The Moorish Wanderer

Every Word Means No

It’s a funny business, this constitutional thing. The more one looks at past referendums,the less they would be inclined to give it a chance as a pro-democratic move.

It is true we had some 5 major constitutional amendments (including the very first 1962 constitution) and yet we got stuck with the same old farandole: the King has it all, his powers derive from positive law (and the executive body in residence) and spiritual legitimacy (as the Commander of the Faithful in a De Jure Islamic community). And no matter how hard one tries to prove that such exaggerated concentration of powers is incompatible with basic democratic principles (as well as a gross distortion of Moroccan political history) the story goes unchallenged. Only a small core of resolute radicals gainsay the Regal supremacy, either on the premises of religious misgivings, like Al Adl, or because it contradiction a secularist and democratic values upheld by left-winger like the Democratic Left (i.e. PSU, PADS, CNI and Annahj parties) and Human rights activists AMDH.

"شعبي العزيز أدعوك لتقول نعم وأنا على يقين ستقول نعم"

Mainstream political parties, whether in government or parliamentary oppositions cosy up to the monarchy by trying to smooth as much as possible their position (if they’ve ever had any) on constitutional powers. Consensus is the word. Cranky, hurriedly patched-up in their defeat and taboo, but a consensus nonetheless.

It would be dishonest of me not to share regular doubts I have on that particular issue of voting. I don’t doubt my intrinsic position (that’s what you usually might expected from stubborn radicals) on voting No; It’s the whole exercise that could be qualified at best as political jocosity, if not outright ridiculous travesty of democratic debate. How can one lonely blogger, an expatriate student on top of it, engage in a confrontation with what is essentially a royal will. It can still be considered a Lèse-Majesté crime to stand up and call for anything else than a ‘Yes’ vote (a ‘No’ or a Boycott are equally an offence).

Will me and my likes be permitted to go on radio and TV to explain themselves freely? Will newspapers’ columns open up for contradictory views? Aren’t we -I assume there’s at least one other person that already made up their mind as well- crossing His Majesty’s will by calling for a different vote? That’s what happens when the constitutional is rigged so as to provide the ruler with discretionary powers. The game outcome is known even before it is played. Why, might one ask, waste time, energy and resources for a lost cause? These are my doubts. Are my actions going to matter?

On a  different subject, the recent interview Foreign Affairs Minister Taib Fassi Fihri gave on France24, as well as his statements in the US are unequivocal: there is a ‘glass roof’ for constitutional amendment, and though many consider this roof to be reasonable, it doesn’t change much then present regime structure; worse, it doesn’t introduce those changes we direly need-and for which serious political parties have been militating since 1962-. These statements also confirm -or at least do reinforce it- the opinion the future constitution has already been written, and the next two months are going to be be there for political theatricals.

The Highest rule of the realm: a devolved Constitution since 1962

The No vote is based on two main and succinct arguments: first, we, as aspiring citizens, have not been consulted on this; The whole matter. Formally, the Highest Authority, according to the constitution, is not the King, but the People of Morocco (yes, it’s crazy, isn’t it?); and in this particular instance (as well as countless others) we have been robbed of our right to look into the amendments before they are cooked up.The same argument applies to the appointed members of the panel; they might be respected scholars in their own right, but Mohamed Q citizen has not been consulted beforehand.

Second, 3 months is deviously too short a period to discuss a seemingly important amendment. Actually, it amounts to even less than that: the commission has 3 months to dream up its recommendations, and in the happy event His Majesty agrees to its output, then immediately put it to the country. Those calling for a nation-wide debate will look like idiots, a new constitution will be voted and this brief interlude of unfettered debate will be closed. There are a lot of assumptions in this scenario, but the fact remains, an ambitious new constitution (that’s the sense it conveyed in the March 9th speech) cannot be wrapped-up in 3 months and voted on the fourth. That’s robbing the Moroccan people from a long-deserved new, actual democratic constitution.

Coming back on the sporadic doubts I have on the whole issue, It’s the expected impact a No campaign might have on the voters, regardless of any parasitical intervention from the Makhzen administration (I know my local Moqadem is a nice man, but if he has orders to dispatch his Mokhaznias, I don’t think I stand much chance to reason with them)

Assuming I would be allowed freely to distribute leaflets in my neighbourhood and engage with neighbours (a genuine democratic exercise, one might point out), how will we affect the final outcome? I am quite disillusioned when it comes to that: the new constitution will pass with a majority, and I have the feeling the size of such a win is going to matter more than its likelihood. I referred before to a vote of less than 80% Yes as a defeat. One of the main features our ‘National Consensus’ tenants like to boast about is that the Throne and The People are of one mind.

How will this square with say, a 30% no? Will the King put to practise the old Malekite saying that goes like: “The Khalifa can do away with the rotten 1/3 of His population in order to salvage the remaining 2/3″?

Polling The Numbers

reforme.ma is a very useful website. Its structure does not help, especially when using a facebook interface with comments from any user on everyone of the 108 articles is counter-productive; judging from the de facto mini-forum on each and every relevant constitutional article, I think the webmasters’ views are not being vindicated here, and so I don’t know if it is the best way to go down the debate on the constitutional reforms.

Furthermore, there’s little information: is it a government-sponsored initiative? Or is it the brainchild of a very enthusiastic web-citizens? Or a little of both? Anyhow, web-users should indeed feel grateful such an initiative took place. And I, among all others, have an additional motivation to feel grateful. Merci. This is a laudable initiative, whatever the person or organization behind it, mainly because it provides raw data more or less adequate for some polling computations. This is not criticism per se, but I just need to square things up about the data itself, and then the way I am putting it to use.

First, I am not a pollster -I know a couple of things about it due to a training I received some years ago- but it seems to me, for all its first-hand quality, this data is very messy, from every aspect of it. For one, asking people to vote Yes/No on every article (and there 108 of them) is not the best way to take the nation into confidence, so to speak. The binary choice tears apart any nuanced views on specific constitutional stipulations, and in matter of constitutional law, so I am told, there’s a great deal of nuance (what I call blurriness) to be observed in the enunciation of such legislation. The set of data therefore loses a great deal of its strength in understanding the kind of believes Moroccans nurse toward their own constitution.

There’s also the problem of sampling: to this date, and according to the website statistics, 144,171 likes/dislikes votes were recorded (and 2647 comments too). Now, the number itself is large enough to qualify as a working sample. and one can reasonably argue randomness properties can be observed with a sample of this size. But in real life, the voting sample’s representativeness is biased, and that is so for many reasons. First, there’s gainsay whether 144,000 physical voters did click on the ‘vote’ button. I personally did not vote down or in favour all articles, and as it happens I voted from two computers (or shall we say from two different IPs) as well.

That’s the mess, and it gets even messier when considering the voting population: no idea about their basic specifications, e.g. gender, demographics, education, geographical location, political allegiances or leanings, etc…. We can also be sure that there are large scores of Moroccan population that are left out of the process: how many of these voters already experienced a referendum in their life? How many voted yes or no on the 1962 referendum? How many of them are illiterate?  What about the rural community or any community with a lower internet connection penetration rate? It is great to record the markedly improved figures ANRT (Agence Nationale de Réglementation des Télécommunications) publishes on internet connection, but surely there are substantial caucuses left out of this informal polling.

Note: I am being very harsh both on the idea of using this data for polling and on the validity of what I will present the readers with, but that is out of intellectual probity. I admit my interpretation will be somewhat partisan (beautifully argued with the use of statistics, but nonetheless skewed towards my side of the story) but then again, it will be the first serious attempt to prize up the nation’s shape of opinions.

Before we get down to business, I noticed a few outstanding votes on some articles, and even more remarkable instances of sensitive ones:

Article 19 has 55% votes in favour (with 45% against) but those with intermediate knowledge in statistics know error margin considerably reduce this seemingly clear win for Art.19 on a sample of 3189 votes (less than 160 votes could swing it back) (I was surprised by how narrow votes were on that particular constitutional roadblock)

Article 21 also shows a similar narrow voting (57% in favour indeed, but that could easily scale back to 50% for a 125 votes swing)

Article 23, on the other hand has a clear win (even with a 5% margin error, 67% is way out of the the error interval, as it takes a swing of 532 votes) and it is quite surprising to record a clear vote down on the article that enshrines the most His Majesty. Other outstanding votes are related to government prerogatives with substantial margins: Article 24 and 25 voted down with respective margins of 84% and 74%. Article 29 that delineates Dahir prerogatives is voted down as well, with a margin of 78%.

Large margins on specific articles, and those relative to the King's prerogatives are surprisingly NOT having the voters' favour

The general configuration of the current constitution is very surprising, and as far as I am concerned, very encouraging (as far as web users are concerned). Unless one is thinking all, or shall we say a substantial part of these voters are Algerian, Zionists, or even Libyan agents provocateurs, those who disliked the Kings powers, namely Articles 24 to 29 (basically the core of His Majesty’s prerogatives) and others on the side, that give the King a greater leverage, on appointing judges, or even chairing seemingly marginal constitutions. Again, setting aside the conspiracy theory, there is a large number (perhaps even larger than the historical 9%) that are fed up with the disproportionate concentration of powers in the royal hands.

What is even more extraordinary, the spread is even larger -in favour of Nay votes- in these very specific articles (24 to 29, 33 and 83 to name a few) and by large spread, I refer to a margin in favour larger than the Yay votes. On the other hand, other dispositions were voted down, related to Parliament as well as Government responsibilities and powers.

This is very encouraging and frustrating at the same time. But first, I should voice my frustration with this web-consultation, not because of its shortcomings, but because it simply underlines the cruel lack of polls in Morocco. Legislative obstructions, defiance towards such interviews from the public, and perhaps a misapprehension of market perspective from polling companies are but a few parameters that can account for the ridiculously low number of polls run in Morocco. This website has done an excellent job in shedding light on it.

I mentioned above the results are encouraging: it means a certain population -whose salient properties remain unknown, unless I can find time to screen 2647 + facebook and twitter profiles,  a certain population that can be receptive of either calls for boycott or voting down (a Nay-l on the coffin of this commission. Pun-time) the draft constitution. It is also frustrating because there is no guarantee whatsoever this commission would hear my voice (read my lines, to be more precise) or draw the accurate conclusions from such vote.

The nihilists are coming, and they are coming to your town… (Let’s see if there’s a post-March 20 spike…)

Thank You Your Majesty, But No Thanks.

Cooler heads prevail. Though it is now almost 48 hours after the King’s Speech, and it is still early to say, I have made my mind up on the very issue of constitutional referendum: I will be voting No, and depending on the date, I will do my best to be in Morocco and campaign there, to the best of my abilities, to convince my fellow citizens not to abstain, and to think carefully before they vote Yes.

My stand on the issue should not be construed as the typical moaning of a ‘professional complainer’, or worse, the dangerous plotting of a full-paid agent provocateur. It should however be considered for what it is: the logical conclusion of lucid expectations. And I should think my nihilism (to paraphrase our matchless Communications Minister and official Government Spokesman, Khalid Naciri) remains constructive (I would not agree with those calling for a boycott, though I am sympathetic to their action as we do have a great deal in common). The panel in charge of re-writing the constitution has been appointed– and as far as regular citizens are concerned, no one was consulted on these appointed panellists (many of whom are respected constitutional law professors, but with no proven record of baldness in terms of constitutional reforms. His Majesty and his counsel played safe by choosing dull people. For the disgruntled citizens like me, it is a disappointingly sad omen on the likely drafted constitution.

Before I start elaborating on why I have made my mind up very early, I should perhaps address a ‘methodological’ issue: I have already recorded feedbacks on such early pledge, and these are not very encouraging; In a nutshell, we should all be grateful to His Majesty to grant us, contumacious subjects, our wishes (by

the way, it was a delight to read or listen to artistic flip-flops. God Bless the Internet and the snapshots.) So now, dissident voices should rally behind and mute their concerns. That, in my opinion, destroys the very basic idea of democracy. This timid reform is a first step or rather a substantial step in a never ending democratic process. And I believe expressing dissident opinion does not weaken this process, but strengthen it instead. Would you imagine a dull campaign where everyone calls for ‘Yes’?

