In contrast to 2011's revolutionary Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, change in Morocco is milder - due in part to the nation's monarch. But for many Moroccans, social reforms are more pressing than more democracy.
Morocco's King Mohammed VI reacted quickly. On March 9, 2011, he gave a rare television address, responding to the demonstrations in the country that had reached their initial climax on February 20. The king promised more democracy for the kingdom, and announced a constitutional reform - one which has since been passed and which strengthens the role of the prime minister, the parties and the state under the rule of law. A first step has thus been made. "What's still missing is the implementation of this constitutional change," said Ulrich Storck, director of the Rabat, Morocco office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is linked to Germany's Social Democratic Party. "That's now the government's task - doing everything to ensure it's enacted in this legislative period."
Morocco elected a new government at the end of 2011, with a moderate Islamic party - the Justice and Development party (PJD) - providing the prime minister for the first time. Storck does not believe Morocco has become more traditional or religious as a result. The PJD proved so popular primarily because it was a source of untapped energy, and voters trusted that its leaders could tackle pressing problems, such as high employment, particularly among young people, or an educational system reform - issues which the previous coalition could not resolve. Moroccan voters were placing their hopes in the PJD's election platform, which focused on social policies. Now, a good six months later, voters are disappointed because they see no tangible results.
Evolution rather than revolution
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, which came to be known as the "Arab Spring," breathed new life into reforms that had already started years before in Morocco. The situation in the North African monarchy was different from that in Tunis and Cairo, where protesters aimed to rid themselves of an odious ruler. A large majority of Moroccans favor their King Mohammed VI because they feel he guarantees stability. According to German political scientist Thomas Schiller, that is one of the main reasons for the non-violent, "evolutionary" approach to reform in Morocco. By initiating reforms, the king and his advisers precluded further protest movements. But one cannot ignore that this "is a very intelligent way of securing the position of the monarchy in Morocco in a lasting way," Schiller noted.
Schiller said two things are central to ensure that the evolutionary reform process develops in the right way: one, that the adopted political reforms create new political parameters; in other words, that constitutional reforms become reality in a constitutional manner; and two, that the hope of an improved socio-economic situation in the country linked with the political reforms is realized.
Turning rhetoric into reality
Just like in the other Arab countries that underwent profound changes last year, young people in Morocco see no, or only little, prospect of living a dignified life that includes a job and a place to live. Economic reforms must underpin and solidify these first political steps. The most central issue for the large majority of Moroccans is that the economic situation improve, Schiller told DW. But that will take time, he pointed out. Tangible results cannot present themselves in a matter of just a few months, he said, especially when cronyism and corruption curb already weak economic growth.
The Moroccan economy does not produce a surplus which could be invested in social programs. Storck pointed out that costs for certain products necessary for daily life are still subsidized, something which the state can hardly afford. Yet price hikes would inevitably lead to demonstrations. Political attempts to close the gap between rich and poor, between urban centers and rural areas, do exist, said Storck, yet "they all fall short and are very slow in alleviating the situation." No approach can have concrete results in just a year, he said.
Yet Storck is convinced that Morocco is on the right path, even it will be a long, slow journey consisting of many little steps. The cautious evolutionary approach, despite the risks associated with it, Schiller says, is the right one because many Moroccans believe it is the more appropriate one for the country, rather than a radical break with the current system.
Author: Sabine Hartert-Mojdehi / als
Editor: Gregg Benzow