News / Middle East

    Analysis: Morocco Charts Own Arab Spring

    Protesters rally during a demonstration organized by the February 20 movement in Rabat, July 3, 2011.
    Protesters rally during a demonstration organized by the February 20 movement in Rabat, July 3, 2011.
    Carol Castiel

    King Mohammed VI of Morocco named a new government almost six weeks after parliamentary elections on November 25, 2011 catapulted the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a moderate Islamist movement, to power.

    Abdelilah Benkirane, PJD’s secretary general, was appointed Head of Government. Since the PJD did not win an outright majority of the 395 parliamentary seats, Benkirane leads a broad coalition that includes three secular parties. This is the first time in Morocco’s history that the prime minister has been chosen from the ruling party, a testament to the constitutional changes proposed by King Mohammed VI and endorsed in a nationwide referendum in July, 2011. The constitutional changes grant more powers to the parliament and prime minister.

    Morocco's February 20 Movement activists rally in Casablanca (file photo)
    Morocco's February 20 Movement activists rally in Casablanca (file photo)

    Meaning of reforms, new faces

    So what does it all mean for Morocco? Notwithstanding the February 20 protest movement, which does not believe the constitutional changes promulgated by the royal palace went far enough, the Kingdom appears downright stable and peaceful compared to Egypt and Libya.

    Despite the historic constitutional changes and elections, most Moroccans express skepticism bordering on cynicism regarding their elected officials. Some wonder why a PJD-led government should be any different than its predecessor government, which was perceived as corrupt and ineffectual.

    However, some are willing to give the PJD – and Benkirane in particular – the benefit of the doubt. Benkirane is uniformly seen as hard-working and serious. But observers agree that it will take much more than one man to implement the structural reforms needed to address Morocco’s challenges: rampant corruption and nepotism, high unemployment and low literacy rates.

    Morocco's King Mohammed VI (file photo)
    Morocco's King Mohammed VI (file photo)

    Nonetheless, Mustapha El Khalfi, PJD loyalist and newly-appointed minister of communication, says that the government’s top priorities will be to combat corruption, foster equitable economic development and promote social justice. Khalfi also underscored the need for more press freedom. He says that the PJD’s platform can be characterized as “reform within stability, a third way between revolution and authoritarianism.” Khalfi cautions that the nation is embarking on a long process and it has only just begun.

    Working-class Moroccans echo the need for patience. A hotel clerk in Tangier told VOA that it will take at least 10 years for Morocco to transform itself into a truly modern country. He said that, more than anything, what Morocco needs is a “change of mentality,” and that can only come with better education. He was pleased that, in contrast to its neighbors to the east, Morocco is taking the slow, evolutionary road to political development.

    One issue on which almost all Moroccans agree is reverence and respect for their young monarch, King Mohammed VI. He is seen by Moroccans as hard-working and good-hearted. Not coincidentally, Benkirane and the PJD are strong defenders of the monarchy.

    Abdelilah Benkirane (L), the new Head of Government, with two PJD delegates from Agadir (file photo).
    Abdelilah Benkirane (L), the new Head of Government, with two PJD delegates from Agadir (file photo).

    Cause for optimism?

    Generally, Moroccans seem cautiously optimistic about their future and the future of their Kingdom.

    Some believe the new government is likely to defy the political elites and secular cynics on both the left and the right who believe the PJD will surreptitiously attempt to implement an “Islamist agenda.” Actually, the PJD goes out of its way to distinguish itself from Egypt’s more conservative Muslim Brotherhood. And even if the PJD wanted to implement a more socially conservative agenda, many experts believe it would be mitigated by the three secular parties within the governing coalition.

    Moreover, Morocco’s proximity to Europe, as well as its ethnically diverse population of Berbers, Arabs, Jews, Saharawi and Africans, have rendered it a historically open and tolerant society with a moderate brand of Islam. To illustrate, the masthead of the official French language newspaper, Le Matin, displays the day’s date according to four different calendars: Christian, Islamic, Hebrew and Berber!

    These are early days for the Kingdom, which no doubt accelerated reforms in reaction to the Arab Spring. Many obstacles could still impede deep and meaningful change, such as entrenched interests and ingrained cultural habits. But a number of factors do justify cautious optimism in the case of Morocco: Its rich natural resources and diverse landscape favor greater investment and tourism; its human potential, especially among youth; the popularity of the king; and a seemingly broad desire for change as personified by the new government led by the PJD’s Benkirane. Observers agree there are tremendous challenges ahead, but there is also a palpable hope that Morocco may yet defy the skeptics, and, if successful, the North African nation could possibly serve as a model for the region and beyond.

    Join the conversation on our social journalism site - Middle East Voices. Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    Are US Schools Turning a Blind Eye to Radical Qatari Preachers?

    Parade of radical Islamist clerics using mosque at Qatar’s Education City draws mounting criticism for American universities that maintain satellite branches there

    Why Islamic State Is Down But Not Out

    Despite loss of territory, group’s ferocious attacks over past three months seen as testimony to its continued durability and resourcefulness

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora