The Moorish Wanderer

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.

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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.

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.

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?