The Moorish Wanderer

The Future of Radicalism in Morocco: Tribunite or Policy-driven Alternative?

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Polfiction, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on November 9, 2011

This is a bit excruciating for me. As the idea started forming in my mind, I thought it would sound and look like I have abdicated what I hold to be my core, inner beliefs. To be more precise, this is not about abdicating principles, but rather how the Radicalism trademark in Morocco might have been pushed further to the left, too much to my liking, because of the hardened position taken by Feb20. I do not disparage the risks and the police harassment they endure, but this is not the only way to get the word out an active opposition is alive and kicking.

The referendum was the starting point: I belong to this crazy group of people who thought (or still thinks) that a deep constitutional reform is the way to bringing genuine democracy into Moroccan institutions and society. The assumption upon which the whole gamble plays on is that absolute political power will create some seismic moves in every political party, topple down the old-guard in favour of some fresh new faces, and eventually piece together the political spectrum into a couple of large parties instead of the existing myriad. This is so because in that context, politicians would be genuinely held accountable by the public; On the other end of those reforms, the Monarchy, while losing all executive and judiciary power, would retain the honorary function as the unifying symbol of this nation. Or so the story went.

The sinking ship: The candle is blown, the torch too. The seal is broken as well.

After the referendum however, this fig-leaf was blown away because any political organization pushing for a constitutional reform right away after a referendum very few mainstream organization gainsaid. A more methodological state of mind would command to re-direct energies into more “popular” issues: purchasing power, income inequalities, Amazigh issues, Gender equality, Education, Security, Crime, whatever topic considered to be a bread-and-butter issue with the electorate. So far the prevailing sense among the Radical Left and those of similar loyalties gravitating around the Feb20 Movement is to keep the focus on figurehead issues, emotionally appealing but ultimately isolating the movement and confining it into an active but small nucleus of activists, like AMDH’s for instance.

And that’s where the excruciating part comes in: Am I still to be counted among the Left-wing Moroccan Radicals? I guess the “Confused” part was doing just fine, but I now feel more estranged than ever toward my party, let alone the whole political field. I disagreed on the Referendum and Elections boycott, I have been reviewing some of the proposals displayed in the 2007 Manifesto, and there goes the “fig-leaf” analogy: as long as the Radical Left (including, with a broad definition of reformism, Annahj) keeps aiming at global changes instead of looking for real issues, their credibility, as a matter of fact their whole brand of fresh politics is watered-down with perceived idealism, or worse still, elitism.It is a bit strange to conciliate seemingly contradictory notions of the Left being Tribunite and Elitist at the same time; but the fact of the matter is, this is the danger: a couple of days ago, PADS party has issued a statement stating its court action to declare November 25th General Elections to be unconstitutional. This is the perfect example of populist/elitist argument that does not appeal to real issues, and at the same time gives comfort to the very people the statement is supposed to frighten; the shot was to high, too much aimed at the moon that it actually backfires in terms of image and credibility: “PADS? why these Leftists are interested only in remote matters nobody cares!” or so goes the line.

To put it simply, many at the Radical Left leadership are rekindling with their youth, and instead of building alternatives for the ongoing politics, they have just got to relive the dream that fell short in the 1970s and 1980s. What makes it worse is the new generation of activists, all with noble intentions and high principles, but not necessarily ready -or geared for it- to play Point Counter-Point on specific issues, is pushing the old guard to engage in a more confrontational strategy. It might indeed fire up the strong supporters, but it leaves out the Silent Majority and all of the semi-sympathetic groups that do not see benefits in taking to the streets every Week-ends.

What is to be done then? Well, we need a narrative to attract the broadest possible spectrum around a precise consensus. The trouble is, the least common denominator needs to be defined within the established system; There’s Radicalism and Radicalism, and my brand is the latter: keep the Monarchy as the form of political regime, and shuffle up the rest; in the eyes of many who might disagree, the brand of radicalism is insured, and it does not attract much hostility from less ideologically motivated opponents. The narrative needs to stress issues designed to mollify social conservatism predominant across Moroccan households; The idea that improving standards of living can lead to a more progressive social mindset should be the centrepiece of the Radical discourse. Civil Rights can only be enjoyed with a good meal, a decent home and an interesting job. But this is not enough, it remains too abstract for everyone to adhere.

There is a population in this country working just as hard as everybody else, yet it pays commensurately more taxes, loses on its purchasing power over the last decade. The middle/median class is the perfect group of people the Radical Left should be embracing by providing policies designed to strengthen its income, future, security and standing in society. I suppose all of the Radical Left-wingers are Marxists, so perhaps it is a good time to leave out the philosophical trolling, and go for policy proposals that go to what shapes up social interactions and structures, the economy itself. In simple words: “It’s the Economy, Comrade.

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“New Politics” Inc.

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on July 19, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I had this most peculiar conversation with someone “in high places”. I mean, I did not meet that person for an official purpose – it was a social visit, I leave official meetings to senior bloggers. The person’s rank and occupation were not obvious to me, as I was told, much later on, I was talking to an official from the Interior Ministry. And so, the summary of our discussion is a bit at odds with the kind of posts I usually publish: this is, if anything, a first-hand account of what seems to be the prevailing argument up there. Alternatively, I could be mistaken, and the green I am in practical politics might have been fooled with a tailor-made speech for would-be “young politicians”.

The thing is, the argument was extraordinary to my ears, simply because it betrayed what seems to be a newly developed, intelligent approach. That’s why I am posting about it: Intelligent. By intelligent I mean a very perverse – adulterating- policy into systematically chaperoning whatever novel proposal might pop in the Moroccan political discourse, carefully taking into its confidence any initiative likely or potentially likely to change things too radically. In a nutshell, the idea is to encourage young Feb20 activists to join mainstream political parties and shake them to their foundations. And as my interlocutor said, they have the next 5 years to achieve the following set of objectives: take over the partisan apparatus, topple down the old-guard leadership and before you know it, the Palace will hand over its powers and obligingly establish itself as a true parliamentarian monarchy. The perfect scheme, even to my taste. Who would oppose this offer? it sounds responsible and moderate, plus it has the advantage of cleaning political parties’ Aegean stables.

But there’s a catch to it. In fact, there are several of those: first off,there are boundaries not to cross -and those are tighter than you might think- second, there are “Moroccan exceptionalism” features one needs to take into account, i.e. not to rush things; and last, the State tropism is the only viable paradigm in Moroccan politics, i.e. the very concept of individual welfare, or community well-being is necessarily encompassed within the State, whether Makhzenian or modern. Supposing these young people manage to take control of these political parties within the next half a decade, the ensuing struggle would leave them paralysed, and in any case unable to put forward any controversial proposals. It might go otherwise, but one cannot erase 40 years of meaningless politics with one clean swipe of 5 years of fresh, youthful activism.

There was one aspect of our discussion I founded quite interesting to mention in extenso here: the official was very relaxed when I contradicted him, in the sense that he didn’t behave in that typical you-republican-in-disguise-plotting-for-the-downfall-of-our-beloved-fatherland and was very open and forthcoming in interacting with me – I mean he admitted the existence of dissent, and was generally in agreement that its existence and activism were strengthening more than threatening Moroccan democracy and development. But past beyond niceties about general principles, the typical Dakhilya way of thinking took over: “No, the Ministry or the Civil Service can’t supply you with Demographic features of specific boroughs. No, a Federal Morocco is out of the question. No, it will be chaos and mayhem if you make Mokadem and Caid positions elected offices“. In short, as long as a certain political project was deemed in compliance with certain guidelines (carefully laid out in High Places), then it is fine to be creative; Other than that, you are simply, and I quote: “Hard-headed”. Actually, this applied to those political parties he quickly guessed I was sympathetic to, or even a member of: PSU, PADS (and a little of Annahj, too).

The other thing we agreed upon was that the Feb20 demonstrations were no threat to the regime’s stability. Quite the contrary, I was comforted in my belief that the blueprints of 2011 Constitutional upgrade -for this is not a genuine reform- were already in place (apparently as early as 2000-2001) and needed only some acceptance from the partisan spectrum. Rather, political parties themselves felt threaten -after most of them castigated the daring youth for being either manipulated, unreasonable, radical, and finally stubborn. The Monarchy, the system surrounding it to be precise, is stronger both domestically and abroad.

