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What the Nihilists Think

Morocco will hold parliamentary elections on September 7. In a recent speech to the nation, King Mohammed VI accused those who feel the elections are meaningless of being “nihilists.” In this guest post, Doga defends his own decision not to vote, and calls for constitutional reform as an essential step toward democracy.

The goal of elections has always been to form a strong government that is capable of administering public affairs in complete transparency, making it responsible to the people who will examine its performance and in the end hold it accountable. Yet such a strong government cannot exist under the Moroccan Constitution, because all powers are concentrated in the king’s hands, giving him the authority to name the Prime Minister as well as all the other components of government, and even to dissolve the Parliament at any time to form another. So there is no point in speaking of the importance of elections, and the Moroccan people understand that. The embarassingly low number of Moroccans registered to vote is the best demonstration of how the elections are a mirage for them. That is why constitutional reforms are necessary as a starting point and basic requirement of the democratic transition that the State has declared its willingness to achieve.

Rather than speak of the importance of constitutional reforms, the political elite has chosen to run a publicity campaign in the media (which were part of the Ministry of the Interior not long ago) to give people an illusory image of the importance of these elections. Or they tell us they are building a transparent process to ensure that candidates play by the rules. But why bother? Even once they are elected, our representatives will do little more than chase after royal initiatives, when there are any, or take advantage of the poor by building huge villas at the expense of their futures. Of course transparent elections are a good thing, but only constitutional reform can free us from the popular attitude that our friend eatbees has described as, “Let’s all march behind our glorious leader.” Only then will we be able to elect deputies to the National Assembly who can guarantee a balance of power in this country. Until now we have not been able to imagine the program of any independent political party being supported or taken seriously in Morocco!

These are the reasons why participation in these elections is pointless, so long as the programs to be followed once they are over are scripted by the Makhzen, which excludes the will of the people in the same way it always has. So why have elections, political programs and parties? Why even have a Parliament or a government! The only party that has decided to boycott the elections is Annahj Addimocrati (The Democratic Path) which offers this statement on their website.

    The Parliament resulting from these legislative elections will be no different from its predecessors regarding the function assigned to it, namely to be a tool in the hands and at the service of the Makhzen and its loyal ally the dominant coalition, allowing them in this way to legitimise their dictatorship and reinforce its continuation.

It goes on to say:

    The future Parliament will not be able to concretize your desire for national liberation and democratic construction, regardless of the results of the legislative elections, because it is under orders from the Palace, to which the Constitution confers full powers for determining the objectives and policies of the State, as well as control over the instruments of their execution: territorial administration (Walis, Governors, Caids…), the military, security and judicial apparatus, and diverse public offices and institutions.

The political elite talks about democratic transition but says nothing about constitutional reform. It talks about fighting poverty but says nothing about how the nation’s wealth is distributed. It talks about a just State when we don’t yet have an independent judicial system. In my opinion, talking about a thing and its contradiction at the same time automatically makes a person a hypocrite. It’s no wonder that the Moroccan people are shunning these elections, because on a practical level we can see there is no desire for change.

— • —

eatbees here, continuing with my own comments….

A recent article from the French news source Rue89 states that only 1.3 million Moroccans in a nation of 30 million are registered to vote in this year’s elections, and cites a poll showing that 73% of Moroccans are “indifferent” to the results. The whole article is worth reading, but the most interesting part is that it quotes the views of ordinary Moroccans.

Rachid, 33, works in a sandwich shop and a clothing boutique. He says, “I’ve never voted, because none of those guys has ever done anything for me. My preoccupation is to earn enough money to lead a normal life. I don’t have the time to listen to them talk. I’m sure of one thing, we have a king and he’s the one who decides.”

Bouchra, 33, works for a dance company. She says, “It’s a political game. They talk to us about diversity to prove to us that Morocco is moving toward democracy [but] the road to democracy is nothing but show. Essaouira is beautiful on the surface, but when you enter the medina where Moroccans go, you encounter piles of trash, it’s pathetic. It’s the surface image that counts, nothing more. The king will continue to lead the country and lay out the direction to follow.”

Amal Tamar is an actress. She will vote, but says, “People no longer trust the political class. They’ve promised us so many things that have never arrived. Moroccans are fleeing the public schools that are inadequately funded. Education is a right from which each citizen should benefit without any special advantage. But we’re far from that.” Her husband adds, “If I could, I would call on Moroccans not to vote.”

A more optimistic view is offered by a group of young Moroccans who have created a new website, www.intikhabat2007.com, that invites its readers to send in photos of themselves with a brief written comment about the elections. When they contacted me for help publicizing their project, they described the purpose of the site this way:

    We young Moroccans have very few spaces in the political sphere where we can truly express ourselves… but the key is to be creative and to come up with innovative channels to widen or even create those spaces from scratch… if this project reaches a certain critical mass, it might contribute, albeit modestly, to carry over certain voices and concerns.

