The Moorish Wanderer

The rise of Conservatism and Reactionaries

Posted in Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on June 2, 2011

There is at least one good thing about Feb20 Movement, and that is has brought a fresh dimension to our moribund public debate. I try to remain optimist in view of the recent tightening of the screw, but since February 20th, we have been witnessing a flourishing number of individual opinions, on various web media outlets (especially on Youtube) expressing a motley of frustrations, hopes and various thoughts on what goes well and what doesn’t in Morocco. Paradoxically, this temporary outburst of freedom generated some by-products that might prove to be a nuisance.

Before March 9th, or even February 20th, anyone calling for a constitutional reform was dismissed as a utopian freak. If one insisted, the reply was annoyed and caustic: would the new constitution put some meat in Moroccans’ meals? And the truth is, such rarefied matters do not speak to the hearts of the average voter; And though institutional issues are sometimes related to more earthly ones, the link is not always obvious, and way too tenuous to be turned around as a political argument. Things changed dramatically when the demonstration took place, and especially when the King delivered his speech: a constitutional reform, the first since 1996, is under way. What many of my friends and I humorously refer to as ‘turncoats‘. It has suddenly become THE issue of the moment, though mainstream political parties and organizations failed to think outside the box; Some of them built a box inside the one as defined per the royal speech. These have been so hostile to dissent and vitality within their structure that it was no wonder their constitutional output was of poor quality. There is however the other side of unfettered freedom of speech, and that is the rising voice of conservative voices. As a matter of fact, the term reactionary amply applies here. The most exasperated voices of the silent majority, unrestrained, passionate, went back on the offence.

As a matter of fact, and contrary to left-wing politics, the conservative side in Morocco has not enjoyed very much autonomy from the incumbent regime. It was either its official line, or some proxy puppets that get the word out. The conservative argument is boiled down to one crucial -and alluring- point: stability. Do not try and gainsay the validity of present institutions, a change is likely to make things worse. And because conservative ideas are too simple -if not simplistic– they did not have intellectual roots, the way left-wing, progressive ideas have in Morocco. And it is not as if there was a shortage of conservative thinkers: Allal Fassi is the archetype of a conservative thinker (even though his whole paradigmatic thinking evolved around improving things) and yet it is not a reference to the conservative side. The main reference, the idol is the late Hassan II. And that is the strange part of freedom of speech: the freedom to support the argument we are not ready for democracy, and that the monarchy should rule all.

The new conservatism I would like to talk about is of a new brand: it seems spontaneous, very direct in its criticism, and adopts a nationalistic stand that basically wants to preclude any dissident view on the King’s powers. The trouble with this observation is that it is based one what I have read or seen about this new generation of alter-nihilists.

We do know Moroccans are not, in their broad numbers, interested in politics. By that, I mean they do not consider political parties and unions to be representative and efficacious vehicles of their will. The 2005 Values survey of the 50th independence anniversary report points out the paradox of a large registered electoral corps (82% have registered, and 70% voted at least on one election), and yet a very weak political registering (4% in political parties and unions). Even modern politics of left and right elude the electorate: 43% of the sampled population was unable to provide indications on their political preferences, and 38% had no political opinion. Only 12% positioned themselves on the left or the right. Whatever the eminent benefits Feb20 brought to the public debate, the vast majority, the silent majority does not necessarily care; quite simple, the silent majority doesn’t know:

Le même problème se pose lorsqu’il s’agit d’évaluer l’avancement de la démocratie au Maroc. 25% n’arrivent pas à se prononcer sur le processus démocratique. 6% trouvent que le pays ne connaît pas de démocratie, 15% pensent que le processus démocratique est lent et 30% pensent que le processus d’avancement est moyen. Ceux qui trouvent que l’avancement vers la démocratie est rapide représentent 24%“. (p.51)

Assuming the results of this survey still hold, the silent majority is evenly split: half of them do not know what politics is about, the other half is convinced we are rapidly converging toward democracy. The conservatives are hiding within these 24%. And funnily enough, these are not the most well-educated among ourselves: the same survey finds a negative correlation between electoral turnout and achieved education degree.

Il semble paradoxal de constater que d’une part 75% des analphabètes votent alors que 45% d’entre eux déclarent ne pas s’intéresser à la politique, et que d’autre part 58% des instruits universitaires votent alors que 5% seulement d’entre eux déclarent être indifférent à la politique. Plus le niveau d’instruction est élevé plus l’indifférence à la politique baisse“. (p.56)

Check one of the people’s representative of the new conservatives:

I don’t know, but it looks as though some Moroccans -with a substantial audience- have voluntarily taken over the regular stifling mechanisms exercised against serious dissent. A certain category -we now know to be quite large- seems to be appalled that some would gather support and momentum for some constitutional scheme that would limit monarchical power in favour of other branches of government. The eternal Fitna argument, this hostile rapport to democracy and political dissent has prompted activist reactionaries -and I assure the reader I employ the term with no derogatory connotation in mind- to stand up for their ‘ideas’ and well, answer in kind to what they consider to be a danger to the fatherland, our stability and the ‘Moroccan Exception’. My opinion lacks the metrics of how representative this conservatism is among the silent majority, but there is good money in betting that it is a substantial body of opinion, and it would be unwise to disparaged them as mere grotesque gesticulations.

This the by-product of bursting freedom of speech: anyone who dares and criticize these people will quickly be put to shame for trying to impose on them as proponent of a Pensée Unique scheme. But contrary to the pro-reform argument, diverse and sometimes well-constructed, the conservative/reactionary/right-wing side does not bother and come up with a counter-proposal. They are after all, whether they like it or not, defenders of a status quo they do not benefit from, but do cling on because, well, there might be some rewards at the other end for being fiercely monarchist; by doing so, the terms of the debate become dangerously skewed: instead of taking time to describe in length what each caucus within Feb20 believes to be democratic reforms, time and resources are wasted on proving that we are Moroccans too, patriotic and deeply concerned about the well-being of our nation, and that our call of diversity is not a danger of unity, but an opportunity we would do well to seek.

Good things could emerge from this: ambassadors of this new conservatism are not always old and cranky; some of them are young,  and can, up to a point, sustain a high-brow argument and might, just might, be endowed with a spirit of bipartisanship. In any case, I view the referendum as a gauging the balance of power; It is a curse and a blessing in Moroccan politics, to consider time as a purely secondary variable in political strategies. The referendum merely postpones the real reform a couple of years to a decade away. Meanwhile, if conservatives could up the ante and come up with substantial arguments, it would benefit to everyone and level up the playing field. Left-wingers and tired of being the band-wagon of ideas in Morocco – and perhaps would benefit as well from a contradictory opinion that would push them harder.

My thoughts are with the relatives of Kamal El Amari, who died of injuries sustained during the May 29th demonstrations. This tragic loss should remind Moroccans that it’s a long way to true reforms that would at least abate police brutality against peaceful demonstrations.

Good Ole’ Tricks

I do feel like an idiot just right now.

Basically, the Diaspora vote is going to be lower than expected. It so happens the registering period closes on Friday 20th May (I doubt the consulates open on a Saturday 21st, even for an important matter such as the constitutional referendum) while it was “officially” announced on May 11th. I used brackets because as far as Moroccan embassies’ websites are concerned, there is a worldwide disinterest in the matter. Latest news on these sites, the glorious autonomy plan for the Sahara dispute. Lots of water went below the bridge, and yet the news for embassies got stuck on triviality (yes, the autonomy plan is a triviality unless a referendum is carried out in order to confirm the power transmission to the new autonomous Saharan authorities)

I thought it was my own negligence that prevented me from inquiring about the registering process, but it was not. On May 11th, I had to go to the consulate, so I can renew my passport. At the end of the procedure, I asked the clerk there whether I can also register for the referendum. His bewildered look told me that no instructions were passed on to the consulate personnel on the matter: “I don’t know about it” he told me.  For the record, the registering “campaign” has started on May 7th, and is to end on May 21th. Even for Moroccans living in Morocco, it is too short a time period to register for the referendum (for those who are first voters or moved in between elections). The Diaspora it seems, has been given only 10 days to register and get their things together. 3 Million Moroccans, about 12% of total potential votes, cannot on a 10 days’ notice, register for a consultation we did not have the opportunity to vote on since 1996.

Let us check what Consulates and Embassies display in their news feed:

New York Consulate:



Click here for more information

The Consul General of the Kingdom of Morocco in New York is pleased to announce that the deadline to apply for the new Moroccan ID (the CNIE) is December 31, 2011, and to urge those who have not yet applied to either come to the New York Consulate General, or visit one of the closest locations of the Mobile Consulate to their place of residence

Moroccan Pianist Marouan Benabdallah in Concert, Thursday, May 26, 2011, 8:00 pm

Marouan Benabdallah, part of the new generation of emerging Moroccan pianists, makes his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall. With a thoughtful approach to classical western music cultivated at the Béla Bartók Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, Benabdallah’s international career began in 2003 following his success at the Hungarian Radio Piano Competition and his winning the Andorra Grand Prize…

Click here to learn more

 Moroccan Embassy in France:

Sa Majesté le Roi réitère son ferme engagement à donner une forte impulsion à la dynamique réformatrice profonde en cours

Rabat- SM le Roi Mohammed VI, que Dieu L’assiste, a réitéré, mercredi 09 mars, dans un discours à la nation, son ferme engagement à donner une forte impulsion à la dynamique réformatrice profonde en cours, et dont le dispositif constitutionnel démocratique constitue le socle et la quintessence…….. [Lire..]

Réforme constitutionnelle : Le Président M. Nicolas Sarkozy félicite Sa Majesté le Roi

Rabat, 10 mars (MAP) – Le président de la République française, M. Nicolas Sarkozy, a félicité jeudi SM le Roi Mohammed VI, au lendemain de l’annonce par le Souverain d’une réforme constitutionnelle profonde……. [Lire..]

La France salue un discours royal “majeur” annonçant des réformes “déterminantes”

Paris- La France a qualifié de “responsable”, “courageux” et “majeur” le discours prononcé mercredi soir par SM le Roi Mohammed VI, saluant les reformes constitutionnelles “déterminantes” annoncées par le Souverain, a déclaré jeudi le Quai d’Orsay…… [Lire..]

Visite à Paris de M. Saad Hassar

Paris, 27 avr (MAP)- M. Saad Hassar, Secrétaire d’Etat auprès du ministre de l’Intérieur, en visite mercredi 27 avril 2011 à Paris, a été successivement reçu par M. Henri de Raincourt, Ministre chargé de la coopération auprès du ministre d’Etat, Ministre des Affaires étrangères et européennes, et M. Clacudie Gueant, Ministre de l’Intérieur, de l’Outre mer, des collectivités territoriales et de l’immigration….. [Lire..]

These two instances (you can always check with other embassies and consulates, the announcements on their websites are outdated and certainly bear no mention to the referendum) Furthermore, I can assure the readers that for at least one consulate, there was no public display of any administrative letter regarding the organization of registering campaign (as of May 11th). None whatsoever. Consulate personnel were as in the dark as we were.

Edit: The Moroccan Consulate in Paris displays today (May 19th) an announcement for the registering process and its extension till May 31th 2011.

I wish it was just an incompetent civil servant who forgot about it and did not send the administrative form to embassies. I really wish it was so simple. But it seems the old tricks are back: This is, quite simply, good old gerrymandering at the expenses of the one Moroccan community whose vote is difficult, almost impossible to ‘control’: the Moroccan diaspora, wherever it is, can vote on Referendums, and that constituency is particularly contumacious, or at least unpredictable in its voting pattern.

I though the referendum was too important not to associate the Moroccan Diaspora to the process. I thought Moroccans abroad were given the same rights; They certainly have the same obligations and do after all share with their fellow citizens the green-ish ID card and full-green passport. It is already a humiliating punishment not to vote for representatives during legislatives and local elections, so to be the victim of such backstabbing processes of disenfranchising likely voters is not only anti-democratic, but it confirms the authorities high-up, very high-up indeed, fear an unlikely outcome, one that might tip the balance in favour of the No Vote. Because there is no legal or constitutional minimum requirement for the turn-out, the only variable they need to keep at a minimum is the No Vote.

Basically, there is no particular political message carried out in boycotting, because a Yes Majority will carry the new constitution, no matter how low the turnout was. Boycott and laziness cannot bifurcate, and so the only political powerful message sent to the regime is to refuse the new constitution and force a new deal where the Moroccan people would be closely associated with the process of re-writing the 1996 constitution.

I mentioned the word gerrymandering. It is. Absolutely is: there is no constituency boundaries when it comes to referendums, direct democracy is plain arithmetics, the objective is simply to take over a majority of votes. Sadly enough, the Moroccan diaspora, in France, Spain, Netherlands or the Italy are not an aggregate of Moroccan citizens whose votes are just accrued to the overall voting turnout: polling stations, i.e. consulates or embassies, are often located far away from their homes; they need to take a day off in order to perform their civic duty. To add yet another hardship to sacrifices they would have consented out of patriotic or civic sentiments is not only a slap in the face of their commitment for democracy, but it also shows the regime does not trust citizens it cannot control or check on.

It shows the old authoritarian reflexes and behaviour did not fade away, but show surprisingly robust recovery.

I got lucky: I registered in 2007 for the general elections, and I will be spending most of September (the likely date for the referendum) in Morocco, so I can and am going to vote there. But for first-time voters, or those who will be in their host country, and couldn’t register in time, their voices will be lost. Muted. Is this democracy? Does it square with that brazen line that ‘All is Well in Morocco?‘ Because we have reached very quickly the boundaries of this farcical democracy.

So, dear fellow expatriates, think of that: a constitution is on the making, it may close down an unprecedented period of liberated free speech, and the worse thing is, you may not have a say in it because, quite simply, you missed the deadline.

A Citizen’s Gesture

Fellow blogger @Larbi_org used to exercise his wit at my expenses: intellectuals are all talk and talk, but no walk. First off, I have to say I am honoured to be bestowed such a title (I don’t mind the negative connotation attached to it, and as a matter of fact, the title would do nicely as a badge of honour)  What I do crave, on the other hand, is the rough-and-tumble of political campaigning, the engagement with the electorate, that enticing feeling of uncertainty when the local policeman or mokhazeni is likely to bark his orders forbidding ‘political agitation on the street’… And even though I am at the moment an expatriate student, I do have now the opportunity to take the argument to field application, so to speak.

This is going to be the moment of truth: All past referendums have been muted campaigns, a constant media hammering for a ‘Yes’ Vote (Those who experienced some of them surely remember ‘صوتوا بكل حرية على نعم’) and any brazen attempt to call for a contrarian opinion, or even worse, to call for a boycott were either jailed or beaten out of the street. I would like to wager the present security officials are not that dumb, and will allow some sort of dissident expression over the matter. Whatever the outcome in June, the constitutional draft is bound to satisfy some, dissatisfy others. The former will call for a vote in favour of yet another more democratic constitution, while the latter will usually split between those who vote against (not because they were content with the earlier version, but because they had wanted a different constitutional modus operandi) and those who gainsay the whole system, maximalists eager to inflict upon the regime some sort of rebuttal by trying to get the largest amount of people to boycott what they consider to be a political farce.

This is democracy, and plurality of opinions is to be expected, whatever comes out from the June deadline. Many of my friends and acquaintances want to adopt a wait-and-see attitude before making their minds up over the referendum, and I do respect their prudence. As for me, and because I know no good can come up from ageing and conservative law scholars, my mind is already made up. (right from March10th, actually). This, however, is partisan politics. There is a higher level, upon which the argument is no longer between the Yes and No, but between Participation and Boycott. I like to think civic behaviour dictates all of us should participate to the referendum, but again, the pro-boycott are entitled to their opinion, and should be respected. But to the undecided (and there is no need for polling to know they represent a majority of likely voters) these are the ones that need to be convinced of registering; And more precisely, those of us, expatriated students.

As of today, as a Moroccan citizen, a students’ society member and as a party member -in that order- I am campaigning to sign my fellow Moroccans up for the referendum. As you may know, the authorities are renewing their electoral listings (closed on May 21st), and it is an opportunity for those of us who did not vote on earlier referendums or elections, as well as for those who moved out in between elections, to register and make their voices heard.

My little stand, my little contribution to civic nihilism.

As an expatriate student, it is quite hard to doorstep fellow students and countrymen in exile, and convince them to take a day off and head to the nearest consulate (sometimes located very far from their domiciles) it is also hard to convince people just to vote; remarks like “why bother?” or “I don’t know what to vote for, better wait till June” are all sensible objections to what is seemingly a romantic stand on democracy and civics, but there remains the crucial point to be made: we need to make our voices heard.

Many of those who read past posts know I am voting ‘No’ in any case (save the one when M. Menouni decides to grow some balls and come up with a ground-breaking, earth-shattering memorandum such as this one) so why bother in trying to sign people up? many of whom are likely to vote ‘Yes’ because, well… it’s a new constitution. Don’t I have a vested interest in trying to sway the people’s votes and get them to see my own way?

Indeed I do. But that’s the beauty of applied democracy: what matters now is not what to vote for, but why bother turning out to the polling station (in my case and in the case of those I am appealing to, a consulate) and vote for something that, in all probability, does not affect the everyday life every one of us is carrying out with.

In short, pluck up your courage, gather all your civic spirits, your ID Card, Passport and Residence Permit (if applicable) and head off to the nearest Moroccan consulate, wherever you are. You owe it to your country and fellow citizens.

Political Campaigning in Morocco – Vol.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mehdi Benbarka during an electoral meeting, 1963

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wandering Thoughts, Vol.12

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

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

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

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

Mawazine: the shallow argument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, some consider him to be very stylish.

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

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

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

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

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