The Moorish Wanderer

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.

FPC Tour – Netroots Nation Conference

Posted in Flash News, Read & Heard, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on June 22, 2011

It feels good to be (liberal/radical) home.

For those who are not familiar with the awesome Dailykos blog, NetRoot Nation is the new name of Yearlykos, the annual convention of all progressive bloggers in America. And quite frankly, the keynote address (2,500 fired-up left-wingies in the audience) was the closest thing to a regular party convention in the United States, and we FPC bloggers, have been invited to attend the conference, and even participate in some of various panels, among which I spoke on the Arab Spring and the use Youth make of new media in their pursuit of democracy.

The use of new media in pro-democracy political forces.  Ah… I still remember myself and a couple of friends of mine, hammering out the leadership to come up with a media strategy for the party to circumvent the handicap they are suffering from in term of media visibility. Get the internet, set up a coherent communication strategy, and for crying out loud, TAKE OUT THAT F**KING OBSOLETE WEBSITE! The best answer they could come up was: “that’s very nice of you kids, keep it up” which is codeword for “ok kids, are you lecturing us on how to communicate with the masses? you are very sweet, you armchair activists“.

And truth be told, I do feel contrite about that, because as an expatriate, I cannot do much on the field, except perhaps try and convince fellow expatriate students that embracing democracy and lobbying for political awareness is a temporary patch for this hunger for action. Then comes February 20th, suddenly, even the most tech-conservative party leaders come to the conclusion that the internet is a useful tool, and straight up, a video channel has been created, a couple of (ill) produced videos uploaded there… a patchy start, but a start nonetheless.

That was the substance of my intervention on the question whether bloggers and cyber-activists are “arm-chair activists” or whether they can take their issues to the field and campaign accordingly. And quite frankly, the underlying assumption of this idea, following which only a marginal fraction of Moroccans are connected is challenged by the data at hand: there is a growing number of individuals connected to the web, many of whom are connected via mobile device and getting access to mobile and high-debit connections. There is also an increasing number of young Moroccans -and now, even the seniors- who prefer to get their news from the Internet first, as well as spending increasing hours on the web look for the information they cannot find -or with which they can interact- in more traditional media outlets. The figures put forward by the ANRT body are comprehensive on that matter.

In less than two years (September 2009-March 2011) the number of individual internet subscribers have more than doubled, and there are now about 2.1 Million households connected to Internet in Morocco, about 3/4 of these being mobile (i.e. 3G subscribers) Furthermore, an increasing number of internet users have been looking for high-debit connections, a indeed those with low-debit connections have decreased dramatically, and as of March 2011; only 966 subscribers kept on the classic internet connection contract. As a result, Moroccan internet users have become increasingly mobile, and consume larger packs of data, hence the quasi-total subscription to 1 Mb/s offers. Considering these numbers, the potential internet public out there can be at least of 8 Million and counting. The idea that internet is confined to a small population becomes more and more irrelevant.

There was also a discussion on how the civil society, or more generally the public debate might benefit from the new/social media offer. The curse of our own civic society is that it is lively and diverse, but lacks the proper channels to publicize its deeds and attract new volunteers. Because the public media outlets are either locked-in (like the TV and Radio Stations) to those parts of civic society deemed too “politically incorrect”, and if there is no alternative channel for these organizations to express themselves and contribute to any issue of the public debate, then they would ultimately die out, and slowly, only the blandest and uninteresting would survive in an decorum media world.

2,000 to 2,500 delegates at Netroots Nation, all progressive and left-wingers.

the new media managed to spice up the public debate among those who care about the issues. We are indeed a small, tiny minority on twitter, less so on facebook, but there are definitely thousands of blogs around the Moroccan web-citizens and NGOs, many of whom are opinion leaders or likely to be so. Since regular media channels are either locked up, or engaged in politically correct soliloquies, social and new media become more attractive to those how cannot air their views and opinions. It is likely to be messy and disharmonious, but that’s a start.

I also had the opportunity to meet Dailykos founder Markos Moulitsas -who was a bit surprised as I was over-excited when I first met him… The “meet and greet” with the Dailykos community session, as well as the other bloggers -most prominently, John Aravosis from Americablog– were pleasing: they were pleased to meet bloggers from around the world (I think the FPC group was the only foreign delegation to Netroots) and where genuinely interested in each one of us bloggers’ issues on political blogging in our respective countries. Special thanks to John Aravosis, who readily offered to arrange short meetings with Keith Ellisson, Minnesota Congressman and the first Muslim to join the House (the meeting was abruptly interrupted when a reporter barged in) then member and media Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (I had to meet one of these people!) Brandon English. Oh, there’s also a short audio interview I made I still need to find… The meetings with these US web-dignitaries were impressive indeed, because these are actually able to influence, or at least to make themselves heard from even the highest spheres of power in the United States. And reciprocally, they were eager to hear about our political blogging in our countries, and expressed admiration for out work (at this point, I think a “Head-Swelling” alert sign needs to be put out)

Last but not least, there was an incident that showed the American paradox: on our second day at Minneapolis, and prior to the Karaoke night (which I have spent with Dailykos contributor UnaSpencer, chatting about politics)  a GOP (Republican) Blogger harassed two Hijab-wearing young women by filming them in an outrageous bullying manner under the guise of ‘Freedom Of Speech’.

The Netroots buddies around swiftly retaliated by filming him too, and then called the police for harassing the two young women. It was quite a sight indeed!Next day, a Flashmob was organized at the GOP Blog Conference at Minneapolis, with Muslim and non Muslim women as a protest against the bigoted attack. Unaspenser explains: