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

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries 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.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

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 In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs