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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
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.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs