This diversity insures a truly democratic representation within the movement, but unfortunately has a crippling effect on its potential as a platform opposition to the regime.

Consider, for instance, their refusal to answer the official invitation from the Menouni commission to contribute to the official constitutional debate was, I am afraid to say, the first chip in “Fortress February 20th”. There are many Human Rights activists within the organization, and it can count on the support of very respectable law scholars party members of supporting political parties and societies, but it seems the refusal was more out of sheer realism: how can it be possible to prepare the movement own manifesto on constitutional reform? My point does not consider the refusal on itself (a decision, in my opinion, in full accordance with the principle of compromising with the regime until it gives in on the real issues). No, I fear the regime can no take the high grounds, and further stresses the impossible task, for the movement, to come up with a precise agenda. On the other hand, this curse might as well be a blessing in disguise: there have been scores of unhealthy speculation about some sort of Faustian alliance between the extreme-left-wing (Annahj types) and the Salafist reactionaries (Al Adl types). If indeed such alliance was sealed, then there would be a lot more centralization and discipline within the ranks. If indeed professional militants were the spearhead of Feb20 movement, things would be a great deal more confrontational. At least that should reassure conspiracy-theorist freaks: the movement is not a vassal to the Marxists and Islamists.

Let me explain: consider the left-wing, secularist activists in the Feb20 platform. Obviously, they would consider a secularized state with no religion-based legislation or legitimacy as the most straightforward way to achieve democracy. On the other hand, Salafists have this literature calling for the regeneration of Islamic scholarly heritage (hence their name) Although they do not necessarily always profess reactionary positions, they share the common feature of considering Islam and Sharia as the sole basis for social legislation.

The word ‘reactionary’ should be understood with no negative connotation (although I tend to use that myself) but as an open hostility to liberalism and progress, as well as the stated objective to roll back what is considered harmful or foreign and go back to some unspecified past setting. Salafism, because of its longing to the true ismalic life the ascendants (السلف الصالح) led in strict observance of Islamic teachings (Sharia and Koran), can rightfully be considered to be a reactionary.

So here’s a first roadblock: both wings agree on democracy as the only viable political organization to replace the existing crony autocracy, but would ultimately fail to define the very basic mechanisms of such regime: indeed, the head of government (and we assume here all Feb20 tendencies agree on the institution of Prime Minister, or at least some sort of Premiership) has to be accountable to the people. But then again, what are the Premier’s responsibilities? Would they allow individual freedom to flourish, or are they required as proxy to Amir Al Mouminine, by virtue of some modern Beya (بيعة) contract, to uphold the teachings and rules of Islamic Sharia?

Are these too high-brow kind of matters to discuss with our average Ahmed? Well, let us consider these: the liberal wing wouldn’t mind the present modern monetary system, with interest rates, commercial papers, complex financial transactions that make the economy rolling. Sure some macroeconomic policies would be the flavour of many left-wingers, but what about the Islamist bunch? Wouldn’t they prefer a more Islamic economic structure? Wouldn’t they oppose the use of interest as Ribaa? Wouldn’t they settle for anything less than the full gearing of economy into Islamic mode?

That’s the trouble with re-writing the constitution: it is not just a set of rules every citizen has to respect. It is above all the legislative paradigm all laws, court rulings and administrative regulation move within. And what is more of a trouble is that Islamist paradigm (the one favoured by the politcal wing of Al Adl anyway) contradicts too much that of left-wingers’. Liberals and conservatives can walk the line, but not all the way down, not if they want to be true to their principles.

Now, it can go either way: the Royal deadline for CCRC to publish its constitutional draft is approaching fast (mid-June, according to the King’s speech). Whatever criticism one might have on its appointment procedure or the quality of its panel members, it will have the undeniable moral advantage of claiming that it has asked ‘civil society’ and adjusted its draft accordingly. It is also the official spokesperson for the regime’s idea of possible constitutional draft, a regime which is not entirely gainsaid by the dissidence, so there is very little chance an outright majority would reject the commission’s findings. The movement could try and mobilize voters to vote against the draft during the referendum, thus forcing the regime into reconsidering the process, and perhaps come to their senses and convene a nation-wide consultation (perhaps with a direct Royal meeting with representatives of all sorts) thus insuring a genuine consensus on the constitution. The movement’s diversity would, if I may, be transmitted to other political forces and the civil society, so as the achieved consensus draft would be indeed representative of all opinions. This dream scenario has a chance of sucess if the movement manages to muster enough support to repel the referendum and put pressure to call on a different consultation afterwards.

The second scenario considers Feb20 movement in its most patent feature, i.e. as a pure tribune organization. It opposes the status quo, but because of the delicate balance it has managed to achieve within its membership, it cannot go any further than shout slogans that lack content or even appeal to the silent majority. On possibility is that the movement might call for a boycott (a decision I can respect and understand) but would fail to present an alternative other than taking on to the streets.

Voices of moderation and compromise should, in such cases, prevail. But let us not forget that one of the reasons with these young people rose and shouted their exasperation is precisely because of the obsessive use of compromise and consensus in mainstream Moroccan politics. In times like these, and in view of the grand principles the movement calls for, nuances and compromise, for all the undeniable benefits it might bring to the movement’s credibility, are very far from being considered as a starting point for a comprehensive counter-proposal on the constitution.

But perhaps I am mistaken. I do hope I am, for it would be a shame the spark (Iskra) would not start the bush fire our politics desperately need.