The Moorish Wanderer

“Moul Chkara” and the Challenges for Moroccan Democracy

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on September 17, 2011

Two bits of news: PSU members are still quibbling over participation in November 25th Elections. These are moment when one just close their eyes and think of a remote island, with nothing to entertain oneself but J. Waterbury’s book, “Commander Of the Faithful”. And parties are fighting to endorse local notabilities reminds us that whatever the ballot system, whatever goodwill shown on behalf of every party in the game, local power-brokers will decide the outcome of a sizeable chunk of  – about at least 1/3 of parliamentary 295 directly elected seats.

Truth be told, I was a resolute advocate of a partial boycott regarding elections, meaning, boycott general elections but participate en force in local elections; these are usually the most direct opportunity to work for the electorate: what can a handful of representatives do to their constituency, when they cannot pressure parliament and government to adopt amendments they see fit to improve the livelihoods of their constituents, and further the causes of the communities their support? Unless the opportunity of building up a sizeable parliamentary party is acquired, parliamentary representation has no direct political benefit other than sinking candidates finances and shackle them when they manage to carry the contested seat. By contrast, the position of local mayor or representative in the community council is a good springboard to earn some field experience, and build up legitimacy as a responsible, honest and efficient elected official.

Time for leadership over consensus.

The contradiction in boycotting general elections and going full speed in local ones is not inherent to the party’s position, but rather to that of the discrepancy between actual power in parliament and government on the one hand, and the parallel -no longer underground- structure bypassing seemingly elected officials. At local level, the one thing that actually makes a difference is that the electorate gets the opportunity to report on possible changes in their everyday lives: fixing potholes and maintaining public lights might be categorized as coalface politics, but that’s a necessary test “new politics” advocates need to take and pass in order to claim a larger, more nation-wide mandate from the Moroccan communities.

But whether we like it or not, the PSU Parliamentary and Board Community Party caucus (that is, elected MPs and members of local community boards) has a point there: the decision to boycott elections on November 25th is not endogenous to the party; Many party activists are pushing for it out of fear to lose speed with the Feb20. Movement, an endless spiral bod for who’s fitter to carry the radical message to the masses, among the left-leaning parties supporting the movement. This only exposes further the constant contradictions of a tribunite party (yes, PSU is populist and elitist at once…) I do hope the meeting scheduled for this week-end will, above all, maintain the party’s unity and symbol as a rallying flag to all young voters eager to engage in the new politics they feel would level up Morocco’s political playing field.

Elections on November 25th will not, in all likelihood, be the elegy of Moul Chkara. This vernacular refers to the local notability, whose influence and wealth can actually direct electoral outcome in specific constituencies: rural areas on the Atlantic coast and their hinterlands, the Sahrawi provinces and the North areas on the Mediterranean front, to mention but a few. These have been only too often labelled as the remaining signs of Basri-era (and Basri-style) elections, a blot on elections the authorities have been desperately trying to market each and every time as the “most-transparent-free-and-fair-elections-since-the-last-one”. And yet, it takes an original mind (or a particularly disconnected from real politics) to view the existence of Moul Chkaras all over Morocco as a potential opportunity. Their über-rationality would help.

The current modus operandi is relatively simple: local VIPs get elected themselves to represent their strongholds, no one can challenge out of financial superiority for instance. But eventually, age, or judicial and legislative threats take them out, though their influence resists what is essential a small dent on their status. So they push for the younger generations, their children. The example of Representative Mbarka Bouaida, elected on the Women’s list for RNI party, is eloquent: as the daughter of another representative (Tantan, RNI) and a local power-broker indeed. Soon, many more representatives will try and convince their better-educated, more tech-and-communications-savvy, children. If their offspring does not rise to expectations, they can always find themselves a spiritual son or daughter to endorse for their seat.

Next step requires a lot of change within the existing structure of local loyalties and intricacies of tribal politics; and if indeed these notabilities do devote their incredible power over their local communities to serve them as well, then even a left-wing candidate could have a shot at barren constituencies: for instance, a PSU-AGD candidate can carry easily Bojdor and locked it with 20,000 votes, a juggernaut landslide, provided local tribe chiefs meet over a nice sweet tea and convince them to endorse their bid for election, and through them, their support for a constitutional scheme that would give Sahrawi denizens a broader, larger autonomy in managing their local affairs, for instance. No bribe, no money, just influence and personal charisma and charms in the service of the Bojdor community and its local notabilities. Moul Chkara retains their status as power-brokers, and allocate their endorsement to those whose (non-monetary) argument swayed them.

Can it be done? I mean, can Moul Chkaras around Morocco be persuaded it would be best for them, and their communities to step aside and endorse progressive candidates? Again, ideology has little to do with it; Even Diplomatic Cables from the US Embassy pointed out the precedence of personality over political ideology:

Personality Matters 
9.  (C) Residents, particularly in rural areas, often told our observers
that they were voting for a person rather than  a party. 
Most residents reported
that they saw little to no  ideological or political difference between the parties.
If an individual was perceived to have worked for a neighborhood  or was well
respected then he or she stood to win support.
Rachid Nanae, an out-of-work resident of a shantytown in the
Ben M'sik neighborhood of Casablanca, told our observers that 
he voted for Jawdad, Mayor of Casablanca, because he had fixed the roads and 
provided other public works to the neighborhood.
At the same time, party affiliation as a discriminator was not completely abandoned.
Also from anecdotes from voters, the PAM appeared to reap many undecided voters
because of the party's "newness" and/or the closeness of PAM de facto chief
Fouad Ali El Himma to King Mohammed VI (Refs C and D).

Their pursuit of personal or parochial interest could prompt notabilities into endorsing progressive candidates, and these should certainly not feel guilty about it; After all, even Annahj high-raking officials are board members of UMTunion, a place where virtue is a scarce commodity.

go get the endorsement of a Moul Chkara, near you.

The idea is to induce these local leaders into supporting our candidates over others, so as to free themselves from the grip of Interior Ministry officials: I suppose the local Caid or Governor will have a hard time taking on notabilities supporting fire-brand radical left-wingers (as a matter of fact, it did happen, in the UNFP good old days) Does it sound crazy? Yes it does, but it is currently the only way to build up nationwide local support, with a reliable source for money, contacts and influence.

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.