The Moorish Wanderer

Political Campaigning in Morocco – Vol.1

What can we do to improve political campaigning in Morocco? Obviously, the question is over-ambitious, simply because one cannot write-off about half a century of electoral campaigning techniques and, most importantly, the state of mind evolving from the campaign format. Still, we need a radical overhaul – so as to match the Moroccan people’s expectations.

First off, and contrary to the ambient opinion, we need to look closely at the very first campaign ever contested in independent Morocco, the 1963 Elections. These elections, and the subsequent consultations, have a critical impact on the way candidates, political parties and the administration behave and think; it is therefore not only right, but essential to understand the mechanisms that preside over the very early elections, because these are very similar, if not the same, to those put to use, say during the 2007 general and 2009 local elections.

The very first elections contested in Morocco date back to May, 17th 1963. these followed a heated referendum campaign -on which evidences of fraud and administrative meddling did not invalidate a 97% surreal score of  “Yes”. The 1962 Constitution, with its inherent flaws, at least managed to provide some workable legislative framework for the opposition parties, UNFP and Istiqlal. Nonetheless, the time lag between the official announcement for and the election kick off was suspiciously short (a month after His Majesty’s speech, on April 17th, 1963) but that did not prevent existing political parties to prepare for election: Istiqlal and UNFP, though still suspicious of each other’s motive, formed a de facto alliance against the FDIC, an  ad hoc group hurriedly put together by a confident of Hassan II, with the Mouvement Populaire, Ahmed Guédira’s Parti Socialiste Démocratique and, more bizarrely, the Choura and Istiqlal Party, all together in the Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles (FDIC).

Here, size and strength were valuable assets, indeed, Istiqlal was more prepared compared to UNFP (something that might have to do with the increasing repression from the regime) and as early as April 13th,  and made the double safe choice to endorse candidates unlikely to cause problems to almost-brother-in-arms UNFP as well as traditional notabilities. Ben Barka‘s party reciprocated in a more discreet fashion, while excluding pro-UMT union from the candidates’ short-lists. Because both parties have good experience in partisan organization, FDIC campaign seems unsure of itself and there was a confusion between spontaneous local candidacies and the official endorsement from on top, all of which did not help reassure the electorate about how serious a new coalition of parties is in its claim to be the natural coalition of government (as it was already the case under the Premiership of king Hassan II).

690 candidates competed for 144 seats, and the campaign kicked off officially on May, 2nd. Overall the tone was quite violent (although more verbally so in newspapers than it was during public meetings) and arguments can qualify, in modern campaigning jargon, as ‘negative campaigning’: Istiqlal and its media spokesperson, Al Alam, maintained sustain criticism of the perceived potential power abuse:

Elle le somme de se démettre de ses fonctions de Directeur général du Cabinet royal et de Ministre de l’Intérieur pour ne pas compromettre le Souverain dans les luttes politiques et ne pas influencer le déroulement des élections. Cette tactique permet de ne pas mettre directement le Roi en cause tout en le mettant en garde contre les dangers de la situation présente. [L’élection de la chambre des représentants au Maroc, Octave Marais – Annuaire d’Afrique du Nord 1963]

Overall, public meetings are the preferred way to get in touch with the electorate, especially in large cities like Casablanca; In smaller cities or rural regions, all parties try their best to attract local notabilities, as the only efficient mean to attract the largest possible count of voters, though FDIC candidates have the benefit of biased neutrality in their favour from local authorities (Moqadem, Cheikh, Khalifa, etc…) a support Istiqlal and UNFP desperately denounce as the hand of the administration meddling in political elections.

Mehdi Benbarka during an electoral meeting, 1963

On the media side, each party rely on their own newspaper to influence voters, though such mean quickly reaches its limitation in view of the high illiteracy rates, and the effect of the media remain confined to urban centres: UNFP has ‘المحرر’ Istiqlal ‘العلم’, while FDIC, thanks to its limitless resources, fielded more than one newspaper, and many of those were French-speaking: ‘Les Phares’ ‘La Clarté’ and ‘وطنك’; the FDIC propaganda, while engaging in the same negative campaigning the opposition got stuck with, also entertained a certain confusion in its message: it denigrated Istiqlal leader Allal El Fassi, and at the same time orchestrated a large-scale cult of personality to the benefit of Hassan II, so as to induce voters to think of FDIC as ‘the King’s party’ (and conversely, of UNFP and Istiqlal as subversive bodies).Parallel to the media campaign, FDIC relies on repetition of colours and symbols -rather than words and content- to capture the voters’ attention (and memory)

“Les affiches et les tracts sont moins faits pour être lus que pour être vus et pour imposer par leur répétition la couleur des bulletins du parti et la photographie des candidats”.

The impression observers had on this election was puzzling: candidates looked very much active (even activist) during campaigning, as well as fully aware of the issues involved. The electorate, however, seemed far from understanding what the elections was about. Save perhaps for UNFP, whose campaign in large coastal cities (Rabat, Agadir, Casablanca to name a few) managed to yield comfortable majorities to the candidates (soon members of parliament)  Subsequently, the political message or any kind of manifesto item were skipped in favour of presentational stunts:

“Durant la campagne, certains candidats, appartenant à tous les partis […] s’efforcent d’acquérir la sympathie de leurs concitoyens en restaurant les anciennes coutumes d’hospitalité ostentatoire. Ils tiennent table ouverte en permanence, accueillant les fqih et les tolbas, secourent les nécessiteux…”

This gives the big picture, a very brief summary of the campaign (and there were important similarities between the local and legislative elections in 1963) Now, what about the techniques? what was written in the leaflets for instance? Or what kind of speech was made when meetings were organized? How party activists were indeed organized to convey their party’s message?

