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Reform or Revolution?

In researching my article about monarchy and democracy in Morocco, The Friendly Fist, I came across an article by Nadia Lamlili in TelQuel called “Moroccan Monarchy Put to the Test.” Although I didn’t refer to the article in my piece, it makes a number of provocative points, such as the following, while discussing the constitutional reform movement and what such reforms might mean.

    The ideal situation would be to achieve a strong parliament, which would be the power center and a necessary way-station for all laws, with no royal “shortcuts.” “But watch out. We can’t make the leap directly to foreign models,” warns Mostafa Meftah. “We want a parliamentary monarchy, but not all at once. The king must let go of his powers bit by bit.” After the death of Franco, Spain also had its transition period, where the king had a great deal of power. To the extent that democracy established itself, his powers lessened, until he didn’t have any left.

The article goes further, laying down what seems like an ultimatum if change cannot be achieved through negotiation.

    “The rupture must originate from within the existing system and not through a crisis or a revolution,” claims Rkia al-Mossadeq. “In the past, democracy was only established in authoritarian and absolutist regimes through rupture, sometimes accompanied by violence. But we mustn’t generalize….” claims Omar Bendourou. […] In the case of certain former communist nations of Eastern Europe…round tables between the regime and its opposition were a starting point. Other communist nations transformed themselves through violence, like Romania following the execution of Nicolae Ceausescu.

It is astonishing to me to see the violent overthrow of the Moroccan monarchy discussed in a mainstream journal like TelQuel, even as a farfetched hypothetical or a negative example. After all, just one year before this article appeared, Nadia Yessine, spokesperson for the spiritual movement Al Adl Wal Ihsane, stirred up national controversy simply by declaring her “personal preference” for a republic over a monarchy. She was roundly condemned in the official press, and a criminal investigation was initiated that is still dragging on.

I forwarded the article to a young friend of mine to see what he thought. He replied that the piece is well known in Morocco, and that it is “unwelcome” to those in power. He has discussed it already with his friends. In their opinion, it shows that Article 19 of the Moroccan Constitution, which defines the powers of the king in extremely broad terms, is a “model for dictatorship.”

If that is what young people are thinking, it is interesting both because it reflects the greater openness of the past few years—in which it becomes possible to think and say such things—and because they were touched by this article, which is the product of an elite circle of intellectuals in Casablanca and Rabat. It reflects the paradox of the current situation, in which both hope and frustration are in the air. Long pent up forces are being released, and no one knows whether the reform movement will be able to go all the way, or whether Morocco will retreat once again into deception and repression.

My friend’s reaction prompted me to translate the entire article—the original is in French—and post it here. It may seem tame to those of us who are used to criticism of our leaders. No one in the article goes so far as to propose ending the monarchy altogether. They want to move the king out of the political arena step by step, with his consent. He would remain a figurehead, and he would retain his vast wealth. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that this article is an important milestone, a courageous contribution to the debate.


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