The Moorish Wanderer

I Say Yes, You Say No. Now Shut Up.

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on June 22, 2011

The Campaign for Referendum Day has already started, and it is more than likely the next couple of weeks are going to be ugly, with Moroccans brocading others as traitors and un-Moroccans while others are branded as Makhzenian puppets.

At least we are sure of one thing: our society is deeply divided; Whatever our political -however firm they might be- there is hate for those who do not share our beliefs, and there is active hostility to those who try to voice them. Such a rift between dissidence and conservatism is wide enough for the regime not to interfere, or at least not to do so publicly; they have now their minions to do the ugly shore of suppressing and harassing dissidence, while keeping up the decorum of democratic debate. Not to mention the earlier communiqués released by our significant partners (the European Union‘s Commissioner Catherine Ashton and United States Department of State Secretary Hillary Clinton, among others) all supporting and praising our unique experience in MENA region. Yes, it is depressing for the dissidents in Morocco not to find support or forum -but the social media- to voice their opinions.

Now those crossing swords on Facebook, twitter or other social networks do not represent the larger population in Morocco, whether ‘traitors‘ or ‘chlahbya‘. There is such a thing as The Silent Majority among Moroccan voters. Those who vote but do not have a good grasp on what they are voting for (or against) and those who know exactly what it’s all about, and yet do not want to get involved in the issue. And between those groups (large enough and yet difficult, if not possible to gauge because of the polling restrictions) there are those who do not care, or simply cannot make their minds up. But the thing is, those who care about politics need to engage in a dispassionate debate, otherwise, the essential exercise of democratic debate will be marred with over-excitement and these violent salvoes of criticism and verbal abuse only confirm further the prejudice many Moroccans hold on democracy: a factor of dissension and deadly fitna.

You have been warned. (Italian SPA Ad 'arranged')

So many Moroccan institutions and political organizations are calling for a positive vote on the draft constitution. I suppose it is a commendable position, as long as it is buttressed by sensible arguments, even though I tend to disagree with their judgement. But that is the nature of democracy, and the diversity of opinions does contribute to its strengthening. I wish that was true, but the pro-No and Boycott are utterly handicapped by a plethora of reasons, the first of which is the impossible task for voicing their position on public media, either because of the obscure HACA (Haute Authorité de Communication Audiovisuelle) regulations regarding political campaigning on public media outlets, or because of the illegality of publicizing a boycott. The only open spaces on which the dissidence can express itself freely remain the private newspapers -with the financial and trial hazards such venture entails and the social networks, uncensored but still messy and unpredictable as means of mobilization for advocacy and public causes. And even on those unfettered forums, violent discussions and insults flare up against those of us who dare express a different opinion.

I believe the pro-Yes vote has enough support -genuine support- for the authorities not to interfere and let the ball rolling, business as usual. My theory-sustained only with subjective impression- is that the violent events that occurred yesterday -and very likely to happen in the next days and weeks- are not the signs of a nation-wide policy from the highest authorities to stifle No/Boycott dissent, but rather those of zealous local officials, ready to muster the needed support from obliging local neighbourhood NGOs, thugs and tramps to enforce the “National Consensus”. Such as it is, the wonder of Makhzenian machine is to work efficiently with no paperwork, no written directives, not even a concerted policy. And in this unique brand of authoritarianism, the regime can successfully manage to keep their hands clean, and at the same time elicit active support from mainstream political parties and local elected officials. “Do you want democracy? Here’s your neighbourhood’s favourite tramp threatening you with a 15-inch machete“.

On the other hand, these occurrences of foul play only confirm how divided our society is: major political parties show how disconnected they are from their grass-roots (if they have any)as examples of Benabdellah’s PPS shouted down

or indeed the RNI’s rally turned ugly after individuals brought in to fill in the seats voiced their anger and started throwing plastic bottles and cans to ministers Salaheddine Mezouar and Moncef Belkhayat.

The political rift also allows to glimpse at the dangerous levels of social and economic frustrations among the lower bracket of working class, whether in their anger towards local administration, or in their open hostility against middle-class protesters. Social frustration can also be observed in the kind of insults directed to Feb20 supporters: traitors, republicans, islamists, whores, atheists, homosexuals and ‘ramadan-breakfasters’ are the recurrent sobriquets bestowed upon those who happen to be motivated by the need to shake up things in a stagnating Morocco.

The same rift runs along the traditional antagonism in the Moroccan public debate: Amazigh vs Arab-supremacist, Secularists vs Religious conservatives, “Traitors” vs “Patriots”. In normal times, these clashes would be confined to newspapers, blogs and social networks, but these historical times -both at home and abroad- amplify and exacerbate the tension. And though we need these opposite opinions to be voiced, it would be better to do so within a mild-mannered, democratic debate. The coming weeks however, allow to foresee but further violent debate and clashes.

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.