The Moorish Wanderer

“Do you think she’s deeply and importantly talented?” – “No, but amusingly and superficially talented, yes”

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan History & Sociology, Moroccanology, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on September 1, 2011

in times of low readership, there is nothing like Neo-burlesque to pick up some traffic, and of course it also provides leisure cover for serious issues. Whatever is needed to entertain the crowd.

Neo-burlesque has -and still is- been disparaged by too many people (including feminists by the way) as demeaning to women, the sign of reactionary longing for the days when women were more “feminine” i.e. more submissive. The discourse does not find its place in Morocco, however, for many reasons: our social relationship to sexuality is not only a taboo, but it has grown to be so for a majority of our fellow citizens. It is no wonder, since Moroccan households have been literally indoctrinated to embrace a viciously conservative stance, and develop a hostile reaction to all things ‘alien’ to our ‘national and Islamic identity’. Even a debate on mainstream sexuality would be followed by the deafening outcry of the bigots brigade (usually quartered in the Attajdid newspaper’s column) let alone a debate on sophisticated (er…) sexuality. In addition, this could be dismissed as a luxury: we do have some more urgent needs to attend to – and I suspect many lefties would agree and dismiss the whole things as Petit-bourgeois considerations- Still an all, sexuality remains one of the basic human needs, and does need to be attended too (got the pun there?)

Demeaning femininity? No, Glorifying it.

The golden age of burlesque -somewhere around the 1920s and 1940s- is paradoxically -when time adjusted for- the golden age of Moroccan women and their liberation. The garter might have been construed as a symbol of gender oppression in the United States or Europe, but it surely has been an instrument of liberation rather, at least on our shores. And let us not be mistaken, for men have freed themselves too from the outdated distribution of gender roles in sexuality. But then again, this does not mean Moroccans did not enjoy sexy before 1950, does it?

How about Hajja Hamdaoui? or the sensual Mal’houn poems? or our very own plump, gaudy, bawdy pin-ups, Cheikhates? These are all good pieces of evidence that some urban dwellers and the upper class did enjoy themselves thoroughly, a great deal of which involved what made up the bulk of Oriental fantasy: harem, slaves,… what have you. As for the remaining 95% other people, the leisure part took little or no place in their lives, and sex was basically there for reproductive needs only, to basically ensure the existence of a labour force large enough to make up for the mortality rate and provide a retirement insurance scheme.

And again, isn’t Burlesque just as exclusive as those items described above? isn’t it elitist, with that flavour of sexual leisure very few of us can or would enjoy? Yes! but so are education, literature, arts, etc…. these are not always at the disposal of everyone, while they should. Regardless, the mere allusion to sex as a “normal” social function is enough to belittle proponents of such claim and label them as out of touch or deviants, or both; The truth is, that selective list of items to be improved and others to be left for a while is a foolish exercise of populist conservative ideology.

The claim that the libertarian flavour of Burlesque reminds Moroccan women of a golden age when they rushed through to claim their rights and gender equality; that period embodies female empowerment through vibrant sexuality and liberation from a certain type of clothing: 1947, I suppose, is a good date to mark that change for Women in Morocco, indeed:

In the Moroccan coastal city of Tangier, frenzied crowds cheered hoarsely as a majestically robed figure on a white horse rode past to receive their homage.[…]

The man on horseback was His Majesty Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef, and the purpose of his visit that hot, sunny April day in 1947 was to give sustenance to a dream that has since become reality: freedom and independence for his country.

The next night, in the patio of Tangier’s casbah, a lissome girl in a shimmering blue silk Lanvin gown, milk-white turban and evening slippers gracefully ascended a dais piled high with priceless Oriental carpets, and turned to face her audience. Younger men in the audience eyed appreciatively the girl’s dark eyes, her rich red-brown hair and café au lait complexion. But many orthodox Moslem traditionalists just stared wide-eyed, stunned and aghast at the appearance in public of Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Aisha, eldest daughter of His Majesty the Sultan—17 years old, unveiled and unashamed. (Times, November 1957)

Princess Royal Aisha, TIME Nov.57: "a call to shake off an age-old bondage fastened on them"

By showing dressed like a movie star, Princess Royal Aisha was indeed at the vanguard of sexual liberation; the immediate years following independence only exacerbated the yearning for gender equality: if men could wear western clothes, why wouldn’t women too? And so the battle for gender equality started off, with women working outside and claiming equal pay too, while they were carrying their rights as individuals.

The 1960s, in the minds of the greatest generation Morocco ever had yet, -and that is not an overstatement- is associated to a sense of freedom – the late 1960s in fact, as reported by Paul Pascon in his comprehensive survey with young rural dwellers. And unless some other survey comes to contradict this and confirm that Moroccans have all lilly white morality, then the ad hominem argument about opposition between morality and fitness for government should be dropped altogether.

The conservative side of Moroccans cannot be denied, but it has been pointed out that generally speaking, there are specific items young Moroccans tend to gainsay; indeed:

Au Maroc, l’attachement à la tradition est généralement valorisé. Ce qui est des fois remis en cause, ce n’est pas la tradition en tant que telle mais tel ou tel élément traditionnel. L’évaluation se fait selon divers critères. Certaines traditions sont bannies parce que jugées hétérodoxes, d’autres sont rejetées au nom de la science et du progrès.

(50-years report – Values annex, page 35)

The conservative variable can definitely be put aside, save for activists who tend to bully public opinion into endorsing them, the current state of mind is rather that of “individualistic conservatism” where each individual comes up with a customized interpretation of what they consider ‘true traditions’, which is not precisely what tradition is about…

In any case, and even though stripping falls into the category of ‘vice’ -per the Moroccan law, anyway- conservatives would do well to heed Bernard Mandeville‘s advice in the “Fable of the Bees“:

THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive

To make a Great an Honest Hive.

T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniences,

Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,

Without great Vices, is a vain

Eutopia seated in the Brain.

(Fable of the Bees, 1732)

Bottom line: Dita Von Teese rocks, and what she stands for should mean a lot to Moroccan women.

PS: Post is dedicated to Shiftybox, may she take the bait.

The Original Sin of Moroccan Politics

So the book should be closed -not on the movement, but on any ground-breaking “changing of the guard” in the political spectrum. This is one of these rare occasions where I take off my “left-wingy, radical nuts” and try very hard to consider Moroccan politics from a dispassionate viewpoint. As it happens, I had little to do these last couple of days, and I thought I should give Jean-Claude Santucci’s paper a good second reading.

Before I start diving into tedious considerations about the Istiqlal split in 1959, or how USFP party, even though priding itself with left-wing credentials, systematically stifled dissent against its leadership, I want to write about that particular issue of political sociology, because in a sense, it contributed a great deal to the rise of Feb20 movement, and might very well be the movement’s caretaker. Alternatively, it can also contribute with the brightest -politically speaking- political personnel in a couple of decades we ever had; “partisan revolution” as it were, is not tabled for the next couple of weeks, much less in the next couple of years. Santucci gets the record straight:

“la revendication constitutionnaliste du mouvement nationaliste était moins liée à la disparition d’un régime despotique et absolutiste représenté par la tutelle ottomane – que le Maroc n’avait pas connue – qu’à l’abolition du protectorat d’une puissance étrangère, mis en cause pour s’être converti en administration directe.”

So it is sheer lack of political knowledge and savyy to believe the Feb20 is likely to force some radical outcome, and it is petty media manipulation to label all of the movement caucuses as firebrand republicans -of course, some of them indeed are, and they deserve every right to voice their opinion without being threatened or indicted under common criminal law-, but the fact of the matter remains, the whole political spectrum, ranging from left-wing national movement parties to administrative parties -including PJD moderate islamists- engaged in a consensus over the political regime; the debate is therefore over which power-sharing scheme between the monarchy and parties is best suited -to whom, or to what, that is the question. Trouble is, these power-sharing schemes have been more than heavily skewed toward the monarchy for the last half a century, and so, “Moroccan exceptional-ism” looked at times -and the current situation is one of these- like a sideshow to the real politics.

“qu’en est-il du cas marocain longtemps érigé en exemple avant d’être réajusté à sa valeur purement symbolique de faire-valoir ou d’instrument de contrôle politique ?”

and there goes our very own commendable model of democracy in North Africa: multipartism is just a decoy to the real politics, one that takes place in rarefied circles and recluse palaces. That’s one of Morocco’s political sins, the other is the lack of internal democracy within political organizations (parties, trade-unions and NGOs alike) that ultimately leaves everyday citizens fed up with political parties, unions and NGOs, in that order.

It is alright to denounce the regime as despotic and authoritarian, but then again, some of these mechanisms that feature best on the Makhzen apparatus can be observed in smaller, (non)partisan organizations, among which the Leader’s supremacy over their flock.

PSU-PADS-CNI pre-electoral rally, August 2007

The point is, many -if not all- of these parties have considered internal democracy and the free expression of diverse opinions as, at best a sideshow, if not a potentially dangerous luxury likely to break party unity. While it is in the Monarchy’s DNA to refuse and suppress the free expression of political and religious beliefs, the blame can be laid -though not equally- on political parties (particularly the National Movement derivatives) that failed somewhat to embody the very democratic methodology they are so keen on promoting. As for the Administrative Parties (i.e. those artificially created to disparage the opposition, or to serve a particular tactical requirement) partisan democracy has been even more of a rare good.

This lacklustre performance on behalf of our political personnel has been used by many commentators, both domestically and abroad, to justify the lack of serious democratic reforms. A recent poll carried out by La Vie Eco newspaper produced staggering results, although these have been consistent with earlier, more far-reaching reports: the Moroccan electorate -young voters are no exception- do not know, or trust -or both- their elected officials.

D’une manière générale et que ce soit en rapport avec le parti ou non, seules 8 personnalités politiques ont été citées par plus de 50 personnes parmi les 1 000 jeunes concernés par cette enquête. Le Premier ministre arrive en premier, avec 209 citations, suivi du secrétaire général du PJD, Abdelilah Benkirane, avec 106 citations.

[…] En somme, les jeunes ne se retrouvent pas dans l’offre politique actuelle. Y a-t-il lieu de s’inquiéter alors que nous sommes à quelques mois des élections législatives ? Oui, soutient le politologue Miloud Belcadi, «il y a péril en la demeure si ces jeunes boycottent les élections. Un taux d’abstention important des jeunes se traduira nécessairement par une balkanisation du futur Parlement, donc un gouvernement faible et éclaté (formé de 6 ou 7 partis politiques). Résultat : le gouvernement sera non seulement fragilisé dès le départ, mais il perdra beaucoup de temps à gérer ses différences internes au lieu de s’occuper des affaires publiques».

In these conditions, it is simply sheer lunacy to allow these politicians to actually govern the country, the “technocratic” argument goes.

And so is the original sin of Moroccan politics: it seems a very static perception of the political struggle has prevailed over the last half a century -and I suspect it has over the couple of previous years, too- following which the immediate objective is to establish a viable or profitable balance of power. Democracy is seen as a temporary luxury, or, at best, an ideal state likely to be achieved later on, and not a parallel process equally important to be strengthen alongside partisan activism.

Ziane's Den.

Partisan democracy is no fancy; indeed, transparent and rigorous mechanisms for leadership selection and transmission of power ultimately lead abler men and women of the said political party to take over the leadership and contest elections with consistent manifestos and ideas. Unfortunately, party bosses in Morocco are not even smart enough to remain in the shadows and act as power-brokers; It is indeed a sad predicament of partisan politics to witness old farts like Abdelouahed Radi (an MP since 1963) to hang on, and basically live on past activism like some retired employee on a trust fund.

And yet, I am confident the Feb20 Movement has created a precedent. In a couple of decades, the 20-something years old figureheads would more than likely have joined political parties – following insisting rumours, 20Feb figurehead Ousama Khelifi will be MP candidate for USFP party for (likely) a Rabat or Sale borough. The new generation at least has a keener interest in promoting democratic mechanisms, a source of optimism and confidence that someday -sooner rather than later- politicians will actually care about principles.

“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.

What’s Next?

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on July 15, 2011

Jed Bartlet‘s favourite catchphrase applies fully to the post-referendum environment in Morocco. Both domestically and abroad, Makhzen authorities have reasserted their strength and mastery of the national political agenda. I will certainly have an opportunity to go back on more details regarding the turnout, its geographical distribution and how its significance is more important as a symbol than their intrinsic levels.

First off, let us have a look at the various feedbacks to our Basri-era phenomenal figure of 73.46% and:

Rabat – Le nombre des votants qui se sont prononcés en faveur du projet de nouvelle constitution a atteint 9.653.492, soit 98,50 pc, selon les résultats provisoires du référendum constitutionnel du vendredi, a indiqué, samedi, le ministre de l’Intérieur, M. Taieb cherqaoui. […] Selon les résultats provisoires du référendum tel que proclamés par les 39.969 bureaux de vote mis en place sur l’ensemble du territoire national, le nombre des inscrits a été de 13.451.404 électeurs, dont 9.881.922 votants, soit un taux de participation de 73,46 pc, a ajouté le ministre. (MAP Communiqué)

— Rabat. the total number of voters supporting the new draft constitution amounted to 9,653,492, i.e. 98.5% following provisional results from Referendum Day held on Friday. Interior Minister Taieb Cherqaoui announced on Saturday. […] provisional results are proclaimed accross the 39.969 polling stations spread across the nation. Total number of voters amounted to 13,451,404 among which 9,881,922 showed up, reaching a turnout of 73.46%

French foreign minister Alain Juppé supported the Referendum results in these terms:

“Selon les résultats partiels donnés par le Ministère de l’intérieur marocain, le pourcentage des votants qui se sont prononcés en faveur du projet de nouvelle constitution a été de 98,49 pour cent des personnes inscrites sur les listes électorales. Le nombre des votants s’est élevé à 9.228.020, soit un taux de participation de 72,65 pour cent.

Nous devons bien entendu attendre les chiffres définitifs, mais il apparait d’ores et déjà que le peuple marocain a pris une décision claire et historique. […] La révision de la constitution a été conduite à partir de consultations étendues, associant tous les partis politiques, les syndicats et une large palette de représentants de la société civile.

Nous saluons la forte participation du peuple marocain à ce référendum. Elle a donné lieu à des débats animés et substantiels, reflétés dans les médias et notamment sur internet.[…]La France se tient naturellement aux cotés du Maroc pour l’accompagner dans cette nouvelle ère et forme des vœux pour que la mise en œuvre de cette nouvelle constitution s’accompagne de nouveaux progrès et de nouvelles réussites.”

As for the United States State Department, the language was equally praising and very supportive of the Referendum, but more cautious and overall non-committal to the whole process, indeed:

The United States welcomes Morocco’s July 1 constitutional referendum. We support the Moroccan people and leaders in their efforts to strengthen the rule of law, raise human rights standards, promote good governance, and work toward long-term democratic reform that incorporates checks and balances. We look forward to the full implementation of the new constitution as a step toward the fulfilment of the aspirations and rights of all Moroccans.

Short, succinct and positively abstract. The State Department commits to nothing and keeps its options open.

Finally, the European Union press release doesn’t deviate from the quasi-unanimous praises of our referendum:

“We welcome the positive outcome of the referendum on the new Constitution in Morocco and commend the peaceful and democratic spirit surrounding the vote,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a joint statement. […]

“The reforms proposed in it constitute a significant response to the legitimate aspirations of the Moroccan people and are consistent with Morocco’s Advanced Status with the EU,” the said. “Now we encourage the swift and effective implementation of this reform agenda,” the statement said.

[…] “The European Union is ready to fully support Morocco in this endeavour.”

So in diplomatic terms, our significant partners are basically accepting the result, and this international support -some might consider it to be a blank check- makes the regime more secure and confirms its hegemony over the Moroccan political discourse.

"How on earth did they manage such a score?"