Old Faithful

The gamble is subsequently very audacious: it is common knowledge the present political personnel is ageing, incompetent and/or largely corrupt. Palace has been trying to revive some Royal opposition, but failed with large parties, mainly because of a past policy of constant corruption and house-training. Parts of these high circles, it seems, understood the dangers of a too house-trained political personnel. Luckily enough, there’s a bunch of motivated, enthusiastic and pure new players around who seem to have as keen interest in politics. They can provide the suitable relief to political parties, and who knows, some fresh ideas to the other side as well. As a matter of fact, the whole argument can be summed up as follows:

“join political parties and make them look credible so as to seize power. The monarchy will not obstruct”.

Other things of peripheral interest to the main subject were mentioned as well: for his perspective, the 40 years long struggle between the National Movement and the Monarchy was very damaging to Moroccan perspective in growth, development and advancement in civilization. But then again, in his view, National Parties shouldn’t have engaged in a bras-de-fer with the Crown Prince, then King Hassan II. That curious (from my perspective anyway) interpretation of modern history was his reply to my favourite line: if the Monarchy was indeed keen to accept a real Parliamentary Monarchy, why was Abdellah Ibrahim Government systematically ambushed by the Crown Prince? It was as though his mind was definitely made up about that era, only he was respectful enough not to express it in blunt terms: the National Movement was the only responsible political body for the loss of time and resources Morocco suffered from over the last half a decade, not the Monarchy.

So here it is: at least one school of thought within the regime pushes for a renewal of politics, because it prepares an alternative power and so enact a smooth transition from the “Executive Monarchy” to  a true symbolic one. However, the transition has to be done on the regime’s term, and they will pick who qualifies and who does not. Even though the stated standard selection puts a large weight on competence and talent, the principle is un-democratic, and furthermore, the dictated terms are such that there is little room for political innovation: the State is still perceived as benevolent and in charge of individuals and communities, even though it has a poor record in achieving common wealth.

In short, I came back home even more convinced I should stick with the Hard-headed bunch. First because I don’t like patronising tones and schemes, and second, while I agree political personnel needs renewal and a great deal of political savyy, I do not believe the movement should be hurried, or artificially created. That reminds me of the Charm Offensive Fouad Ali El Himma undertook vis-a-vis the Radical Left – presumably as a vanguard of a Modernist-Monarchist movement- around 2005-2006; once in a while, the regime wants to pick the brains of its non-governmental elite by means of alluring promotion or honouring their scholarly work for instance.

Leave it Governor, the New Politics you are advocating cannot be the process of political engineering. the Changing of the Guard is coming, but on our own terms and time.

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.

Every Word Means No

It’s a funny business, this constitutional thing. The more one looks at past referendums,the less they would be inclined to give it a chance as a pro-democratic move.

It is true we had some 5 major constitutional amendments (including the very first 1962 constitution) and yet we got stuck with the same old farandole: the King has it all, his powers derive from positive law (and the executive body in residence) and spiritual legitimacy (as the Commander of the Faithful in a De Jure Islamic community). And no matter how hard one tries to prove that such exaggerated concentration of powers is incompatible with basic democratic principles (as well as a gross distortion of Moroccan political history) the story goes unchallenged. Only a small core of resolute radicals gainsay the Regal supremacy, either on the premises of religious misgivings, like Al Adl, or because it contradiction a secularist and democratic values upheld by left-winger like the Democratic Left (i.e. PSU, PADS, CNI and Annahj parties) and Human rights activists AMDH.

"شعبي العزيز أدعوك لتقول نعم وأنا على يقين ستقول نعم"

Mainstream political parties, whether in government or parliamentary oppositions cosy up to the monarchy by trying to smooth as much as possible their position (if they’ve ever had any) on constitutional powers. Consensus is the word. Cranky, hurriedly patched-up in their defeat and taboo, but a consensus nonetheless.

It would be dishonest of me not to share regular doubts I have on that particular issue of voting. I don’t doubt my intrinsic position (that’s what you usually might expected from stubborn radicals) on voting No; It’s the whole exercise that could be qualified at best as political jocosity, if not outright ridiculous travesty of democratic debate. How can one lonely blogger, an expatriate student on top of it, engage in a confrontation with what is essentially a royal will. It can still be considered a Lèse-Majesté crime to stand up and call for anything else than a ‘Yes’ vote (a ‘No’ or a Boycott are equally an offence).

Will me and my likes be permitted to go on radio and TV to explain themselves freely? Will newspapers’ columns open up for contradictory views? Aren’t we -I assume there’s at least one other person that already made up their mind as well- crossing His Majesty’s will by calling for a different vote? That’s what happens when the constitutional is rigged so as to provide the ruler with discretionary powers. The game outcome is known even before it is played. Why, might one ask, waste time, energy and resources for a lost cause? These are my doubts. Are my actions going to matter?

On a  different subject, the recent interview Foreign Affairs Minister Taib Fassi Fihri gave on France24, as well as his statements in the US are unequivocal: there is a ‘glass roof’ for constitutional amendment, and though many consider this roof to be reasonable, it doesn’t change much then present regime structure; worse, it doesn’t introduce those changes we direly need-and for which serious political parties have been militating since 1962-. These statements also confirm -or at least do reinforce it- the opinion the future constitution has already been written, and the next two months are going to be be there for political theatricals.

The Highest rule of the realm: a devolved Constitution since 1962

The No vote is based on two main and succinct arguments: first, we, as aspiring citizens, have not been consulted on this; The whole matter. Formally, the Highest Authority, according to the constitution, is not the King, but the People of Morocco (yes, it’s crazy, isn’t it?); and in this particular instance (as well as countless others) we have been robbed of our right to look into the amendments before they are cooked up.The same argument applies to the appointed members of the panel; they might be respected scholars in their own right, but Mohamed Q citizen has not been consulted beforehand.

Second, 3 months is deviously too short a period to discuss a seemingly important amendment. Actually, it amounts to even less than that: the commission has 3 months to dream up its recommendations, and in the happy event His Majesty agrees to its output, then immediately put it to the country. Those calling for a nation-wide debate will look like idiots, a new constitution will be voted and this brief interlude of unfettered debate will be closed. There are a lot of assumptions in this scenario, but the fact remains, an ambitious new constitution (that’s the sense it conveyed in the March 9th speech) cannot be wrapped-up in 3 months and voted on the fourth. That’s robbing the Moroccan people from a long-deserved new, actual democratic constitution.

Coming back on the sporadic doubts I have on the whole issue, It’s the expected impact a No campaign might have on the voters, regardless of any parasitical intervention from the Makhzen administration (I know my local Moqadem is a nice man, but if he has orders to dispatch his Mokhaznias, I don’t think I stand much chance to reason with them)

Assuming I would be allowed freely to distribute leaflets in my neighbourhood and engage with neighbours (a genuine democratic exercise, one might point out), how will we affect the final outcome? I am quite disillusioned when it comes to that: the new constitution will pass with a majority, and I have the feeling the size of such a win is going to matter more than its likelihood. I referred before to a vote of less than 80% Yes as a defeat. One of the main features our ‘National Consensus’ tenants like to boast about is that the Throne and The People are of one mind.

How will this square with say, a 30% no? Will the King put to practise the old Malekite saying that goes like: “The Khalifa can do away with the rotten 1/3 of His population in order to salvage the remaining 2/3″?

March 23rd, 1965: A Day Of Days

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on March 24, 2011

46 years have passed since the infamous March 23rd, 1965. And though many forgot, or tried to, or did not know about it, the students’ and pupils’ riots have had far-reaching consequences, and it is safe to say that we are still experiencing some residual effects.

A bit of history perhaps: by the mid-1960s, the political showdown between UNFP radicals and the Monarchy got exacerbated with tale-telling signs of economic depression. Indeed, after the sudden death of King Mohamed V in 1961, Hassan II engaged into a more open political activism, and publicized by his actions the covert clashes with the National Movement (especially the UNFP) to assert the Monarchy’s power on Morocco’s politics as hegemonic player.

Things turned sourer when Hassan II announced a constitutional referendum by 1962. An established constitution was the National Bloc’s main claim after 1956, and though late King Mohamed V had repeatedly promised a hypothetical constitutional convention, such business was deemed junior to the more pressing task of carrying out day-to-day government. It seems that then Crown Prince Moulay Hassan was not at all happy with the idea, since the outcome was unpredictable, and would at best lead to a toothless monarchy an outcome he considered a hindrance to his own thrust for power) if not an outright dismissal of monarchy as a political regime. Such delays took form of governmental de-stabilization and the exacerbation of internal divisions between radical elements and pro-status quo within the Istiqlal, divisions that led to the UNFP breakaway.

The 1962 constitutional referendum was, to say the least, a travesty of democratic consultation: though the ‘Yes’ had a cleat win of more than 90%, there were numerous instances of blatant administrative meddling, either by preventing Istiqlal or UNFP activists to vote, threats made to regular citizens, and especially in rural areas, local authorities bribed and threatened peasants to vote in favour. Furthermore, the constitution itself  was the King’s brainchild, an adaptation of the very power-concentrated French 5th Republic Constitution (as it is, the Crown Prince was a great admirer of Charles De Gaulle, though admiration was not always reciprocal) Almost immediately, 1963 general elections (the first ever for parliament in Morocco, the second after the 1960 local elections) locked in the political balance into violent confrontations.

Hassan II with his own Iago (turned a failed Brutus) Mohamed Oufkir (Picture LIFE)

The Regal hegemonic agenda basically dessicated democratic institutions and drained them out of any political legitimacy. Furthermore, the youthful Moroccan population, like all the youth around the world (let us remind ourselves of the 1968 upheavals in France and other countries in Europe, campus rebellions in the US to name but a few) was eager for some fresh change, a change that was too radical to a youthful King (eager too for some fresh change, but that would rather go his way)

The immediate trigger for the March 23rd protests (that lasted 3 days: 21-22 and 23 march 1965) was a new education regulation (issued by then-minister Belabbes) that de facto prevented virtually all High-School candidates from being able to get their baccalaureate (a degree that allowed for a safe job with the civil service, and thus the most straightforward way to lift off poverty and acquire a social status. That is why not only pupils, but also their parents -and young unemployed- took to the street and express their anger. At times of bad economic forecast and aspiring masses to better standards of living, the administrative decision (though thought to have a likely small effect) had a symbolism such that the people’s cup was bare: strikes at schools, street demonstration, police repression, and ultimately, large-scale riots in urban centres like Casablanca (Mohamed V High School earned quite a reputation from then on).

Casablanca, March 23rd (Picture Liberation)

The riots were such that police soon gave up, and the Monarchy (and its then-most staunch henchman, General Mohamed Oufkir) soon called upon the army, who only too well willingly carried out methodical street fighting for wrestling back the control of the rioting cities (bullet impacts can still be witnessed on some buildings in Casablanca for instance).

Why bring back such black memories? First, because Morocco’s history cannot be summed up in dates like August 20th, or March 3rd, or indeed November 6th. Such riots, contrary to what Abdellah Laroui‘s own account, were of ground-breaking magnitude: it was the bluntest end to the post-1956 idyll of national unity, a most violent depiction of the Monarchy’s ruthlessness in defending its prerogatives and repressing its dissidence. What was before circumvented to veteran nationalists and freedom-fighters like the so-called 1963 plot quickly spread to an institutionalized terrorism justified with red scare campaign. As some nihilists like to point it out, we do not live in a Bisounours kind of universe; There is a need for A remembrance day, and March 23rd is the ideal date. The IER unfortunately missed out on the symbolism, and a date like this one would balance up the pompous national holidays singing the praises of an all-too omnipresent monarchy. Think about it:

August 20th is a purely a Palace intrigue matter;

November 18th, Independence day is Mohamed V’s return and not that of Saint Cloud’s protocol (March 2nd);

November 6th, Green March was a tactical stunt (as does its corollary of Rio De Oro attachment, August 14th);

and finally, The King’s enthronement anniversary (July 29th).

Is it too much to ask for a non-Regal national holiday?