In Rural areas, private meetings with local notabilities were more efficient, especially when there was only one candidate ‘in town’ – these notabilities in turn directed their fellow neighbours to vote for the candidate of their choice. These local leaders had good chance to obtain votes, either because of their social status within the local tribe, or because of their charisma (equivalently, a local teacher can have about the same reach as a local fqih for instance) This heavy reliance on local intermediaries partially made up for the weak partisan structure: both Istiqlal and UNFP had no extensive branches in rural areas (the largest electoral population) and FDIC parties, especially MP, had but these local notabilities to relay their manifesto.

An example of this weak partisan grasp over local matter can be found in the delay of a week Istiqlal had to endure before a top-down assignment can be communicated to the local branches – during the 1963 local elections, the alleged UNFP “July 1963 plot” broke up the fragile alliance between both parties, and some Istiqlal moderate started to defect to FDIC, even as central Istiqlal organs wanted to show solidarity with UNFP. In Urban areas however, the scheme was common to all parties: leaflets and posters with distinctive colours and pictures of candidates, large public meetings trying to attract as many citizens as possible, though the most efficient mean was again to get in touch with intermediaries, small gatherings of less than 15 persons. the message matters little; but that might have to do more with the narrow target of educated voters.

In any case, these basic electoral tactics -the reliance on local leaders rather than reaching for a larger audience, as far as the duo Istiqlal-UNFP is concerned, were dictated under the circumstances of dire resources (a deposit of MAD 1,000 per candidate was required, not to mention expenses for printing leaflets and posters, newspapers edition and related cost for meetings, diners, invitations of notabilities, etc. All these expenses were necessary for the opposition parties because other means, more powerful (like the radio) were not available to them; UNFP campaigned in a crisis mode (as many candidates were either arrested or beaten during the campaign); that explains why party activists did poorly in linking to the electorate, or why traditional means of conveying their respective parties’ message.

Wandering Thoughts, Vol.12

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Tiny bit of Politics, Wandering Thoughts by Zouhair ABH on April 17, 2011

A couple of pieces of news worth commenting this week (or shall we say, the last 10 days)

The sideshow definitely settled in; at such serious times as these, the row just sprung on whether we should keep the Mawazine festival. Normally this anti-festival frenzy catches up only during the silly season -a pleonasm when it comes to Moroccan politics, but even more so during summer. This year, and under these quasi-historic circumstances, the frenzy started up earlier, and, there was a new element in the protesting crowd: it is no longer the socially-conservative, liberally-challenged crypto-islamist crowd that calls for scrapping the whole festival scheme, it’s also many of the pro-February 20th people, those with more progressive views, that is.

The row over Mawazine is not about the festival (although I suspect some have strong feelings about what they referred to as ‘orgies of debauchery’) but the symbolism it carries: when it started off, a decade ago, it was elitist (with, if I may say so, a much better musical offer) and it was directly attached to the Royal business. For a couple of years, Mawazine director was Mr. Abdeljalil Hjoumri, the very Collège Royal ‘s own headmaster. And step by step, perhaps due to a change in management, the festival turned more popular, more in line with other Summer festivals. As it is, Mawazine quickly turned to be very popular, a Rabat grander version of L’Boulevard  -sometimes victim of its own success with the death of many attendants due to stampede to in 2009.

Mawazine: the shallow argument

Now, Mawazine is identified with another sort of Palace insider (although I suspect the capital of Royal trust took a beating these days in his case) Mohamed Mounir -“M3”- Majidi is, up to now, the festival boss, so it is quite understandable Feb-20 protesters identify the Festival with its master and call for their removal; both. The conservative wing lept on the occasion; Some of them were humiliated last year with the Elton John case (allegedly because of his homosexuality and a concert he gave in Israel) and that could be a chance get back at the festival. I don’t position myself on this issue, because it suspiciously sounds very like a crafty counter-spin to avoid further popular attention (and pressure) on the constitutional reform. It happens sometimes: idle issues to act like smokescreen to much important ones.

As a matter of principle, I’m all for organizing festivals, as a temporary plug for a culture policy we need yet to define; I am however not in favour of organizing gigantic celebrations with the taxpayers’ money, especially when it involves a lot of foreign stars and the subsequent drain on our foreign reserves. At best, a privately-funded Mawazine without prejudice to the public finances is fine by me. The trouble is, it is not the case right now: indeed, the overall budget is MAD 27 Million, out of which public companies like CDG, OCP, Royal Air Maroc, ONE and Maroc Télécom are on the government balance sheet, either as integrated entities (thus usual beneficiaries of public subsidies) or as part of the government portfolio shareholding. Overall, there is about MAD 12.7 Million of (direct or indirect) public funding that needs to be scrutinized.

I have just got that book Ignace Dalle wrote on Hassan II. The first thing you need to know about Dalle is that he is a serious journalist; I am sure Gilles Perrault or Jean-Pierre Tuquoi are good journalists too, but the cardinal difference that makes Dalle’s books is the impressive bibliography references and the effort in keeping up with a dispassionate tone. Though contrary to the earliest “Les Trois Rois“, this “Hassan II: entre Tradition et Absolutisme is more of a psychological portrait; The book does not bring to light breaking news, I mean for any sensible observer, Hassan II set a standard of his own in absolutism, corruption and tyranny. Sure, circumstances were not in his favour, but then again, the anti-monarchy ‘mob’ were compelled to radicalise precisely because of his obnoxious behaviour.