Now, back to the process itself: it is quite obvious that 3 months are not enough to debate a genuine constitutional reform, and if I had access to some inside intelligence, I would say that the document in question has already been drafted in its core dispositions, and the 3 months are just a time lag to ‘educate’ the public –and mute the dissidence- on the idea that this is a ‘frontier constitution’. Alternatively, I can put on my optimistic hat and praise this time period as whip-up for all interested citizens to get their heads together and come up with whatever necessary or useful as a contribution to the debate.

Everyone of us, citizens at heart (and de facto subjects of the Crown) is eager to see that this reform unlocks the largest possible set of Royal prerogatives, so as to move from a constitutional monarchy (with virtually all executive powers concentrated in the hands of the King) to a parliamentary monarchy (where power resides effectively in the hands of the Moroccan people and their elected representatives). This commission is unlikely to deliver on the reforms front, not the least because its legitimacy is not popular, and the panellists are also likely to play safe and push for an upgraded version of the last constitution (1996). Under the assumption that the draft has not been prepared yet, It would have been best to table a longer time period (say a year instead of 3 months) and with a larger and more diverse commission (come to think of it, a constitutional convention is a much bolder, albeit much less expected move) whose members would not be restricted to an assembly of law scholars.

We still have 3 months to go. And when this commission presents its findings to the King and to the People, those of us who care about such things are presented with three alternative courses of action: either accept the draft and call for an affirmative vote, refuse the proposed constitution and vote no, or refuse the whole thing and refuse even to show up to the ballot. As a show of good faith -and an extraordinary effort in looking optimistic on my part- I will do my best to campaign intelligently for a ‘No’ Vote. Boycott, in my opinion is likely to undermine its goals more than it would help (the pro-boycott and I are of one mind on the undemocratic selection and outcome of such commission, that goes without saying)

Why vote no: as it happens, I have been involved with a certain political apparatus that has been remarkably constant and faithful to the concept of a constitutional reform. The Moroccan radical left has always been critical of the ‘the granted constitution’ and this stalwart stand on principles should be underlined when compared to the spineless, obsequious and unimaginative stand of mainstream political parties, who suddenly champion these reforms as ‘necessary’ and ‘beneficial’. I think a ‘No Vote’ or a boycott are only remaining faithful to their proclaimed principles.

My minimal set of reforms is unlikely to be matched. It simply means that I am not going to be satisfied with the draft constitution tabled for popular referendum, and as such, I would vote against it. This is democracy 101: I don’t agree, ergo I vote against. Any Belkhayat-style anathema implying I would be a traitor to the King and to the Nation should be dismissed as incoherent and shallow dithering of flip-floppers and opportunists.

A friend and fellow blogger expressed his concerns about the campaign itself, and I fully share them: are people like me be allowed to express their views on the public media outlets? Am I guaranteed that, if I ever was on the street, distributing leaflets and engaging with citizens to convince them not to vote in favour, no one will threaten my physical integrity? In short, will my voice be heard and not suppressed? And in a sense, it is worrying that I should ask these questions: I blog in English, and many of the issues I post about are not of the bread and butter kind of issue, but what would happen if I decide to go off-line and engage with other Moroccans in Morocco?

What is to be done, then? First, I will try to do what the commission is doing: draft my own recommendations on the upcoming reforms, simply as a passionate citizen doing their best to make their voice heard on the internet, democracy lives by informed and diverse opinions.

Coat of arms of Morocco

So, thank you for the Window Opportunity, but No Thanks. The Game Rules are biased right from the start.

Second, we need a target for No-voters. The good news is, such popular consultation is not one about outright majorities, and the symbol it embodies has a far greater reach than the actual result: I should like to think that a minimal figure of 30-40% ‘No’,  though a minority at the end of the day, is too high a figure for the Monarchy and its courtesans to parade around the ‘undying union between the People and the King’ line. Such figure would genuinely show that a sizeable chunk of the population wants some change, real change. And as long as nihilists like me are allowed to express freely their views on the field, as long as everyone play by the rules, the referendum outcome could bring some surprises.