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.

May Day And the Trade Unions Mafia

Today was the Great May Day with its colourful parades, joyful demonstrations and overflowing bouquets of red flags and roses. These are my child memories of May Day, anyway. Other than that, as far as I can trace back my own recollections of what a union does for a living (so to speak) it is either disinterest or puzzlement to the actual nature pertaining to their work.

UMT Logo, circa 1955

Well, an ill-informed judgement could not explain why unions would exist if political parties, especially left-wing ones, were already in place defending the workers’ grievances. The initial puzzlement might also be explained by the quasi-incestuous relationship many Moroccan political parties entertained (or are still doing so) with our trade unions even before 1956. Unions and Parties act like political mates, a bit like Juno, the two-faced (literally) Goddess. And unfortunately, such unhealthy proximity was operated at the expense of the very workers both political institutions vow to defend. So for all the decorum every May 1st, the parade is just a travesty of Workers’ day. This sounds suspicious of a self-confessed

With no intended pejorative connotation, Moroccan unions are a product of French colonialism. Very early after the Fes Treaty, French unions started to recruit Moroccan workers (against segregationist regulations) who, in turn, established in March 1955 their own union with the foundation of the Union Marocaine du Travail (UMT). In May 1956, the union boasted a 600,000 strong members base, i.e. about 52% of urban workforce; It maintained a close relationship with Istiqlal party, right until 1959 with the UNFP spin-off. The old-style Istiqlal in turns founded its own union in September 1959, (Union Générale des Travailleurs Marocains) UGTM. Even USFP (a UNFP spin-off) did the same in December 1978 and founded the Confédération Démocratique Du Travail(CDT) these instances (and many others) show one thing: national parties cannot thrive without a union support, so they create their own dedicated workers’ support. It looks as though these parties cannot reach out to their electorate without a parallel organization, one conveniently with no direct political agenda, but nonetheless amenable to the party’s ideology, and led by party activists and leaders. Can anyone spot the peculiarity here?

Omar Bendjelloun, the assassinated trade union leader, and perhaps the most respected and well-known of them all.

One way to explain this is perhaps because of the very tense political atmosphere following independence; parties like UNFP were regularly censored, its activists and leaders either arrested (and tortured) or prevented from carrying on their political activities; unions were a very convenient way to continue political activism without much repression; UMT union however, did not always cooperate with left-wingers: Omar Bendjelloun wrote a letter in 1963, describing vicious beating from old UMT boss Mahjoub Bensedik‘s henchmen.

“- j’espère que chacun procédera aux rectifications nécessaires, en donnant leur véritable contenu aux concepts révolutionnaires au lieu de ne s’en servir qu’occasionnellement comme alibis au service de la diffamation,

– j’espère que la lucidité triomphera en fin de compte pour éviter à chacun de devenir encore plus prisonnier d’un engrenage qu’il a lui-même engagé, ou de se laisser mettre de plus en plus devant le fait accompli,

– j’espère surtout que cette lettre soit une participation au redressement de certaines erreurs, afin que rien n’empêche plus les masses populaires sous la direction de la classe ouvrière de se libérer du joug féodal et colonial, et de s’engager aussitôt que possible dans la construction du socialisme,

– j’espère enfin que tout ce qui précède ne soit pas encore une fois mis au compte de ce qu’il y aurait en moi (ou beaucoup d’autres) de “prétentieux”, “extrémiste”, “gauchiste”… Ou tout simplement “salaud”.”

Some good trade-unionist turn out to be like Omar Bendjelloun, while many others acted like Mafiosi, but the former type gets shot or turns into martyr, the later gains comfortable  rent out of a very convenient ‘mutually destructive mechanism’ kind of relationship with the regime: save for the 1967 incident, Bensedik has been in goods terms with the authorities, and over the years, his union and the others suffered from the same ailments: ageing activists’ base and operatives, bureaucratic proceedings within the federations and branches, engagement in dubious management of mutuals and various ministerial offices, etc… This holds for most unions, including the vehement CDT and its own tribune boss, Noubir Amaoui.

What about the workers? Credit usually goes to government when there is a pay rise, and these usually affect only public sector civil servants; the stereotype of these organizations as redoubts for civil servants’ privileges is further strengthen when they join in a chorus gloating about the “victorious concessions unions managed to extract from the government”, all of this, with a shrinking union base, demonises further the very idea of collective bargaining, even though empirical evidence can substantiate the argument for such labour and wage-setting contract. So the question remains: are unions any good to the workers? I guess the same applies to political parties (i.e. are they, too, any good to citizens). The strange companionship party/union goes even further in the observed weaknesses: both organizations suffer from an acute ‘personalization’: the union is automatically identified with its leader, usually the only one since its foundation (Bensedik, Afilal or Amaoui have been quasi-lifetime bosses) and are too subject to spin-offs when some frustrated n°2 decides to jump ship and set up their own organization.

3rd UMT Convention delegates

Both organization sought the support of local notabilities for electoral purposes (in the unions’ cases, a mix between professional and legislative elections) and sometimes come to conflict when politicians want to boycott a particular process when union leaders push for active campaigning. The similarities stop there: unions have been historically more flexible in their slogans. It might have to do with trade-unionist pragmatism, but it certainly is related to the perks each union can lay their hands on; each ministerial department has their mutual fund and charities, usually managed by unions, thus the potential benefits (to the members or to the organization)

Perhaps this is too much of an exaggeration of the dead-weight unions represent. As a matter of fact my criticism is not on the very idea of organized labour, and there is argument for the eminent benefits of collective bargaining in a grand design; indeed, under the assumption of some overhaul like the Open Society project, unions are more than needed to design the nationwide labour contracts needed to redefine labour-employers relationships, conflict-solving mechanisms and finally the wage bargaining process.

Collective bargaining, in this case, brings undeniable benefits. The problem is not the institution, but the men (for trade unions are a very masculine environment) behind them. There is a great deal of corruption and inertia, all of which might -just might- fade away when the pressure for new leadership renewal becomes too much for the old power-brokers to step aside and stop eating their young. A generational gap, once a crippling handicap for unions and political parties might come in handy, solving at once incestuous relationship between party and union, as well as put an end to the corrupt environment where unions evolve. Transparency and Accountability are the watchword for the “Brothers” to heed.