There is widespread public support for Morocco's monarchyImage: AP
November 25, 2011
While the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt toppled those countries' regimes, the situation in Morocco has remained remarkably calm. The elections on November 25 are the next indicator of how the country has progressed.
When the Arab Spring got going in February, thousands of people also took to the streets in Morocco, just as in other Arab nations.
Demonstrators in Casablanca and Rabat protested for the rule of law, freedom and more political participation. The protest wave also reached large parts of the country via Facebook and Twitter. The people's rage was just as large as in Tunisia or Egypt. King Mohammed VI reacted - but not with tanks. Rather he introduced a sweeping constitutional reform.
"He was able to placate public anger with this move," said Mohamed Darif, a political scientist from the University of Casablanca. "Instead of oppressing the demonstrators with force, such as the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria, the Moroccan king was instead willing to respond to the demands of his people."
On July 1, over 98 percent of Moroccans voted in favor of the constitutional reform, which limited the powers of King Mohammed VI. The reform allows for an expansion of power for the prime minister, parliament and judicial system, as well as the role of political parties. Not the king, but rather the prime minster now has the right to nominate cabinet ministers and dismiss them. The Berber's ancient tongue Tamazight is also supposed to be included in the constitution, in addition to Arabic.
A history of reform
The wave of reforms didn't just begin in Morocco with the Arab Spring, though, said Darif. King Mohamed VI already spoke of democracy, decentralization, a constitutional state and civil rights when he took office in 1999.
He supported a range of sociopolitical and economic demands, for example dealing with human rights violations committed under his father King Hassan II during the so-called "Years of Lead." He had family law changed to give women more rights. By introducing Berber dialects in both media and schools, he was able to prevent ethnic uprisings such as in Algeria.
"Morocco has always had a tendency for democracy and freedom of speech," said Darif. "Civil society was always present. There were always parties, which competed against each other and formed coalitions. And there were always human rights organizations with international recognition that were able to criticize the political system in Morocco."
On an economic level, the king can book his greatest successes. In the past 10 years, there has been continuous economic growth of over four percent. The infrastructure has improved, the highway system is getting longer and the first high-speed trains are supposed to start running in Morocco from 2015 on. Unemployment meanwhile has dropped.
The revolution isn't over
What many Moroccans consider historic change, however, is for others simply a deception and manipulation of the people. The new constitutional amendment does not respond to the demands of Morocco's streets, said Ouidade Melhaf, an active member of the "February 20" movement. This pro-democracy group is made up mainly of young people with various ideologies and political tendencies, from left-wing radicals all the way to Islamists. To this day, they still take to the streets every Sunday and protest in Casablanca or Rabat.
The movement has also called for a boycott of the planned parliamentary elections scheduled for November 25. They boycotted the referendum on the constitutional reform four months ago, as well. This was due to several reasons, said Melhaf.
"The same government is still in power and the interior ministry is still responsible for observing and organizing elections," she said. "This ministry has a dark past when it comes to the manipulation of elections."
The February 20 movement wants to exert greater pressure to achieve more far-reaching reforms. Above all, they are fighting for more democratization and against corruption in Morocco.
"A democracy within a monarchy can only function with a true constitutional monarchy," said Melhaf. "Everything else wouldn't be a democracy."
Morocco's king continues to be the commander in chief of the army. He can dissolve the parliament and has the final say in legal and religious questions. Nonetheless, there is no broad movement in Morocco demanding the monarchy be completely abolished - not even the February 20 movement. But, Melhaf said, the revolution in Morocco is far from over.
"The assumption that Morocco is an exception is wrong and no longer valid," she said. "Major protests also took place in Morocco, mainly in the marginalized and small cities and villages. The violence of the system against the demonstrators was also always present."
Instrument of control
Political scientist Darif said he fears that the elections results and possible ballot-rigging could disappoint the people. After all, nothing had changed at the core of the party system. He said he didn't expect major changes in Morocco's political constellations.
"To date, no new parties have formed which can deal with the demands and expectations of the democracy movement," Darif said.
The potential for new social unrest following the elections should therefore not be underestimated, said Tarik Nesh-Nash. The young Moroccan software engineer has created a website with a type of early warning system to monitor and control the parliamentary elections.
"The website www.marsad.ma gives citizens the opportunity to observe and accompany the election process," Nesh-Nash said.
Using communication techniques such as SMS and social networks, details about vote rigging are supposed to be made public. Nesh-Nash said he wants to enable free and fair elections in his country with this website. It is supposed to help citizens take a more active role in political events in Morocco.
It isn't the first time that Nesh-Nash has seen to more transparency with the help of new media. Already his website www.reform.ma - which followed the analysis and voting on the constitutional reform in July - was a huge success.