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A Missed Opportunity?

The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, gave a speech to the nation last night presenting the outlines of a new constitution, the product of three months of work by a commission hand-picked by the king, in consultation with political parties, labor unions, and civil society groups. The youth of February 20 refused to participate in the consultations, saying they were nontransparent and nondemocratic.

The king only summarized the new constitution in his speech, and the full text has not yet been made public. But at first glance, it seems that the king is keeping about 90% of the powers he already had.

The king’s person will no longer be considered “sacred” but rather “inviolable.” He will remain the spiritual head of Morocco’s Muslims, in a Morocco defined as a Muslim nation. He will remain the head of the armed forces, with sole authority to appoint and command its officers. He will retain the right to name the “walis” and “bashas” who are the true regional government, although elected regional governments will gain new powers under the new plan. He will retain his right of veto over the Interior Minister, who is responsible for Morocco’s police and security services, and he will continue to control Morocco’s foreign policy by appointing ambassadors. He will remain the head of the council that appoints judges, though the judicial branch will gain new independence. He will remain the “symbol of Moroccan unity” and the “referee and guarantor” of Moroccan stability. The main area in which the king has ceded some authority is by giving the Parliament sole responsibility for initiating legislation and running the business of government. The Prime Minister, an elected official, will be designated Head of Government, but the king will remain Head of State.

The king, presenting this project as a uniquely Moroccan form of democracy and the only way forward for the nation, called strongly on all Moroccans to vote “Yes” in the referendum to be held in just two weeks. He himself in his role as citizen plans to vote “Yes,” he announced. And then, once Moroccans overwhelmingly vote “Yes” as expected, the nation will continue its slow march to democracy under the benevolent guidance of the king. End of story.

But what of February 20, the youth movement that prompted all this talk of reform in the first place? Will they be satisfied with the new constitution? Perhaps we should wait for an official response, but I can hazard a guess. First, February 20 was already calling for a “No” vote even before the details of the new constitution were announced. In their view, any constitution that is “made to order” as this one is, rather than issuing from an assembly of the people, is illegitimate. Further, the new constitution falls far short of their key demands, namely a king who “reigns but does not govern” and a state whose economic, military, foreign policy, and domestic security institutions are under the control of elected officials.

This could lead to a standoff at some point down the road, between a governing class that wants only tepid reforms, and a youth movement demanding fundamental change. The fault rests, in part, with the political parties, who participated in the recent consultations with a remarkable lack of courage and imagination. The Arab Spring with its revolutions and uprisings opened a window to go much further, through a frank and open exchange of views on all the essential questions. Moroccans have the civic spirit to engage in such a debate peacefully, and achieve true popular consensus on a new system. With the proposed new constitution in which things change only to remain the same, I fear that window is closing.

UPDATE: Najib Chaouki, a February 20 activist from Rabat, made this statement to the AFP (I’ve translated it from the French):

    “The national coordinators have called for demonstrations on Sunday for a truly democratic constitution and a parliamentary monarchy. The project as it was proposed by the king yesterday doesn’t answer our demands for a true separation of powers. We will protest peacefully on Sunday against this project.”

Ahmed Mediany, an activist from Casablanca, had this to say:

    “The religious status of the king has been greatly strengthened. It’s very unsettling. […] The king preserves the essence of his powers as a political actor. We weren’t expecting that. We are disappointed.”


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Time: June 20, 2011, 13:39

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