One discovers some little-known anecdotes about him; I would be interested to read -or hear- about his groupies. Yes, there are still people -regrettably, young people- who believe we were blessed with his reign, a bulwark against the forces of anarchy, atheism and whatever doesn’t square with our ‘values’. Hopefully, when I finished reading the book, I immediately started re-reading the other one, the very book the late king wrote (or had written) in 1976 : “Le Défi”. And do let me tell you something: there lies the essential structure of our present propaganda, a basic clef-en-main module for Makhzenian argumentation.I personally enjoyed the way the late king exculpated Sultan Abdelhafid from his responsibility in signing the protectorate treaty:

[…] C’est dans ces conditions que le Maroc, contraint et forcé, dut céder à une double pression étrangère, qui s’exerçait de l’extérieur et de l’intérieur. Ainsi [fut signé] le Traité de Fès instituant le protectorat.

citing Moulay Hafid’s protest, […] Je représente un peuple qui n’a jamais été une colonie et qui n’a jamais été soumis ni asservi.

Funny, coming from someone who signed the treaty and got away with 40,000 pounds, a splendid villa in Tangier and a handsome pension from the French Résidence.

Yes, some consider him to be very stylish.

Even more interesting, the way independence was wrestled from France and Spain has been revisited to be in accordance with his taste; Then there’s the piece about agriculture, even though he fails to explain why agricultural output did not keep up with demographic growth – he prides himself with the 1966 Agrarian reform, and yet fails to explain why Habus, Guich and Makhzen estate have a lower return, nor does he explain why he did not take on these dubious status quo the way he did on French colonial farmers. He lists all the dams he had had built over the period, and yet fails to explain why the overall agricultural GDP still relies (even more so in the mid-1970) on raining season.

Education has been extensively discussed, with grand numbers that did not hide the truth; worse still, he prides himself on creating Arabic literature and Islamic sciences department in universities (perhaps to make up for the lack of achievement in core and social sciences, illiteracy and test results) Le Défi is definitely fun to read.

Overall the book (Dalle’s, not the king’s) reveals perhaps the more human side of Hassan II; by human (and not humane) I refer to how insecure the late monarch was about himself, his leadership, which might explain why he was at ease surrounding himself with spineless minions. It also shows that he was even prepared to go all the way, for the sake of his grip on power, to forgo corruption among his circle and within government. At times, I was even surprised how things were managed with a monarch set on enjoying himself and at the same time concentrating all powers. Overall, the book is really worth reading; I wonder whether it will not be censored in Morocco… I understand “Les Trois Rois” was no officially censored, but importers had very little incentive to order it (If they ever dare, what would happen to the importing license for instance?)

Can anyone remember an old TV Series “Fall Of Eagles” ? The story of three European imperial families: the Rumanovs, Habsburgs and Hohenzollern. absolutist rulers all of them, who eventually crumbled with the Great War, but never deemed necessary to reform in order to survive; Though it is a dramatized account of history, the blindness to disaster emperors and kings in Europe showed before 1914 came to the price of their thrones.

The parrallell is not, in my opinion too extreme: throughout the last half a century, the monarchy preferred to either temporize (Mohamed V) or to counter-react violently (Hassan II) or to alternate insidious arrests and generous largesses (Mohamed VI) but on all these instances, no one considers it a fruitful strategy to reform in order to remain in power.

The Imperial Sultanate of Morocco & The Western Sahara

I have been racking my brain on the subject for quite a while: why is it always the monarchy that has the initiative to announce things, to decide for all of us, and most of all, negotiate on our behalf the crucial issue of the Sahara dispute without the slightest consultation with the people of Morocco, whose money and lives, and resources are generously spent and used with no involvement on their part.

Oh, but I have forgotten: we have this undying covenant between the King and his People, following which His Majesty has an unlimited mandate to do as He pleases, while the loyal subjects await His good pleasure. And in matters like the Sahara dispute, elegantly dubbed ‘matters of territorial integrity’ there is a crypto-fascistic tendency to demand absolute unity. Let us then lecture the regime and his supporters on their arrogant nationalism: How come true patriots have been betrayed when, in 1957-1958 their passionate involvement was on the verge to take back a still occupied territory?

How come that very same monarchy preferred to focus on consolidating its hegemonic grip on independent Morocco, rather than try to realize its independence in its unity? Why is that the same regime quickly abdicated its claim on Mauritania, yet falls in incredible harshness on those who call for a dissident view on the Sahara dispute? And finally, why are we celebrating the Green March, a cynical and nationalistic move engineered by an unpopular and isolated monarch?

To be sure, the monarchy has long since lost any claim for moral leadership on the matter, and subsequently it can no longer be the sole originator of proposals to the Polisario. It is high time The Radical and Liberal side outflanked them on the ‘original’ autonomy proposals.

Above anything else, I am a staunch proponent of the federalist option. As it is, I would go even further when it comes to the Sahara region. As the Late King Hassan II himself once said: ‘aside the Flag and Stamps, everything is negotiable’. Well, let’s negotiate everything then: The proposal calls for the establishment of a joint sovereignty, stylized as the ‘Kingdom of Morocco and the Western Sahara’, or to remain faithful to our heritage, ‘The Imperial Sultanate of Morocco and the Western Sahara’.

Sucessive Defense Walls, 1982-1985

Funny, isn’t it? No, I didn’t smoke pot, nor did I indulge in some heavy drinking. I mean, if we can stand idly by and look on the blatant contradictions between an Islam-based absolutist monarchy, and the more-than-symbolic Western features of the present system, then we might as well just bow and follow the herd of politically correct behaviour: clap when the King announces a shallow reform, frown whenever our ‘sacred unity’ is threatened and shut up and look the other way when the police apparatus beats up or tortures the dissidence.

Let us remain true to our past history and retain its distinguished symbols: we had no king in Morocco. The very concept of Kingdom is disgustingly Western. Why not keep the monarchical system, but instead stylize the Monarch as the “Imperial Majesty, the Sultan Of Morocco”? If we are to retain the monarchical regime (against which I cast no definite hostility, nor do I engage in sheer alacrity) then we might as well take back the old styles. That’s what a genuine Parliamentary Monarchy is about: the Monarch retains the honours, the titles, the Protocol, but relinquishes all powers to the People’s representatives. Why, we might even look back and feel as proud about symbols like the Evening Retreat, or some ceremony performed by Scarlet-clad Royal Guardsmen as we would when referred to the Moroccan monarch as “His (or Her) Imperial Majesty”.

Now, I referred to an alternative autonomy plan that would devolve virtually all powers (save for the regular sovereign ones, i.e. the Armed Forces, the Foreign Representation and Legal Tender Monopoly). The style “Of Morocco and Western Sahara” means that, within the same entity, the Imperial Sultanate, a Moroccan Kingdom and a Sahrawi Republic vow to seal an unbreakable pact to remain together as one country. The Flag and the Stamp, as well as the essential features of sovereignty remain indeed untouched.

This, of course, is but what the proposal aims to achieve. Details would of course entail a great deal of debate, but beforehand, let us take a look at the official proposal for Autonomy; To be fair, the proposals are very advanced, but there remains the roadblock for genuine democracy, the royal fetters that hold back the will of the people; Indeed:

[4]. Through this initiative, the Kingdom of Morocco guarantees to all Sahrawis, inside as well as outside the territory, that they will hold a privileged position and play a leading role in the bodies and institutions of the region, without discrimination or exclusion.
[5]. Thus, the Sahara populations will themselves run their affairs democratically, through legislative, executive and judicial bodies enjoying exclusive powers.  They will have the financial resources needed for the region’s development in all fields, and will take an active part in the nation’s economic, social and cultural life.
[6]. The State will keep its powers in the royal domains, especially with respect to defense (sic), external relations and the constitutional and religious prerogatives of His Majesty the King.
[7]. The Moroccan initiative, which is made in an open spirit, aims to set the stage for dialogue and a negotiation process that would lead to a mutually acceptable political solution.
[12]. In keeping with democratic principles and procedures, and acting through legislative, executive and judicial bodies, the populations of the Sahara autonomous Region shall exercise powers, within the Region’s territorial boundaries, mainly over the following:
· Region’s local administration, local police force and jurisdictions;
· in the economic sector: economic development, regional planning, promotion of investment, trade, industry, tourism and agriculture;
· Region’s budget and taxation;
· infrastruture (sic): water, hydraulic facilities, electricity, public works and transportation;
· in the social sector: housing, education, health, employment, sports, social welfare and social security;
· cultural affairs, including promotion of the Saharan Hassani cultural heritage;
· environment.
[14]. The State shall keep exclusive jurisdiction over the following in particular:
· the attributes of sovereignty, especially the flag, the national anthem and the currency;
· the attributes stemming from the constitutional and religious prerogatives of the King, as Commander of the Faithful and Guarantor of freedom of worship and of individual and collective freedoms;
· national security, external defense (sic) and defense (sic) of territorial integrity;
· external relations;
· the Kingdom’s juridical order.


The proposal itself is a good workable platform, and, provided some other prerogatives are expanded, and the symbolic recognition of the autonomous Sahrawi region as a Republic, the proposal might even induce more Polisario people into either joining the Moroccan cause, or even pressure their leadership into accepting the deal.

There is, however, one catch: the proposals, for all their generosity, cannot be credible if the Makhzen still stifles dissent, concentrates power and uses corruption to maintain itself in power. There is no need to point our that, in the camps, Polisario is even worse when it comes to dealing with dissent. And yet, we need to take the moral high grounds by being purer than pure. The Moroccan democracy, to convince the Tindouf people, needs to be of impeachable integrity. A radical institutional overhaul is more than needed, an essential, but not necessarily sufficient condition.

The proposal retains a few aspects of Sovereignty, but does not go beyond general principles; To be sure, currency will be one. And yet, I can foresee at least one problem, the most important of them all: How will the Central Bank define its currency board? We know, from various sources, that the bank defines Dirham counterpart as 60 to 80% Euro. And yet, the one thing Sahara can supply the world with , Phosphate, is Dollar-labelled. Morocco exports goods mainly to the Euro-zone (and thus, conditions its monetary policy with that of the Euro’s) it also exports Phosphate and gets paid in Dollar. This might be construed as a fickle, but believe you me, even within the official proposed scheme, sooner or later (and rather sooner than later, I would say) troubles about currency value and board will inevitably arise. How can we solve this?

Obviously, if joint sovereignty is to be exercised, so will need to be currency valuation; The Central Bank board needs to reflect a balance in its members, a balance that would be reflected on the Dirham’s value. In this particular issue, there can be expected very little dissent: it will be a mutual incentive to keep the Dirham’s value stable and reach consensus whenever possible, and as far as the currency board is concerned, a change in the Bank’s policy regarding transparency can solve the issue; Instead of decreeing it confidential, the Central Bank needs to be open about it, a further deterrent on the board of representatives not to engage in chaotic argument.

The Union Jack designing process can be useful as as a benchmark to design a new Moroccan flag

Same goes for Police (national security), or even Army; Police staff and establishment can be local (just as in the northern regions) but the Army’s issue is trickier. It’s a bit of a quandary, especially when one considers the Army as a unifying symbol. However, the establishment of an autonomous militia, a National Guard of sorts, can provide a good compromise. As for the Federal Armed Forces, a token invitation to defend the common border completes the picture and forestalls any potential problems on the matter.

So there it is: a complete independence in managing local finances (including bond issue backed by Phosphate receipts) and politics, the only infringement on such autonomy is the payment of a Federal solidarity tax, as well as recipient of Federal funds for infrastructure and the like. And because the union needs to feed on common institutions aside from the Monarch’s, the Republic’s representatives seat in the Federal Supreme Court, the Federal Armed Forces Imperial Staff and the Board of the Central Bank.

Furthermore, the Super-Constitutional powers the King enjoys need to be curtailed, either by transferring them to the Federal Prime Minister (a Chancellor of sorts) or by simply abolishing them altogether. The Faithfuls’ Commandership, and its potentially troublesome extra-constitutional interference with earthly matters, needs to be dealt with in the new constitution. Finally, the Judiciary can be expanded to allow for a separate set of rules in the Sahara. However, and because the Supreme Federal Court would be common to both entities, mechanisms can enforce the widest possible set of similarities in laws and legislative standards.

Why would we therefore need to change the King’s styles and get involved in all minute details? Well, mainly because once such proposal is adopted, there will be a great deal of symbolism to be changed: the National Coat of Arms, which will need to be bifurcated from the Royal one. If it wasn’t for the ambiguous Hassan II‘s statement, I would very much like to see a change in our national flag just like with the Union Jack: some sort of combination that would seal further the union between both entities.

And since we are introducing changes in the symbols of the State, we might as well correct a 50-years old anachronism in the Monarch’s style; We have no King. We can retain the monarchical form if we want it, but the title must change and revert back to the old, multi-millennium style of Imperial Highness, the Sultan.

This is an idle dream. A waste of time. If Polisario bosses keep on being fed by Algerian occult lobbies (and the soon-ousted Colonel Ghaddafi), as long as Moroccan lobbies still benefit from the status-quo, in short, as long as this unholy alliance between reactionary forces everywhere keeps on drawing benefits to the participants, then people from both sides of the wall will still suffer and live in mutual hostility. Time to stand up.

What Would the Political Landscape Look Like in a Federal Morocco?

As many may already know, one of Morocco’s plight is its abnormal number of political parties. This has been mistaken for democracy -and often used as an argument that ‘Morocco is a democratic exception in the region‘- and often overlooked as the result of a ‘divide and conquer‘ policy from the Makhzen regime to insure its own political hegemony. What follows is a scenario that provides enough conditions to sort out this motley of political parties, and without substantial threats to political diversity but prevents the undesirable outcome whereby small political parties act pivotal in coalition governments, as it is the case in countries like Israel or Italy.

First, we need to point out that many of these political parties have common history, ideology and even leadership at one time. As a matter of fact, many of the breakaways were mainly ego clashes more than anything else. This is mainly due to the fact that political organizations in Morocco, whatever their professed position on the political spectrum, have been strongly identified with their leader. And the lack of internal democracy, as well as non-existent mechanisms for pacific competition and clear rules of power brokerage, or even the refusal of dissent within political parties in Morocco, whether from the National Koutla heritage or ‘Administrative Parties‘, made it possible for ambitious leaders to justify their departure from the mother-ship.

Abdellah El Hammoudi‘s seminal work, “Master and Disciple” finds ample field application here: without too much generalization or extensive use of stereotypes, political parties in Morocco act like ‘Zawyas’ (زاوية) or religious covens, with a father figure(head), a ” زعيم” whose authority, by means of political capital (as a former resistant, or as a proxy for political martyrdom) is unshakable and uncontested. This Zaim has some disciples gravitating around him (for the political world in Morocco is predominantly masculine) and, when the time comes (literally, when the leader is on his deathbed) a Dauphin is chosen. But it is often not the case; the leader clings to power so forcefully that, out of frustrated ambition, a disciple openly defies the master, and when the coup fails, the disciple leaves the political Zawias with his ‘Faithful’ flock and founds a new one, with him as the new Master, and so goes the story.

Foto de Alal al Fassi

Allal El Fassi (Image via Wikipedia)

As a matter of fact, the splits have played a significant part in the founding myths of modern Moroccan politics: it is often claimed that the oldest political party in Morocco was the Istiqlal (founded with the well-known 1944 manifesto for Independence) what is little know was that earlier on, there were other pre-existing political organizations. Indeed, in 1934-1937, there was a rift between two main figures of modern Moroccan nationalism, both Fes-born Allal El Fassi, and Mohamed Belhassan Ouazzani. It seems a conflict of egos (as well as a dispute over Sherifian legitimacy, which Allal El Fassi lacked) led to a split between both man, and each one founded a new party out of the defunct Committee for National Action: El Fassi founded what became later on the Istiqlal and Ouazani Choura (or Democracy) and Istiqlal party.
The sociology of political parties however, is not always that linear. The script is not always observed, as there are from time to time attempts to unite, with a quasi-nostalgia for the ‘old days‘ when Istiqlal and UNFP, in face of adversity, tried as early as 1970 to build up a Koutla (the chosen word conveys the strong feeling about uniting the parties, at least in the leaders’ minds)

These structural weaknesses were exacerbated, if not outright created, by an explicit policy aiming at weakening the political field as much as possible to the benefit of the Monarchy: in 1959 with the UNFP breakaway from Istiqlal party, the Crown Prince was more than pleased to see the Istiqlal juggernaut split between its traditionalist clan and more left-wing faction. Even before, in 1957, and despite pungent opposition from Istiqlal civil servant, the Monarchy offered more than sympathetic support to the foundation of Mouvement Populaire (MP) as early as 1957.

Mahjoubi Aherdane, a former colonial officer (like General Oufkir and Marshall Ameziane) presented with an award by king Hassan II.

These early examples of political intrigue look very benign when compared to the galloping rise in the number of political parties in the late 1990s. the late Interior Minister, Driss Basri elevated these breakaways to rarefied proportions: in the mid-1980s, and because of a minor row between stalwart monarchy supporter -and MP boss- Mahjoubi Aherdane and the late king Hassan II, Driss Basri orchestrated a breakaway led by a relatively young MP leader, Mohand Laenser. Aherdane had to leave and create his own political party, the MP (ever since, both parties, and a third one, Union Démocratique, coalesced back into the original MP)
This policy was even used against political parties that resisted the Royal Will: in 1996, and because of its uncompromising stand on the upcoming constitutional referendum tabled later that year, the Organisation d’Action Démocratique et Populaire (OADP) suffered a spin-off thanks -or because- of a discreet support from the Interior Ministry.

How would the political landscape look like in a federal monarchy? First, the number of political parties is likely to go down, but not in significant proportions: we stand now at about 30 parties, while a reduction to pre-2002 numbers would at least takes us back to more ‘reasonable’ levels.

Hopefully, with more democracy, transparency and accountability in the federal and regional institutions, political parties in Morocco will also learn that dissent within their organization is not a mortal danger, a fitna that needs to be put down as soon as possible, but the basic element of partisan democracy, and, in the long term, the essential ingredient for political vitality and political personal renewal. That would also mean a lowering in the average demographics from 70+ years old -for partisan politics is still, regrettably, a gerontocracy, though it can be argued that with age, wisdom withers away with politicians like Mahjoubi Aherdane, Mohamed EL Yazghi, Abbas El Fassi or the late Union boss Mahjoub Benseddik.

Parliament House, Rabat. Why not: "Federal Houses Of the Kingdom ?"

Some of the small parties have regional strongholds (sometimes because a party figurehead is popular there) and cannot go beyond that stronghold for a variety of reasons: difficulty to attract resources in an other area, not enough grass-roots activists to try and swing target constituencies back from other political parties, demographics, sociology, etc… But still, these parties can perform better, if given the opportunity to focus on local matters rather than over-ambitious nation-wide representation. In a federalist scheme (that has been ultimately rejected by the Regional Consultative Commission) there could be workable scenarii that can allow nationally  small by strongly established in specific regions- parties to have a say in local matters, and at the same time retaining some leverage over federal issues, without stumbling into parliamentary civil war.

There can be no denying that political parties like USFP, Istiqlal, PJD or MP have de facto a nation-wide vocation for governing (real government in a genuinely democratic Morocco is a sine qua none working condition)  In contrast, PSU, PADS and other smaller parties, cannot, with the current political arithmetics hope for sizeable numbers of seats on the federal level,  but do retain strong majorities in specific areas, and could very well end up holding majorities in regional parliaments, or on par with the national parties.

On a local level, coalitions would therefore be established on ideological, rather than crude tactical reasons: I would argue that a left-left coalition in, say the Souss region encompassing the PSU, PADS and USFP would be much more powerful, much more coherent than the existing own between USFP and Istiqlal.  In effect, homogenous coalitions are needed because, under my proposed schemes, regional houses need to send up representatives to the Federal Parliament, and usually these Members of Parliaments are supposed to reflect stable coalitions and some agreed-upon manifesto, all of which will be more difficult to sustain if currently observed patterns of alliances (with bizarre patchworks of centre-right RNI, centre-left USFP and conservative Istiqlal) are retained. Furthermore, and from a purely game-theoretical aspect, homogeneous coalitions (with respect to the local voters’ verdicts in local elections) tend to be closer to the peoples’ will, and for the senior coalition partners, a deterrent from straying away from manifesto commitment -otherwise, smaller parties can threaten to vote out the ‘consensus’ federal representative.

Does it sound familiar? Yes and no. Indeed, small parties will hold considerable leverage on nation-wide ones, directly on local matters, and indirectly by influencing their federal deputies. However, this mutual check mechanism ensures a ‘toe-the-line’ behaviour from the senior partners, something that is at odds with the observed pattern in governmental majorities since 1963 of weak coalitions and similarly weak governments; quite the opposite, I would argue that this seemingly unstable regional consensus ensure coherent nationwide majorities, and following, consistent parliamentary groups in the federal houses, thus enabling the very existence of a strong government. In effect, regional representatives are double checked and, held equally accountable: at a first level from the local constituents, and on a more institutional level, the regional coalition that send them up to Rabat.

With such heavy deterrent (not to mention party pressure to follow the party Whip’s lines) local representatives’ dissent or ‘transhumance‘ as they usually do will come at a high price for coalition partners, and in the intermediate run, to the dissenters themselves. On the other hand, federal representatives also know that their parties’ national majorities, when in government, are function of coalition agreements at a local level, and though deterrent pressure is mitigated as far as they are concerned, they remain equally compelled to bear with their parliamentary benches.

Of course, all of this is all right, but it remains fairy-tale as long as political parties themselves do not take actions in order to put order in their partisan houses: younger leadership, more transparent and meritocratic competition mechanisms, and more importantly, partisan democracy and the elevation of dissent from danger to democratic virtue.

History rather than Law: What needs to be Looked at in Reforming the Constitution

There are so many things to look at, and so little time to do them all.

The constitution embodies past (and present) historical balance of power; and, the way I see it, the 1996 Troïka (Ali Yata, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, M’hamed Boucetta) accepted the new constitution, and its ensuing political ‘Alternance‘ out of a sense of historical duty, that the text itself didn’t matter, and whatever roadblocks, they perceived some good faith from the dying late king Hassan II. Abdellah Ibrahim and Mohamed Bensaïd Aït idder, on the other hand, did not seem so sure or so well-disposed towards the Royal overture.

Hassan II managed a remarkable tour-de-force the 1996 Referendum, by splitting the Koutla over the issue

This might explain why Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), Istiqlal (PI) and Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme (PPS) parties engaged enthusiastically in the ‘Yes’ Campaign for the 1996 referendum: after all, their leaders were all prestigious former resistants, statesmen and respected opposition politicians that put principles before interest.Of course, there was a whole-hearted concession that the 1996 constitution was not all that good, but the text didn’t matter much: there was a new alliance with the monarchy, one that is going to oversee transition; the so-called democratic process was going to be the brainchild of these founding fathers of Moroccan modern nationalism.

15 years on, these leaders, and their respective political structures have moved from a status of intellectual and alternative elite reserve, to that of fully-fledged government parties, house-trained to a man and blatantly stifling the very democratic principles they called upon as their ideal not so long time ago:

Istiqlal has never been such a party, and the Alterance Consensuelle did nothing but confirm this image of a mafia-like party, a bit opportunistic when it serves them well (let us remember they have been part of every government since 1977).Paradoxically, its permanent compromise made it look like ‘the natural party of government’, and many Istiqlal grandees were gob-smacked when they realized not enough departmental portfolios were allocated to them.

USFP leadership went against its party base feeling; not necessarily an intrinsic bad move, but did so by antagonising so many factions the party was on a split, and regular breakaways from then on delivered fatal blows amplified by its failure to deliver on their electoral promises.

As for the PPS, its intellectual status was gradually drained by the need to get as many parliamentary seats as possible, simply by endorsing local notables instead of lining up party activists for election.

This strategy also compromised the USFP over the intermediate run, but the PPS’s small intake made it quicker and more flagrant. Further more, the sudden death of Ali Yata, and Moulay Ismail Alaoui as party leader put the final nails on the party’s credibility. Eventually the Alternance Consensuelle did not work all that well, not even on the expected time frame; by 2002, electoral results, the ever-increasing royal intervention by means of non-governmental institutions and extra-constitutional tools, and the growing islamist threat (a threat that culminated with the 2003 bombings). This might explain why some USFP members (whether party grandees or ordinary activists) defend so staunchly their Alternance legacy. 6 years were enough to demonstrate that, while this unspoken pact worked more or less fine with the dying monarch, the age and experience discrepancy between the new King and his ageing Prime Minister and government, as well as the increasing difficulties the ruling coalition encountered, took the consensus to its fail-safe point, broke down and reverted back to the old ways.

That’s what we need: historians rather than constitutional law scholars. The trouble is, modern history has been literally confiscated by the monarchy -by using preposterous concepts like The King’s and People’s revolution, or myths like the Green March, while the Nationalist Parties built their own martyrdom out of their struggle for democracy. There’s a long way to go in order to allow for a fair perspective in historical research, a position until now filled with foreign scholarly work. It is quite disturbing that we need foreign historians and political scientists (bearing all respect due to their academic work and scholarly skills) to understand our institutions. Very few Moroccan nationals have managed to distinguish themselves, but unfortunately their voices are still to be heard.

This might be a way out for a genuine constitutional reform. There is a trade-off to be arbitraged: on the one hand, the monarchy will never allow, in view of the current balance of power, for a constitutional convention that would deliver an outcome the regime cannot predict (or ‘accommodate‘), on the other hand, an appointed commission has lost right from the start any genuine credibility (especially when connected with recent statements from the Ouléma islamic scholars, or the foreign minister’s declarations)  in putting forward sensible recommendations. So a compromise -over which I still have doubts not to be at fault with some professed principles- would be for the King to call upon not the political party leaders, but the intermediate, younger generation of party activists.

When the Koutla was still unified... (Credit to Larbi for the picture)

Outsiders that would have more political courage in speaking their minds. Alongside the political personnel, civil society, human and Amazigh rights activists should be called upon as well, a royal consultation as wide as possible, including the persona non grata Al Adl society. The ensuing constitution is not a boundary, but a frontier: in a pre-specified time frame, the very same gathering would come back with renewed grievances set to be the initial platform for a constitutional convention. Such process, thought lengthy and potential hazardous, has however some benefits: it avoids the monarchy a shameful abdication of powers, while it provides political forces and the civil society a run-up exercise to real power.

So history teaches us some valuable lessons on what ideal institutions Morocco needs: the Monarch ‘Reigns but doesn’t Rule’, A strong Prime Minister, a compact parliament and an independent judiciary.

– The Monarchy: in order to avoid the impact of regal personality, any powers the monarchy might possess should first be specified in minute details if necessary, and then curtailed by even more constraining constitutional dispositions. Never mind historical legitimacy; some sort of amnesty over concepts like “أمير المؤمنين”, hereditary rights are quite enough a symbol for state continuity. Does it sound un-islamic? Well, other contradictions spring to mind: the very concept of hereditary transmission of power, the confusion between Kingship title and the Kalifat, the twisted ritual of allegiance ” البيعة “… instances are numerous when it comes to question the very Islamic essence of the Moroccan monarchy. Since we have gone down the path of westernisation, why not go to the bottom of it, keep so fancy rituals and cast away any extra-constitutional powers the monarchy might derive from the Imarat?

Note that I don’t disagree with the idea of a Parliamentary Monarchy for Morocco. Let’s just say I am agnostic over the matter of specific political regime, with a default setting for a monarchical regime.

– The Prime Minister and their Government: I always like to say Morocco had only two strong Prime Ministers, Abdellah Ibrahim and Hassan II. Though the individual personality somewhat shapes a premiership -and the incumbent prime minister’s diffident personality only justifies the proposed changes- we need institutions that ensures a strong Premier position, closer to that of a German Bundeskanzeler(in) than it is to the French Prime Minister: the head of government is not only leader of a parliamentary majority, it is the working leader of the country (and effectively, co-head of state). The executive branch has extensive powers in law enforcement, though checks and balances will be introduced to ensure governmental doesn’t go off-course or wildly partisan.

My kind of Prime Minister: Strong-willed, principled... and a committed lefty

This is due to the fact that, historically, Moroccan government were -and still are- notoriously weak, either because of the parliamentary backing, or simply because the centre of power was localized somewhere else (i.e. the Monarchy).And when a genuinely democratic government wanted to do things, it could never have its ways, because extra-constitutional lobbies managed to ambush its projects with successful outcomes: between 1959 and 1960, Abdellah Ibrahim was constantly road-blocked by the then-crown prince Hassan and his chums (among which a former Istiqlal security minister Mohamed Laghzaoui, or the Crown Prince’s long-term favourite Ahmed Reda Guedira, or an even closer friend at the time, General Mohamed Oufkir). A similar pattern can be recorded with the Youssoufi early government when it wanted to implement reforms, but to no avail. A strong executive is thus necessary; one way to ensure such a transition is a transfer of Dahir executive powers from the monarchy to the Prime Minister: though it loses some of its powers as a document emanating from the head of the Islamic Community, the executive powers it retains are likely to be very useful to a strong Premier.

– Parliament: Though it is worth noting the main feature of weaknesses that blights the political spectrum is only of relatively recent origin, the inflation of political organization does not serve democracy well. It is true Morocco chose the path of diversity instead of a One Party rule -Istiqlal founding father Allal El Fassi famously once stated: ‘God Unified Morocco under One King, Mohammed V, and under one party, Istiqlal’- diversity served as a façade for local democracy more than anything else. On the other hand, when the new law on political organization was enacted, it has been skewed favourable toward existing large parties, not necessarily a good idea considering how their own internal democracy is defunct. And yet, we need a lower number of political parties in Morocco: 1 Conservative, 1 moderate Islamist, 1 Social-democrat, 1 far-left and a couple of Regional parties would be nice. Stronger government coalitions are usually built with large organizations instead of a motley of heterogeneous organizations, each pushing for a portfolio. A federal bicameral house can be a good compromise: the regional representatives can be part of smaller parties -that can afford only a regional base- and support governments closer to their ideological affinities, while federally-elected members of parliament would support nation-wide parties. The balance is thus preserved: we can afford to have a multitude of political parties, and those able to lift up from a regional level are the ones worthy of leading a federal government, alone or in coalitions.

Overall, parliamentary coalitions are likely to be stronger: first because the main motivation will not be that of a majority at all costs, but that of a homogeneous group. second, because a lower number of federally-represented parties allows for more clear-cut majorities, something Morocco hasn’t witnessed since the very first general elections in 1963.

– The Judiciary: it goes without saying courts and judges need to be entirely independent from the executive branch. In that spirit, I wouldn’t mind abolishing altogether the Justice Ministry. If government wants to prosecute or needs representation for justice proceedings, a general public prosecutor with a rank of secretary of state can do. Otherwise, the Judges’ corps should be entirely independent, appointed only by parliamentary confirmations.

The constitutional reform in Morocco needs to care more about past mistakes and try to scale monarchical powers back and revert them to the people’s representatives. The argument that political personnel is childish, corrupt and incompetent is idle, because the very same can equally be applied to the close circle of his Majesty’s advisers; The difference however, is such that when genuinely elected and accountable before the Moroccan public, the former can quickly adapt and eliminate its incompetent elements. The latter, not so much.