This is even more obvious domestically: even though charges of ballot-stuffing and incoherent figures tarnished the referendum’s credibility, lambda Moroccans will not gainsay the result. The typical Moroccan voter (Male, Father of three children and living in a rural or sub-urban area) is more than likely to have voted for the constitution, not because what they would have read was interesting and appealing to their grievances, but because of multifarious factors: their social environment does not allow for criticism, individual decision-making or the use of Cartesian logics. Do I sound elitist and full of contempt? Perhaps I do. But the figures speak for themselves: the highest turnout figures were recorded in regions like Oued Ed-Dahab-Lagouira (92.19%) Guelmim-Es Smara (86.76%) Laâyoune-Boujdour-Sakia el Hamra (84.05%) and Doukkala-Abda (80.06%) All three regions are very tribal, and rely heavily on Makhzen administration for favours and other privileges, thus the higher outcome compared to national turnout. Conversely, low turnout in Casablanca and Rabat (respectively 57.17% and 72.39%) are thus because of its more individualistic, or shall we say more community-oriented settings, plus local administration has less leverage over its denizens, and so less likely to persuade them to vote (one way or the other).

The pro-democracy platform needs to pack up and look for new issues to campaign on, simply because the showdown that took place ever since February 20th is coming to an end, and not the movement’s advantage. The referendum might have been fixed, perhaps there will never be a solid body of evidence to suggest a nation-wide ballot-stuffing, and the absence of impartial scrutiny has a lot to do with it -perhaps if the retained option was a No-vote instead of an all-out boycott, there would have been some civic control over referendum proceedings. Furthermore, and because of the comparatively few people who took to the streets last week and today only confirm Moroccan apathy -and implicit acceptance- towards the referendum results.

The whiff of fresh air brought by the Feb20 demonstrations into the hermetical Moroccan political house, it seems, is losing speed. The long overdue New Politics many of us have been awaiting is yet again postponed to an unspecified date. Subsequently, there is a need to turn the public’s attention to more relevant issues: the national economy and the economics of national debt; the crumbling standards in public sector departments like Health and Education. More down to earth, issues that matter to the public are few and pressing: employment, standards of living and education for the future generations.

Paradoxically, these are the issues that explain the already existing and dangerously exacerbated social tensions between the haves and havenots. In between, our very own “squeezed middle” are the ones paying for these tensions, whether in demonstrations or just as a scapegoat for social resentment. I wish there was some sociological review of Feb20 prominent members; I would bet good money that many of these are of Middle-Class background, and those attacking them -the so-called “Baltagyas”- are from lower income and social classes. In any case, waging a political agenda does not seem to gather a lot of durable support, and that is why something else needs to be done.

Constitutional reforms can no longer be used as flag to rally dissatisfied individuals and communities. Rather, a more down-to-earth set of agenda focused on these immediate needs can win favours and support to build on more political and strategic grievances later on.

The House Of Cards and the King of Aces

Constitutional speeches are like Earthquakes, and in every sense of the word: they are earth-shattering, and they often come in a pair: the wave and the counter-wave follow each other and when the magnitude is high enough, the effect on the landscape is impressive. But this earthquake is not one. As a matter of fact, it might very well turn out to be a false alert.

Yesterday evening, the King gave the second speech on the Constitutional Reform, and announced Referendum Day for July 1st, just like what Khalid Hariry tweeted about on May 18th when his colleagues and himself met the Interior minister. At the same time, the speech laid out the essential features of what is essentially the new constitution, which is more than likely going to be voted by a comfortable margin. Before considering the political implications of this extraordinary short time span for political debate and campaigning, as well as the already biased rules of the campaigning game.

Contrary to the constitution circa 1996, the project has been carefully drafted, with a special focus on detailed procedure, perhaps to excessive lengths. Because the past constitutions have been written -and then cosmetically arranged so as to give a façade of democratic constitution- by one man, the late king Hassan II, and by his own admission, the writing process is daunting, but in his case, he managed to produce five constitutions that fit his larger-than-life character and lust for power; The latest of these Hassan II-era constitutional pieces of legislation, the 1996 constitution, was supposed to seal the deal on political transition, the so-called “Alternance Consensuelle“. So compared to the succinct constitutions we have had since 1962, this one is a true constitutional lawyer’s piece of work. Too bad it has been written by mainstream and conservative panellists.

The 180 articles in the new constitution, contrary to what has been speculated upon, do not change the monarchy from executive to symbolic, but rather recognize a de facto actual exercise of power; as we shall see later on, the monarch retains a great deal of appointment privileges, and while he did cede many of his formerly privileges, these concessions are not enough for the new constitution to qualify as that of a parliamentary monarchy. This is so because many of its articles are bluntly contradicting various universal standards of democracy, among others the separation of powers, the precedence  given to and accountability required from the elected representatives of the people. None of these things have been mentioned in the new draft, and that is why I reiterate my stand on voting against the constitution on Referendum Day.

Of these cosmetic changes, there is also much to be discussed; The word cosmetic is used here advisedly, mainly because while they do provide feedback to long-standing grievances, they remain insufficient as to the expected efficiency, or even with regard to the political symbolism from such measures. Contrary to the 1996 vintage and previous, the new constitution admits the diversity of the Moroccan identity, as specified in the preamble:

المملكة المغربية دولة إسلامية ذات سيادة كاملة، متشبثة بوحدتها الوطنية والترابية، وبصيانة تلاحم مقومات هويتها الوطنية، الموحدة بانصهار كلمكوناتها، العربية – الإسلامية، والأمازيغية، والصحراوية الحسانية، والغنية بروافدها الإفريقية والأندلسية والعبرية والمتوسطية. كما أن الهوية المغربية تتميزبتبوئ الدين الإسلامي مكانة الصدارة فيها، وذلك في ظل تشبث الشعب المغربي بقيم الانفتاح والاعتدال والتسامح والحوار، والتفاهم المتبادل بين الثقافاتوالحضارات الإنسانية جمعاء.

“The Kingdom of Morocco is an Islamic state enjoying an unfettered sovereignty, and is firmly attached to its national and territorial unity, and is committed to uphold the fundamentals of its national identity and all its components, Arabic, Islamic, Amazigh, Hassani-Sahrawi, as well as the fruitful African, Hebraic, Andalusian and Mediterranean influences. Furthermore, the Moroccan identity has a special place for Islam, as the Moroccan people are attached to the values of openness, moderation and forgiveness, in addition to the mutual understanding with all human civilizations”. [all extracts are unofficial translations]

This piece of preamble, while signalling a significant shift in the official narrative, because it now recognizes the obvious, and finally admits that diversity does not harm national unity. But the encouraging opening soon fades away, and the disappointing, almost insulting order of precedence reminds all of us who credited the commission with some amount of good faith that the centre of power, with all its legitimacy, is not yet ready to abandon the Arabo-Islamic hegemony. Notice the order: Arabic, Islamic, then Amazigh, Hassani, and the Hebraic heritage is relegated to the rank of a mere “influence”. Though this might sound like a fickle, this ranking is actually important because the preamble does not explicitly put all these ‘fundamentals’ on an equal footing. And judges can justify many of their ruling by this, as it might come up. Consider the example of a citizen suing the local administration because they refused to register their infant’s Amazigh name. Suppose the case goes all the way up to the Courts. It might very well be that the Judge would sustain the administration’s decision by invoking the order of precedence in these fundamentals. And considering how conservative the Judges’ corps are, this instance is more than likely to be observed in the near future.

The New Royal Motto: "Monarchy Rules All, and That's Official Now"

The positive contribution in the preamble is the unequivocal support and endorsement of international treaties on Human Rights and International Law. This was one of the most important pledge activists wanted the government and the regime to honour, without restrictions or reservations. This does not mean the end of police brutality, or the abuses citizens have to endure whenever they need to deal with the local administration. Again, the liberal tendency within the document itself is hurriedly curtailed in the name of sovereignty (and thus, local context, a window of opportunity to conservative interpretation of international law) -Another peculiar article I noticed was the “Right To Live” (Art.20) and yet death penalty is not explicitly mentioned and abolished; alternatively, this could also be a constitutional roadblock against any pro-abortion legislation. In both cases, a well-meaning established principle is going to yield the opposite, reactionary outcome.

The articles themselves operate pretty much under the same mechanism, especially on the executive branch: the King heads the newly-established Security Counsel (Art.54) still retains the General Staff (Art.53) religious leadership (the 1996 Article 19 turns into Article 41) and finally all cabinet meetings where the strategic decisions are made.

الفصل 41

الملك، أمير المؤمنين وحامي حمى الملة والدين، والضامن لحرية ممارسة الشؤون الدينية. يرأس الملك، أمير المؤمنين، المجلس العلمي الأعلى، الذي يتولى دراسة القضايا التي يعرضها عليه. ويعتبر المجلس الجهة الوحيدة المؤهلة لإصدار الفتاوى المعتمدة رسميا، بشأن المسائل المحالة عليه، استنادا إلى مبادئ وأحكام الدين الإسلامي الحنيف، ومقاصده السمحة. تحدد اختصاصات المجلس وتأليفه وكيفيات سيره بظهير. يمارس الملك الصلاحيات الدينية المتعلقة بإمارة المؤمنين، والمخولة له حصريا، بمقتضى هذا الفصل، بواسطة ظهائر

الفصل 53

الملك هو القائد الأعلى للقوات المسلحة الملكية. وله حق التعيين في الوظائف العسكرية، كما له أن يفوض لغيره ممارسة هذا الحق.

الفصل 54

يُحدث مجلس أعلى للأمن، بصفته هيئة للتشاور بشأن استراتيجيات الأمن الداخلي والخارجي للبلاد، وتدبير حالات الأزمات، والسهر أيضا على مأسسة ضوابط الحكامة الأمنية الجيدة.

The innovation in this constitution comes from the appointment of a Prime Minister from the majority party after a general election. The perverse established mechanism is too obvious: should a political party not amenable to the King’s views win a seizable majority of seats, the King, or his advisers, can weaken them by picking a Prime Minister other than the Party Leader. Divide and Rule, so that only obedient Prime Ministers can be appointed. Other than that, the King still retains power to hire and fire Ministers.

On the Judiciary, nothing has been done. Judges are not independent, because the King still chairs the Supreme Judiciary Council (the name changed a bit, but the attributions remain the same)

الفصل 56

يرأس الملك المجلس الأعلى للسلطة القضائية.

الفصل 57

يوافق الملك بظهير على تعيين القضاة من قبل المجلس الأعلى للسلطة القضائية.

Article 64 is a concrete threat to the Members of Parliament’s freedom of speech and immunity. The fact that the article enumerates these highly political cases instead of those potentially related to common law matters is not only a political threat to outspoken MPs, it is also an implicit invitation for the peoples’ representatives not to be bold, and whenever they can get away with it, engage in corruption and other improper behaviour from an elected office.

الفصل 64

لا يمكن متابعة أي عضو من أعضاء البرلمان، ولا البحث عنه، ولا إلقاء القبض عليه، ولا اعتقاله ولا محاكمته، بمناسبة إبدائه لرأي أو قيامه بتصويت خلال مزاولته لمهامه، ماعدا إذا كان الرأي المعبر عنه يجادل في النظام الملكي أو الدين الإسلامي، أو يتضمن ما يخل بالاحترام الواجب للملك.

All in all, the reports on newspapers that the King has curbed some of his powers is an attempt to polish a timid political process, or outright ignorance of Moroccan politics since 1956. While it is true the new articles spend a great deal of lengthy and tedious enumeration of dispositions, they do not bring new concepts other than those necessary for the decorum. Actually, if it was not for these accessories, the constitution just writes down the powers ” The King discovers while He practises them” as Professor Mennouni once said.

This lengthy overview of the new constitution is two-fold: it explains why I stand by my decision to vote against the new constitution, and it describes quite eloquently the new regime we are living under. We have moved from the dictatorial Hassan-II era to that of Soft Authoritarianism. The red lines still exist, but there is no systematic repression on those who cross it. But to these impudent, contentious subjects, the retribution is random and sometimes harsh. In any case, both eras share the random-looking pattern of repression; But now that the Monarchy’s legitimacy is firmly and strongly entrenched, they can engage directly into formalizing their patronage over the other institutions.

From a historical point of view, and bearing in mind the evolution of the balance of forces between the Palace and its real opposition, this new constitution does not take away powers from the King, it does not add up some more (if that was ever possible) it simply recognizes the Regal Hegemony.