Morocco: The Path to Democracy

Oct. 18, 2011

Has Morocco found the magic formula for a reformist path to democracy without the vagaries of revolutionary upheaval?

Unlikely, suggested Aboubakr Jamaï, founder and editor of the Moroccan weekly magazine Le Journal Hebdomadaire, at an October 5 luncheon event hosted by the Belfer Center’s Middle East Initiative and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.

On July 1 of this year, 98 percent of Moroccans approved a new constitution said to give more prerogatives to elected institutions at the expense of the monarchy. The regime and its allies hailed the process as a model of consensual and peaceful change.

But this idyllic depiction does not withstand the check of reality, argued Jamaï before a packed audience of Harvard students, faculty and other community members. The constitutional process was hurried and no serious monitoring took place during the voting period.

“One might make the case that Morocco did not erupt the way it did because it still has a modicum of social integration—human rights organizations with a degree of credibility; unions with a modest presence; and political parties with roots in society,” Jamaï suggested.  But it is also important to look at Morocco in terms of dynamics.  “When you look at trends it is a very different picture.”

At a fundamental level, the monarchy was reluctant to initiate the constitutional reform process.  The Arab spring and its incarnation in Morocco--the February 20th movement--forced the regime’s hand.  And its attitude toward the movement has ranged from disdain to outright repression.

While the passage of the constitutional reform was supposed to weaken contestation and put an end to the weekly demonstrations organized across the country in dozens of cities with attendance in the thousands, the pro-democracy movement continued unabated.

Fueled by a mix of economic and political frustration, these manifestations of discontent are unlikely to stop. It is far from clear that the power elites aligned with the monarchy are taking the new constitution as a first step toward more political liberalization. Their reluctance to heed the democratic demands indicates that the constitutional reform was a cosmetic concession to stem the wave of the Arab spring.

“Events might lead you to think the monarchy is holding up today, but it is not guaranteed that it will for much longer because the sources of its legitimacy are weakening and its opponents are getting much more sophisticated.”

Resistance to change combined with the resilience of the pro-democracy movement might indicate that Morocco merely delayed more profound, perhaps revolutionary, changes to its political system.

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For Academic Citation:Morocco: The Path to Democracy.” , October 18, 2011.