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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More