The Moorish Wanderer

Wandering Thoughts Vol.10

Ah, we are living in interesting times. In the sense that it feels like someone was shopping at a Wal-Mart of history, and on the way out, messed everything up: Nuclear disaster in Japan, right? The Allies moving (again) into Libya? The French are getting all hot and heavy for Bir Hakeim (I suspect the French president is going to claim the well as the Rightful property of Gaullist France…) we in Morocco, going back to 1996 and discussing the constitution. And there are but a few odd things happening the very year I don’t know exactly what’s happening in my life in 6 months’ time (a thrilling feeling I haven’t experienced since 2007)

So, I had this idea (like they do in West Wing…) walking in the park -in a unusual bright day, where I live- and I suddenly hit upon it: why not make some local administrative positions elective? Like the Moqadem/’Arifa, Sheikh, Caïd, Super-Caïd and so on… will no longer be a low-grade civil servant from the Interior ministry, they would be, quite simply, elected citizens overseeing the borough, the village or small city. What a crazy idea, one might think. I bounced it off in twitter, and well… it was not a wild success. Nor was it a colossal failure. I did get a comment though. And a very sensible one: cost, accountability and efficiency were the three broad issues that might hinder such policy. But still, electing Pachas, Caïds and Mokadems, That’s an idea, isn’t it?

Cost encompasses elections and retribution to the new local elected representatives. Apparently, during the last local elections, Interior Ministry paid up to MAD 550 Million in miscellaneous expenses: logistics and campaigning shared about half the total cost each. Surely if local elections coincided with regional elections, costs in terms of logistics would be shared (thus it reducing by half) and since all public funding for political campaigning can be stopped, the whole operation actually saves money to the taxpayers. It might come to the cost of excluding small parties, but it also get all of them on a sink or swim basis. Those that would be excluded are not necessarily the small organization, but the inefficient (and corrupt) ones. I need to discuss it further of course, but that’s the general setting. What about payment to the elected locals? The solution is either to fund it with small local taxes, by an allocation of dirt-collecting taxes (computed on a joint formula of water consumption and real estate value, mainly), or a percentage of revenue from concessions to the private sector or private individuals (receipts from letting public property for instance), or, if these locals are part of a depressed area, a federal stipend. In fact, and under assumption that these locals have a job on the side, a minimal contribution of MAD 700 per month can keep overall cost to MAD 200 Million.

Accountability is part of the package too. As it happens, an elected Moqadem is less likely to behave like a little Caïd (no pun intended) when their neighbours are the ones that put him, and directly so, in their office. If anything, accountability and local democracy are strengthen with such measures.

Then comes the issue of efficiency: how can Morocco keep itself together, if there are no local branches of central authority? To be sure, we need to get past that French tropism. Caïds and Moqadems have never been endowed with such extensive powers. Their prerogatives are the inheritance of French colonial administration. As such, they should be stripped of these powers, and in the effort of giving back power to the people, instead of being abolished, transferred from administrative to elective power. There is however a more profound motivation for it. It has to do with the unhealthy grip the Makhzen has on local issues. By depriving it from local ends, citizens can topple it down, both from the top and the bottom: at federal level with strong government and parliament, and at local level by turning the local functionaries into elected officials. Do we need a central authority with micro-managing tendencies? Can’t the Moroccan people be trusted to deal with their day-to-day matters by themselves? ‘Associations de Quartier‘ are doing a fantastic job in many cities, and they can be an excellent benchmark for the kind of direct and local democracy that builds the very idea of a responsible citizen. That’s an interesting thought that is going to foster.

For all the talks about constitutional changes in Morocco, and by comparison to the whole region, dissidents are being very moderate in their claims. And yet, for many of our fellow citizens, these grievances are borderline lèse-majesté crimes, if not outright full treason. I assume that is so because of the unbearable lack of historical insight regarding these constitutional matters. Let us have a look at the constitutional process: in our post-1956 Morocco, we have had 5 large constitutional referendums; 1962, 1970, 1972, 1992 and 1996. And when one looks up the main articles shaping up every new constitution, there is ample justification why I remain doubtful of any substantial changes, and why this ground-breaking consultation disappointedly turns out not to be so. (if anything, the 1908 draft constitution was, in many respects,  a more liberal one). Just compare  1962 vintage with 1996 (to give you an idea of the scale of change the constitution went thourgh)

1962: Would you imagine that, since 1962, there still is no ‘organic law’ regulating strikes? Apparently, it’s a bad equilibrium the regime does not want to get legislation going (because it might be too repressive) and trade unions lose a leverage if things are clearly spelt out. Better keep it blurry; both sides agree on it.

Article 19.

Le Roi, « Amir Al Mouminine » (commandeur des croyants), symbole de l’unité de la nation, garant de la pérennité et de la continuité de l’État, veille au respect de l’Islam et de la Constitution. Il est le protecteur des droits et libertés des citoyens, groupes sociaux et collectivités.

Il garantit l’indépendance de la nation et l’intégrité territoriale du royaume dans ses frontières authentiques.

Article 20.

La couronne du Maroc et ses droits constitutionnels sont héréditaires et se transmettent aux descendants mâles, en ligne directe et par ordre de primogéniture de S. M. le Roi Hassan II. Lorsqu’il n’y a pas de descendant mâle, en ligne directe, la succession au trône est dévolue à la ligne collatérale mâle la plus proche et dans les mêmes conditions.

Article 21.

Le roi est mineur jusqu’à dix huit ans accomplis. Durant la minorité du Roi, un Conseil de régence exerce les pouvoirs et les droits constitutionnels de la couronne.

Le Conseil de régence est présidé par le parent mâle du roi, le plus proche dans la Ligne collatérale mâle et ayant 21 ans révolus, du recteur des Universités et du président de la Chambre des conseillers.

Les fonctions de membre du Conseil de régence sont incompatibles avec les fonctions ministérielles.

Les règles de fonctionnement du Conseil de régence sont fixées par une loi organique.

Article 22.

Le Roi dispose d’une liste civile.

Article 23.

La personne du Roi est inviolable et sacrée.

Article 24.

Le Roi nomme le premier ministre et les ministres. Il met fin à leurs fonctions, soit à son initiative, soit du fait de leur démission individuelle ou collective.

Article 25.

Le Roi préside le Conseil des ministres.

Article 26.

Le Roi promulgue la loi. Il peut la soumettre à référendum ou à une nouvelle lecture dans les conditions prévues au titre V.

Article 27.

Le Roi peut dissoudre la Chambre des représentants par décret royal dans les conditions prévues au titre V, articles 77 et 79.

Article 28.

Le Roi peut adresser des messages au Parlement et à la nation. Le contenu des messages ne peut faire l’objet de débats parlementaires.

Article 29.

Le Roi exerce le pouvoir réglementaire dans les domaines qui lui sont expressément réservés par la Constitution.

Les décrets royaux sont contresignés par le premier ministre, sauf ceux prévus aux articles 24, 35, 72, 77, 84, 91, 101.

Article 30.

Le Roi est le chef suprême des forces armées royales. Il nomme aux emplois civils et militaire et peut déléguer ce droit.

Article 31.

Le Roi accrédite les ambassadeurs auprès des puissances étrangères et des organismes internationaux. Les ambassadeurs ou les représentants des organismes internationaux sont accrédités auprès de lui.

Il signe et ratifie les traités.

Toutefois, les traités engageant les finances de l’État, ne peuvent être ratifiés sans l’approbation préalable du Parlement.

Les traités susceptibles de remettre en cause les dispositions de la Constitution, sont approuvés selon les procédures prévues pour la réforme de la Constitution.

Article 32.

Le Roi préside le Conseil supérieur de la promotion nationale et du plan.

Article 33.

Le Roi préside le Conseil supérieur de la magistrature et nomme les magistrats dans les conditions prévues à l’article 84.

Article 34.

Le Roi exerce le droit de grâce.

Article 35.

Lorsque l’intégrité du territoire national est menacée, ou que se produisent des événements susceptibles de mettre en cause le fonctionnement des institutions constitutionnelles, le Roi peut, après avoir consulté les présidents des deux Chambres et adressé un message à la nation, proclamer, par décret royal, l’état d’exception. De ce fait, il est habilité, nonobstant toutes dispositions contraires, à prendre les mesures qu’imposent la défense de l’intégrité territoriale et le retour au fonctionnement normal des institutions constitutionnelles.

Il est mis fin à l’état d’exception dans les mêmes formes que sa proclamation.

Articl19 was already there… Articles  22 to 35 too. So, let us be correct in our assessment; right from the start, the essential powers the King took for Himself remained the same; And one other thing: Hassan II was not facing a youthful motley of protesters (ok, he was at a certain point, though they were not the main threat) but a more or less resolute coalition of battle-hardened politicians that knew about institutions and politics, and in any case were much more powerful, i.e. able to take to the street higher numbers of protesters. Really? Would February 20th extract more from Mohamed VI in 2011 than did the USFP from Hassan II in 1996? Let’s hope so!

1996: Nada, back to square one. The old ‘Nationalist Parties‘ (the Koutla) protested and railed, plotted and compromised, rebelled and protested, and in the end, a 40 years-long struggle went bust. What a price.

Religious Policy: Revamping the Habous

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Polfiction by Zouhair ABH on November 15, 2010

My Contribution to the November Issue of Talk Morocco. The topic is quite interesting, but also potentially explosive: “State & Religion” From the initial feedbacks, my proposals were not met with hostility, though they were quick to point out that the present incumbents are certainly not going to tip-toe away obligingly.

What would be the impact of a policy that would ensure state neutrality in matters of religious nature? Apart from the deafening clamour of Al Adl and their moderate pals of PJD, nothing much. Apart from their activists’ ranting -which are not that numerous, or shall we say not that influential- there will certainly not be roadblocks, barricades and certainly no civil war over one of the so-called “fundamentals of our country”.

We have to assume beforehand that the monarchy no longer holds extra-constitutional powers from the spiritual title of our monarch -Commander of the Faithful-. It does not necessarily mean its abolition, but whatever powers that can be derived from it and that contradict positive law are no more. Indeed, an executive authority that wields such power is sheer contradiction with the essential axioms of democratic proceedings. In facts, It has to comply with one course of action: either the monarchy keeps the spiritual title but loses any direct authority over everyday politics, anything that can be derived from that title that is, or the Command of Faithful title is to be abolished so that the Monarchy can be a fully-fledged constitutional monarchy with dynastic continuity as the main -if not the sole- source of legitimacy, nothing more. I’ll elaborate later on why the first course is first-best option.

We also assume some sort of a constitutional shake-up that does away with the Sharia-based laws, mainly in the Penal Code: Art 220 on religious liberties, Art 222 on Ramada non-fasters, Art 483, 489, 490 and 496 on public behaviour -specifically on pre/non marital or homosexual intimate relationships, as well as the list of Sharia-based articles -and at the same time, effectively squeezing out  individual and  collective liberties to very narrow margins, nothing that fits the official claim of democracy. This, again, falls into the proposed set of strategies. Furthermore, these assumptions need to be buttressed by the idea of a Federal kingdom, where local democracies are given maximum levels of autonomy and self-government.

These are rooted in a two-fold strategy:

– First, one has to bear in mind the constraint any policy-maker has to keep constantly under watch. A previous policy of long-term islamization of our society since the late 1970’s has produced such stubborn results, and encouraged such rooted political movements that it is foolish not to take into account the possible pressure on public opinion they could put on, effectively describing the policies described below as a charge against Islam, or the fearful victory of islamophobics over what is perceived as the essential cornerstone of Morocco’s identity. Keeping the Command of the Faithful, as well as neutralizing the religious influence over public duties and institutions merely confines religion to an individual sphere and well out of politics.

My Scheme would turn the Hassan II Mosque in a profitable scheme to the brand new Interfaith department.

– Second, if one is to implement policies on effective secular Morocco, one needs the proper institutions to oversee the process of putting these policies into practise. For instance, abolishing the Habous is counter-productive, while a substantial upgrade of its missions can be so much more promising, and provides the liberal government with a useful tool to make sure not to be too remote from the Moroccan people. Because let’s face it, occult lobbies in Morocco and outside are going to market the change as a “Rrida” (Apostate) as the work of patient heathens trying to sell Muslim souls to the devil. And it is the duty of that government to make sure the message gets through as clear as possible: a secularist Moroccan recognizes to all Moroccans the choice of religion (as well as non-belief) and provides institutional safeguards to make sure individual enjoy their rights responsibly without submitting others to their will. Private opinions are not a matter of majority rule, and certainly the fact that Moroccans are in their large majority Muslim (firm believers or not does not come to the point) is certainly not an argument to crush the dissident voices.

I. The Habous Ministry

There goes one of the less known albeit most powerful ministries in the post-1956 Moroccan governments. Why is it, alongside the interior office, no “partisan” politician can be in charge of it? (I refer to the classic dividing line of sovereignty ministries that no political party can pretend to get as a portfolio). My advice is to turn the Habous Ministry into an Interfaith and Religious Matters department: that is, the islamic nature of its dealings would be merged with other religion proceedings. The matter of Habous real estate and other donations is to be transferred to the Finance Ministry, where there already is a specific department that can oversee the bequests and donated wealth with equal if not superior efficiency. This Ministry has, among other things, the upper hand on all matters relating to Fatwas (thus absorbing or abolishing the autonomous Ulema councils) as well as Christian, Jewish and other religious representatives or regulations. Other tasks that are already devoted to the ministry include the investment, restoring and up keeping of religious buildings and their respective staffs. Finally the Ministry takes over religious education, as the Education ministry no longer offers the course as seen below.

In addition to that, the interfaith office acts as a joint-venture with the regal authority in Islamic matters. Indeed, since one has deferred to the option of keeping the title of Commander of the Faithful to His Majesty, the First Imam is therefore the only one qualified to direct the Muslim community, within the constitutional boundaries of such position. The government therefore enacts Islamic policy on behalf of His Majesty’s recommendations via a King’s Council on religious matters. Apart from that, Hebraic and Christians representatives have their own say on their respective communities. As for the non-believers, they have one less worry, and therefore observe only the positive law of the land.

II. Education.

Intolerance grows among Moroccans ever since primary school. One way of preventing Moroccan citizens from turning into reactionaries and narrow minded conservatives (as well as winning some long-term base voters for the liberals and radicals in the process) is simply to suppress the Islamic education course. That is, for state schools. If Moroccan households are not happy with it, all they have to do is to enrol their children into private schools that provide the service. (One does keep the private schools curriculum in religious matters well within the purview of the interfaith department, you never know…) After all, if they believe it to be paramount to any other taught subject, they will pay for it. If not, a child is not likely to turn into a godless freak if they are not taught right from the start about religion. Starting from secondary and high school however, the interfaith department’s special schools can offer, on voluntary basis, religious course (in the three broad monotheistic religions, as the need for those is the most important) while there is always a choice to double or chose instead philosophy and ethics course at high school.

Furthermore, the so-called “Chou’ab Al Assila” (as well as the Hebraic local school) are going to be abolished and changed into a higher education degrees. To be a good Islamic/Jewish scholar does not require one to start very early. A High education degree can do just as fine. The Islamic studies post-baccalaureate degrees are to be centralized into centres for religious students, alongside the other Monotheist religions at the same level as Christian and Jewish studies, and part of the Humanities curriculum. Indeed, one each university will therefore have a Humanities Department that encompasses Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Religious Studies, etc… with no subject given a pre-eminence over the others (as it is the practise nowadays) Dar Al Hadit Al Hassannia will be merged with Institutes of Hebraic and Christian studies into a structure similar to the French EHESS (a Grande Ecole-like that will produce social scientists rather than sole narrow-minded scholars)

III. Law

Since I am no lawyer, I should defer the matter to my much competent colleague on the matter. But I would like beforehand to state some broad principles on how secular laws can be implemented. Obviously a lot of people will be upset about the changes, and they should be given a chance to express their grieves, within the boundaries of freedom of religion as the new constitution guarantees. The federal option is, in that sense, a good compromise in the sensitive balance between rule by majority and cornerstone individual liberty of belief. The federal constitutions can state broad –but sufficiently well defined- principles on the need to keep religion and religious matters out of politics, and will guarantee so by means of federal court enforcement of the constitutional rule, but regional parliament, following the political tides, can implement laws and regulations –within their own competence- that can be religiously-inspired: they could allow for Islamic Banks for instance, or introduce longer breaks at school to allow for prayer time. They can even issue specific legislation on how discreet restaurant and food-serving businesses can be during Ramadan, but they cannot enforce laws that would undermine the constitutional freedom of individual belief. As far as their attributions are concerned, regional parliaments have a certain say in financial and legislative matters, and if they are controlled by “religious” parties, they can introduce some measures of moral-oriented laws in their own affairs. The essential axiom behind it all is that every one is treated as a grown-up, and is given a chance to prove themselves to be so when managing the public welfare.

Can these measures be implemented? They can, to the extent that the present conservatism among Moroccans is mainly due to economic and material conditions. Indeed, it has been the effect of an explicit policy to turn Moroccans into fanatics, and some are sensible enough to try and reverse these effects with well-meaning policies, yet ineffective and very feeble. But it also has to do with the fact that in troubled and difficult times, religion is the main exit route and is considered to bring hope, comfort and belief in better days –better after-life, one might say-. These policies are contingent on how good this government will manage to bring welfare, good standards of livings and equality among the denizens of this country.