The Moorish Wanderer

Reform or Radical Change: a False Debate

The following post is a personal account of a pleasant late evening meeting organized by Cap Démocratie Maroc (Capdema) society, a debate in the lines of the theme “Reformism or Breakthrough change?

Before I go on, I should perhaps specify a declared interest, as a (senior) member of that society. Although this is not necessarily a sponsored post, it is merely the expression of my sentiment over what has been said during the first hour and half. As always with that kind of debated abstract concepts, the conclusion -if there was to be any- would be ambivalent: in essence, the real question looming ahead was: do we need reforms in Morocco, or is it radical change we are seeking? The various remarks and mano-a-mano discussions do suggest that it is, above all, a matter of perception. And perception, indeed, already framed the terms of the debate.

The idea of holding such a debate originated from a previous epistolary discussion between Capdema President, Younes Benmoumen, and a young Annahj top activist, Abdellatif Zeroual -a member of a panel held during Capdema’s Summer University– the former has a self-proclaimed reformist streak, while the other is living up to his party’s revolutionary past, and acts as a herald of crypto-communism, Maoism style (yes, they still exist) while he lambasts reformists for being too timid. Anyway, that discussion, for all the important principles and issues it raised, is, to put it politely, a boring one. But then again, it seems not, many young people joined in a week ago to discuss the issue.

Now that the backdrops of the debate has been delineated, let us go back to the terms themselves. It was framed, not out of malice, but because of, essentially, the prevailing sentiment things are going too slow. But then again, that is the polymorphous feature of Feb20 movement: there are too many, if not contradictory tendencies within, and from what I have heard on behalf of prominent Feb20 activists (Omar Radi, for one) the immediate agenda for the movement is to accommodate these groups and make them work with each others. Not very ambitious, and at the same time a necessary preliminary step not to be taken lightly.

V. Lenin, President of Government in Morocco?

I was actually disappointed by Radi’s analysis of what’s reformism, and what is not. The youthful demeanour of many Feb20 belies some old-fashioned approach to political analysis: an analogy with Russia circa 1905, or the split in the Russian Social-Democratic Party earlier (1902) was, in my opinion a bit over the top and far-fetched, while it betrayed a very anachronistic way of thinking. I can understand the common features between the timid reforms we have had and the Czar‘s decision to re-establish a Duma a century ago, but that’s about it. Plus that analysis suffers from what Karl Popper referred to as “The Poverty of Historicism“: Human history is a succession of single event. Popper’s criticism does not contradict the existence of a historical trend, though, nor does it conflict with the possibility of iterative events.

I believe this is to be the focal point of the bias: because there is a systematic definition with respect to historical events in other countries, we end up forgetting that Morocco has a much lower threshold for these grievances (political or others) and so, any demands climbing above the mainstream/average set of demands will be construed as radical and subversive. And the peculiar thing is to find Annahj activists labelling their PSU and PADS comrades as “soft on change”, even though they are, to many other fellow Moroccans, the spearhead of radicalism. It does not matter to be overtly republican, or to support parliamentary monarchy, both numbers are rabid radicals.

The other misconception around the described duality evolves within the rapport a young activist might have with history. There is need to thread carefully in these territories, but then again, when there is a lack of historical knowledge, inexperienced activists (and would-be politicians) tend to consider themselves as White Knights and the founder of true activism.

The Royal Grand Helmsman. Er...

That claim to be the one and only renewing power in the field has been overused: Istiqlal pushed for a one party- one monarch state; Allal El Fassi famously said: “God has united this great nation under one King, Mohamed V, and one party, Istiqlal”. In its first convention, UNFP defined itself as a lot more than a mere partisan organization engaging in petty party political. It defined itself as a movement, instead. Same rethoric can be found in 1970s radical left, the moderate (PJD) and radical(Al Adl) islamists. The rhetoric of breakthrough thinking and brand-new renewal has been overused, indeed, even by the Makhzen regime too: haven’t we celebrated, just a couple of days ago, the “Revolution of King and People”? scores of progressive discourse have been plagiarized by PR officials. A 4-centuries-old monarchy manages to capture that discourse to its own use, and successfully manages to convince many citizens that it is standing at the vanguard of change.

And so, the rhetoric is not the problem. The content, however, is critical to that idea of reform/radical change. Some interesting ideas have been tossed around: Agrarian reform, regulations over mineral resources, taxation, etc… but that was considered to be “basic reforms”, i.e. that’s how radical change starts. Well, to many, many people out there, it is the thin end of the wedge, not because it is too radical, but because of that lower threshold of attitude toward reform.

I did not attend the full debate, although I left at the point when a bearded gentlemen tried a nasty Ad Hominem attack, implying chain-smokers (and there were many of those around) cannot look after commonwealth, whereas they are destroying their own health. I guess some dog-eats-dog politics won’t die away…

My assessment is very optimistic: save for some rusty ideological background, practicality prevails, and while the rhetoric still needs to be renewed and beefed-up, the idea of change is there. The kind of political regime ranks way behind the real needs of Moroccan households and their future.