The site went online just a week before election day, so it’s late getting started, but I hope it keeps going once the elections are over. If Doga is right, voting alone won’t change anything, because the system is rigged to serve a permanent political elite. But I think the people who created this project are right too. Young Moroccans need ways to express their political views without being filtered through the established channels, which are often indifferent to young people’s concerns.

Still, sounding off on the internet is not enough. Idealism needs to be put to work in the community. I hope it will translate into political action, such as working with local associations, writing letters, meeting with public officials, and putting pressure on institutions to continue on the road of openness and reform. A system that is used to using intimidation to guarantee public apathy will only transform itself once people show they are no longer intimidated. Egypt has a blend of internet activism and direct action that has succeeded at times in challenging the old ways. It would be great to see the same thing happen in Morocco.

Comments

Comment from adel
Time: September 4, 2007, 20:13

Here’s an offer you can’t refuse, my vote! just pick a party…

Comment from adilski
Time: September 4, 2007, 21:42

This is a great piece. I wish it can translated into Arabic and published on Moroccan papers, if they can.

Comment from eatbees
Time: September 5, 2007, 15:53

@adilski — Thanks for your encouraging comment, which I passed on to Doga. We discussed it a bit, and decided that al-Masae is the newspaper that would most likely be interested in such a piece. Translating what he wrote into Arabic would certainly be no problem for Doga since that’s his native language, but the biggest problem is that we’re running out of time. The elections are only two days away, and Doga has other obligations tomorrow (he is in Casa looking for work).

At any rate, I know that comments like yours encourage Doga to keep contributing his thoughts to this blog, so thanks for letting us know are out there, and that you appreciate what he has to say!

Comment from Hisham
Time: September 6, 2007, 12:16

Great post as usual.
I must admit, I have some sympathy for the PSU and may have been tempted to vote for them if I were in morocco, despite the non-sensical nature of the whole process, just to support a party that seems to me much cleaner and of much, much quality than the rest. I don’t think it’s totally pointless to support people who may have some nuisance power by putting them inside the system. what do you think?

Comment from eatbees
Time: September 6, 2007, 17:28

@Hisham — It’s true, if I were a Moroccan I would vote for the PSU. Do you think any of their candidates stand a chance?

Even as an American I often feel that I’m throwing my vote away. For example, putting Democrats in control of Congress has done nothing to stop the war in Iraq. But I’m not so much of a “nihilist” as to believe that it makes no difference at all who is in power.

There is one difference between the U.S. and Morocco. In the U.S. the principle of “We the People” is 230 years old and has survived many challenges. Our Constitution is currently under threat, but it still offers us its protection. It is what stands between us and absolutism. Morocco is starting in a different place. The “Years of Lead” have left scars, bad habits of subervient thinking. The system itself has shown it can be an obstacle to democratic hopes. Changing that system in basic ways can only happen with the king’s permission. So I have some sympathy for people like Doga who feel that at this stage in Morocco’s evolution, voting means participating in a lie.

Here is where I stand. Whether in the U.S. or Morocco, every vote matters, but voting alone is not enough. We need to magnify our vote through citizen action. We need to practice our basic rights, such as the right to organize or the right to freedom of speech. We need to work with those around us, educate through example, and rather than waiting for permission from above, transform society from within.

Comment from Hisham
Time: September 7, 2007, 08:17

I couldn’t agree more. As for the boycott of the process as favored by Doga, it is perfectly understandable. As you rightly pointed out, the problem in morocco is constitutional. I would add another layer; which is psychological: peoples’ mentality is gridlocked by years of abuse of power to the point that servility has become part of the average Moroccan’s behavior and mentality. A lot of work is needed by people like us who have had the chance to study and learn and free themselves from the shackles of either religion or the Makhzen.

Comment from Hisham
Time: September 7, 2007, 08:26

@eetbees: would you (or any of your commentators be interested in participating on a Radio Phoning program on the BBC World Service this evening at 1700GMT. The program is World Have Your Say and it has a considerable world audience. Tonight they are dealing with the topic of the legislative elections in Morocco. I’ll be participating so as -I believe-many other Moroccans. I was thinking it would be great if you or any of your dedicated commentators could take part. If it”s OK, all you have to do is send an e-mail at worldhaveyoursay@bbc.co.uk with your phone number and they will call you back.

Comment from Emilie Francois
Time: November 6, 2008, 16:50

Hi
Im really interested in this piece as I am doing a PHd on Morocco – that link for intikhabat.com isn’t working – are the people who did that still active? I’m also due to be in Casa durng the week of the 16th of November – i’d love to chat if you have time.

Great work in any case!
M’slma

Comment from eatbees
Time: November 6, 2008, 21:38

Emilie, thanks for your interest! I don’t know what happened to intikhabat.com but I think it was never really an organization, just a group of individuals who decided to do something for the elections last year. About getting together to talk, unfortunately I’m not in Morocco but in the U.S. If you’re interested in the perspective of Doga the young Moroccan who wrote the first part of this post, please contact me at write[at]eatbees.com and I can put you in touch with him.

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