The Moorish Wanderer

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.

Bleeding Marrakesh and The Rise Of Authoritarianism

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on April 28, 2011

These are trying moments. Truly horrifying, not only for the immediate victims, but for coming days and weeks.

According to official sources and newspapers, the explosion in Arghana Café (Marrakesh)  that occurred today at noon (local time) was the result of a criminal bombing. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of victims (about 14 dead and 20 wounded following the latest reports at 0308 local time) may they find comfort for their losses.

If indeed the hypothesis of criminal bombing is verified, this smaller-scale May 16th bombing is going to be a roadblock for the ongoing democracy debate, and might even turn out to be a good argument to actually shut down pro-democracy dissidence. And even though it is too early to say one way or the other, it is too much of a coincidence such operation (in a well-guarded tourist city like Marrakesh) should occur amid the ongoing debate on democracy, the constitution and its balance of powers, and finally the latest release of Islamist prisoners. I wish I did not indulge in conspiracy theory frenzy, but this ring of coincidences is too better to contemplate.

Café Argana, after the explosion (Picture Le Journal Du Dimanche)

These are trying times because out of experience (whether in Morocco or elsewhere) the voices of democracy, the proponents of open society concepts are immediately shut down in favour of a behaviour I like to describe as ‘rally behind the flag’, a behaviour that could sometimes lead to crypto-fascism. I don’t know if the regime has what it takes to be plucky and carry on with the constitutional debate, but I think all pro-democracy protesters can kiss goodbye to this flourishing freedom of speech we have been enjoying these last couple of months. The trade-off between security and liberty -though a fallacious one- becomes more attractive to the many, and more worrying, to the decision-makers.

As a matter of fact, the trade-off is redundant, the choice is already made, and to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin we have already chosen security and we are about to lose both (if not already). We know only too well the security apparatus: they try to make up for their incompetence and start rounding up the usual suspects; Whatever guarantees that ‘everything will be done by the book’ mistakes will be made, and the infamous Temara torture complex will be back to business in no time.

Can I indulge in some fancy conspiracy theory nonetheless? What if a rogue security element in the Makhzen apparatus was behind this? I mean, it’s not like security services have a virgin history of covert operations. It could very well be some manipulated individual who detonated his bombing device. Didn’t the services manipulate the group behind the 1994 Marrakesh bombings? or the assassination of left-wing and trade-union activist Omar Bendjelloun in 1975? Wasn’t a prominent Human Rights lawyer sued for gainsaying the official version of May 16th?

To whom does all this benefit? How is it possible that Marrakesh, perhaps the most secured city in Morocco (both because of its tourism activity and the large residing foreign national community) could be subject to a terrorist attack? Where are the police and security forces?

An official communique asserts that all police and court investigation will be carried out within the law. These signs of good faith could go further and lead to the resignations of Marrakesh Police Chief Mohamed Badda, that of Charki Draiss (head of Police Forces DGSN) and the Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui; They are after all, the top echelon responsible for security, and that bombing, if it turns out to be what they claim it to be, is a rebuttal to their competence. Times like these could be turned around and actually strengthen democracy, and not weaken it.

Ramadan At The Gates

I don’t think this month is holy any more, nor does it still bear some genuine religious significance to the people. It is, I must point out, a subjective point of view. Indeed, Moroccans (at least those I saw in Casablanca or Rabat or today in Marrakesh) are ostensibly reading the Koran in public places. I noticed the mosques were never so full of faithful as they are this time of year. But on the whole, it does not feel like Moroccans get in touch with their spirituality. It does however look like more of a parade of spirituality, and it is going out of proportions. There is this stereotype I hold on my fellow citizens as being hypocritical, but surely it was nothing like that.

There is something I find quite strange, though: Every Ramadan, dissident voices claim their right to break it, and every time, the orthodox voices cry their shock and anger to that handful of Kuffar that have no respect for Islam or to anything this Umma holds dear to its heart. Some even get raving mad, fortunately only on Facebook walls or Hespress comments. Yet it remains so that Moroccan society is growing intolerant, or at least seems to be so. Last year MALI group tried a spectacular direct action but were prevented from doing so. Do we have some comprehensive explanation why some Moroccans feel very sensitive about this?

Let me just put it in simple terms: fasting Ramadan, just like praying are two rituals part of the five pillars of Islam. However, these pillars are ranked in order of precedence and it goes like this: 1. Faith, 2. Prayers, 3. Charity, 4. Ramadan, and last 5. Pilgrimage.

In other words, its is much much more serious breach of Muslim faith not to pray than not to fast Ramadan, and even more important to care about the needy than to fast during the holy month. Until now, I have never seen someone harassed by the crowd because they did not attend the Friday prayers, as far as I am concerned. There was this unfortunate occurrence when a particularly zealous member of my family tried to talk me into “mending my ways back”, but that was it (the person in question avoided me for the rest of the evening, and that was a relief).

Their reaction would have been quite different if I was not fasting, I can tell you that. While the last pillar (pilgrimage) is compulsory only to those able to go to Mecqua, Ramadan remains effectively the last pillar all Muslims should observe, and yet it is, according to some surveys I am going to discuss, the most important one.

The Moroccan Penal Code, Article 222, is quite clear about it: Muslim Moroccans are not prevented from not fasting Ramadan, they are forbidden to do so in public.

Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams

How could anyone -save for those of our fellow citizens with Jewish ascent- prove that they are not “notoriously known for their belonging to the Nuslim faith?” And what about a Moroccan that reverted their faith to Christianity? do they have to produce a baptism certificate? And what about the atheists or the non-believers? Do we need a paper stating our non-belief from Richard Dawkins? And why being so hypocritical about it? Why would the Moroccan judiciary punish anyone break-fasting in public, but turn the blind eye on those who do so but away from any public fuss? Doesn’t it encourage hypocrisy? or Doesn’t it simply give in to the fear of Fitna?

For Fitna here would be some Muslim fanatics taking on those they consider apostate. Article 222, just like Article 489 (on homosexuality), Article 490 (on illegal sex) and 496 (female adult with a tutor authority) reminds us that Morocco, for democratic and tolerant it boasts to be, remains handicapped with a reactionary set of laws as well as state of minds, and impaled in deep contradictions that cannot be explained but in sociological terms. I must point out that nowhere in the penal code an article punishes a Moroccan national for not going to the Mosque, or giving money to the poor, or even for lacking faith in Islam. Why do we focus on Ramadan, and not on the rest?

Let me be clear about it: I am a staunch supporter of secularism as a political solution for religious issues. The law of the land needs to be set up by men, and these held accountable to the nation. That also means that the His Majesty should not benefit from the extra-constitutional powers his status as “Commader of the Faithful” permits him. In other words, Islam, just like other religions, remains a private matter, thus effectively rendering the public sphere neutral to any spiritual lobby.

I cannot however understand the sheer contradiction of it all: it is fine not to pray (I mean, people do not necessarily see it as a blatant lack of faith) it is legal -within the boundaries of the law- to drink alcohol (bars are public places as far as I know), but jamais au grand jamais, one should break Ramadan fasting, especially not in public. At the best it is frown upon, at the worse you get caught up by the police. In the land of contradictions, one stands beyond bemusement.

Let us take a leaf from the RDH 50 report. The one about society, families and youth, and especially about religious values as seen by the Moroccan youth. According to the survey, and it seems to be the general case, the youth are longing for a change, compared to the previous generation (namely their parents) either by refusing the norms (no prayers, no Ramadan) or by accepting the norms as they were, but in a different way, so that the inter-generation differences remain seen.

By doing so, the Moroccan youth do no “invent” as it were, atheism or agnosticism, nor the “new wave” religious observance. They simply move within the social context they are living in, and the choice is then made accordingly. There was a time (1961) when agnosticism and atheism had the upper hand:

seuls 5% des enquêtés estimaient que la religion tenait une place plus grande que dans la génération précédente. La majorité (80 %) affirmait l’étiolement de la religion. Parmi les constatations recueillies : « les jeunes se détachent de la religion », « il y a un sur mille qui pratique », « plus de 50 % ne font ni ramadan ni prière », « autrefois un musulman était renié par sa famille s’il épousait une chrétienne, aujourd’hui non », « la religion est l’opium du peuple », « les questions économiques sont plus importantes1 ». Doit-on conclure au recul de la religion chez les élèves marocains d’après l’indépendance? En tout cas, quel que soit le rapport des élèves à la religion, les questions prioritaires de leur époque étaient politiques, économiques et sociales. La question de la sécularisation progressive des sociétés, du recul de la religion, doit être nuancée. Les processus de changement ne sont ni linéaires ni irréversibles. Les recherches récentes sur le rapport des jeunes à la religion vont dans ce sens”.

I like the last sentence because it is the adequate and informed answer to any of those making speeches about the irreversable victory of Islam over the unfaithful.

That happened some 50 years before. What about now?

“Selon une enquête menée par M. Tozy au début des années 1980, seuls 8 % font la prière régulièrement, 26 % occasionnellement et 49 % ne la font pas. L’enquête de 1992 révèle que 54% des étudiants font la prière. Alors faut-il conclure à l’absence du religieux lorsque seuls 8 % des étudiants font régulièrement la prière et au retour du religieux lorsque la proportion des pratiquants « augmente »? Ni l’un ni l’autre. Nous avons dit que le retour du religieux (si cette expression a un sens) n’est pas un processus irréversible. S’agissant toujours de la pratique de la prière, l’enquête de 1996 enregistre une « diminution » de 10 points par rapport à celle de 1992”.  That is quite odd, as pointed out later on: “Tozy remarque l’incohérence, voire le caractère contradictoire des réponses : 85 % des enquêtés avaient un rapport ambigu à la religion. Ceci montre qu’il est difficile de partir d’un seul aspect de la religion (la prière, le port du voile etc.) et d’affirmer soit la sécularisation soit le retour du religieux.

These are the conclusions the report reached on religious values and Moroccan youth:

– The present situation is neither that of secularism or mass-islamization. All that comes up from the finds is ambivalence, ambiguity and contradiction in the choice of religious symbols as well as individual and collective behaviour towards Islamic rituals. (including therefore Ramadan)

– The religious references are more and more of exogenous  nature. family no longer provides them, and the Youth are looking for them elsewhere (Satellite TV, Internet, University, etc….) thus proving a much more heterogeneous choice in terms of  “religious apparatus”

What about Ramadan then? It may be related to the kind of relationship we have with food and the ritual of eating.  The HCP studies still point out that Moroccans are still devoting an important part of their income on food and edible material.  Basically, Ramadan is considered to be the most visible aspect of religion one can display, and some sort of unhealthy consensus has been created on that.

It seems Ramadan created itself into a taboo, and those who dare challenge it must be punished, following this newly esablished norm. I consider it to be new because the non-faster were more visible say, 30 years ago than they are now. Can the Moroccan society live with a fraction of its population deviant from that norm? of course it can, it has proven to be easily adaptive. What lacks is the basic condition of an open debate, for a taboo is not subject of such talks, and it seems to me, the blame is on both sides.

Oh, and Ramadan Mabruk. May we all put on a bit of weight in the name of Allah.