News / Africa

    Moroccan King’s Speech Long on Reform Promises, Short on Details?

    In this photo released by the Royal Palace, Morocco's King Mohamed VI flanked by his son Moulay El Hassan, left ,and his Brother Prince Moulay Rachid, right , listens to the national anthem after he delivered a speech to the nation, March, 9, 2011, at the
    In this photo released by the Royal Palace, Morocco's King Mohamed VI flanked by his son Moulay El Hassan, left ,and his Brother Prince Moulay Rachid, right , listens to the national anthem after he delivered a speech to the nation, March, 9, 2011, at the

    King Mohamed VI has sometimes been called “the King of the Poor” for the reforms he has instituted in that country since inheriting the throne from his father, King Hassan II,  in 1999.  He instituted wider media freedoms and allowed media to report on corruption; he released political prisoners and amended the country’s penal code to ban torture; he acknowledged the government’s responsibility for thousands of so-called disappearances and other past human rights abuses; and he compensated victims and their relatives.    

    However, these gestures were not enough to guarantee Morocco’s immunity to the wave of discontent that has swept through North Africa since the beginning of the year.  Inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, Moroccan youth began February 20 to stage street protests of their own.  

    There is an important difference, however, between the uprising in Morocco and those in neighboring countries. Tunisians and Egyptians were calling for their leaders to step down.  Moroccan activists are calling for reform within the monarchy:  they want greater personal and civil freedoms;  they are advocating independent judicial and legislative branches;  they want something to be done about poverty which is most acute among rural populations.  And activists are insisting on an end to the nepotism and political corruption said to exist in the Crown’s own inner circle. 

    Promises

    In a speech televised on March 9, King Mohamed appeared to have listened to their demands. He announced he had appointed a committee of legal experts, charged with drafting draft amendments to the constitution. These, he said, would be put to a referendum in June.  He promised that the Prime Minister will in the future be elected, not appointed. 

    He also promised to reinforce systems for, as he put it, “boosting moral integrity in public life". It was a clear allusion to corruption scandals that have peppered the press and were further underscored during the WikiLeaks scandal.

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the State Department in Washington, March 23, 2011, during her meeting with Morocco's Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the State Department in Washington, March 23, 2011, during her meeting with Morocco's Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri

    Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri was in Washington this week, reinforcing his country’s commitment to democracy. Responding to complaints that activists would not be included in the process of rewriting the constitution, he said that Morocco would take an inclusive approach to reform. 

    “Everyone is invited to contribute,” he said. “The large majority of the main political parties participate and trade unions and many NGOs, including youth.  And then because his Majesty fixed the bar high, in terms of reforms, I am sure that there will be a large, large enthusiasm and a large majority of people will vote in favor of this reform.”

    Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks last December cast accused the King and his inner circle of coercing and soliciting bribes in the country’s real estate sector.

    Moroccan police officers arrest a demonstrator during a protest against government policy in Casablanca, March 13, 2011
    Moroccan police officers arrest a demonstrator during a protest against government policy in Casablanca, March 13, 2011

    Activists have since demanded that the King take action against cronies who have abused their positions. When asked whether such investigations might be forthcoming, Fassi Fehri responded simply, “No, no.”

    He then added, “Morocco put its fingers on corruption, on justice reforms, on transparency many years ago.  And we work hard in respect of our law to go forward in this specific area.” 

    Freedom, transparency

    The Minister said that in the next month, many of the new reforms will be institutionalized and he stressed his personal commitment to transparency and freedom of competition among companies. 

    However, some democracy advocates remain skeptical that the King will institute any substantial reforms, complaining that while the monarch was long on promises, he was a little short on details.   

    Abdoubakr Jamai  is the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Journal Hebdomadaire, one of Morocco’s most independent newspapers, it folded last year due to what at least one rights group termed financial stress and political pressure.   

    “The speech remains ambiguous to many Democrats,” Jamai said, “because he [King Mohamed] claims that Morocco will usher in an era of democratization with the institution of a constitutional monarchy, with a Prime minister who will be designated from the winning party in parliamentary elections, with separation of powers, independence of the judiciary, et cetera.  The problem with all these things is that we were supposed to have them before.”

    Jamai said that he did not believe the address was the speech of an institution happy to see democratization take hold; rather, it was the speech of an institution had lost some credibility and was being cornered into giving up some of its privileges.  

    Democracy activists may be in the minority in Morocco, he added, but they are well organized and have many reasons to continue demonstrating.  “Because this minority is extremely committed, because Morocco is not a democracy, because there is such corruption, because there is such poverty in Morocco, because there is such social inequality and inequity in general, this minority in my opinion can only swell.  I don’t see it shrink[ing].”

    If the Monarchy doesn’t consider more serious democratization soon, Jami warns, it could one day end up fighting for its very survival.

    Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
    and discuss them on our Facebook page.

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora