First Published: 2011-11-27

 

Moroccan Elections: A Barometer of Reform?

 

Most critics of the Islamists in the West fear Islamist parties without recognizing that they are political parties and their trajectory of development and evolution, once electoral politics are institutionalized, will follow that of most other parties in the region, argues Muqtedar Khan.

 

Middle East Online

I spent the day of the elections, November 25th in two cities; the first half in Marrakesh and the second half in Casablanca. What stood out at once was the obvious lack of excitement or interest in the elections amongst most people. The media talk shows and op-Ed pages are buzzing with excitement and commentators are heralding this ‘historic election’ as a barometer of many things; as a test of Islamism’s new found strength, the durability of the Arab Spring, the acceptance of constitutional reforms and many wonderful things but the common man in Morocco seems to be oblivious of this.

I spoke with several people, lay – cab drivers, vendors, waiters, bellhops, and elite – professors, business people, private university students. The lack of enthusiasm is epidemic. Most people more or less say, “Well nothing is going to change so what is the point?” A cab driver with instincts of a political science professor explained to me that there was little to choose between the parties so there was not much at stake. The two main contenders are the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) and the Coalition for Democracy a pro-monarchy coalition of eight parties.

The cab driver also opined that since no party was capable of winning a majority – the system is so structured that no party can win more than twenty percent of the vote -- the ensuing coalition, necessary for governance, would render the elections less meaningful. A professor and an important intellectual from Rabat told me that he was leaning in the favor of the Islamists. But he expected them to “become like everyone else” in the post-election jostling for power and positions. He was confident that PJD would be the biggest party, but he also expressed fears that the Islamists would compromise so much to form a coalition government that selecting them over others would be rendered moot. “What is the point of preferring them if they all are the same in the end”?

It was an interesting observation, oft repeated in Morocco during this election cycle. The Islamists are no different from the rest. They are just politicians even in the eyes of their supporters. For someone who is fed on the daily diet of western fears of Islamist victories, confirmed by Al-Nahda’s win in Tunisia, this particular sentiment was both amusing and enlightening. Most critics of the Islamists in the West fear Islamist parties without recognizing that they are political parties and their trajectory of development and evolution, once electoral politics are institutionalized, will follow that of most other parties in the region.

It appears that the people of Morocco are tired with moderation and consensual politics and are looking for a more decisive direction. Even though most individuals acknowledged that the next prime minister will be more powerful than the last one, they were not enthused. I was in Morocco when the constitutional reforms were being debated before the national referendum. Clearly there was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement in the public at that time. Any question about the reforms elicited immediate reaction and people aired their point of view, pro-monarchy or pro-democracy, with great gusto. Perhaps at that time they intuitively sensed that they had an opportunity to bring about real change. But now they seemed to be resigned to slow and meandering change in their fortunes.

The series of uprisings that are now optimistically referred to as the Arab Spring, have met with success and failures. They more or less succeeded in bringing about regime changes in Africa --Tunisia, Egypt and Libya -- and as yet have met with failure in Asia – Bahrain, Syria and Saudi Arabia. Morocco however is an unusual case. It has like Jordan, embarked on a path to political reforms that will strengthen and deepen democracy without completely abandoning its key political institution, the monarchy.

In Morocco the monarch is also the Ameer-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful). The King of Morocco therefore is both the head of state and head of religion. He thus enjoys a unique form of legitimacy and allegiance that is not available to other monarchs and emirs in the Muslim World. Even the King of Saudi Arabia, who is richer, more powerful and has done much more for his population, and has also co-opted religion does not enjoy the same degree of legitimacy and support that is extended to the King of Morocco.

Unlike the King of Saudi Arabia who has tried to buy an extension to his lease on power with a sixty nine billion dollars aid package for his people, the King of Morocco like his fellow impoverished King of Jordan, has chosen to deal with the widespread discontent through political reforms. Moroccan reforms were rushed through in the Summer of 2011 with much heralded constitutional changes ratified by a national referendum in June. The reforms were supposed to make the elections fairer, reduce the King’s control in several areas and give the elected parliament and ministers real power to make policies. There are three areas however in which there were no changes and the King retained complete control over national security, foreign policy and religious affairs.

While the changes did not satisfy most of the regime’s critics they have succeeded in keeping the public discontent at manageable levels. There is a prodemocracy movement, ‘February 20 movement’, which feels that reforms have not gone far enough and along with the banned Islamist party Adl wa Ihsan (Justice and Excellence), have called for a boycott. The current elections and their outcome, therefore are critical to cementing the legitimacy of the reforms as well as that of the regent.

Life in Morocco, for most people, is very hard. There is widespread poverty and disenchantment. People are not optimistic about their economic future. They are also smart enough to recognize that political changes alone will not have an immediate impact on their living conditions. Additionally Morocco has been a relatively free society, both politically and socially and therefore reforms are not going to bring significant changes in their quality of life. For Islamists and the small elite who have political ambitions, the reforms have opened windows to real power and hence they are galvanized.

The Moroccan street however is exotic, fascinating, but not excited.

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. His website is www.ijtihad.org.

 

Erdogan lashes out at EU over Med 'migrant cemetery'

Iran submits peace plan to Syria's Assad

Syria, Yemen conflicts on Obama-King Salman talks

German asylum dream for Iraqis hard to fulfill

Father of drowned Syrian boy tells story of fatal journey

US energy firm gets tough on stalled Israel gas deal

Iran objects to Kuwait linking it to 'terror cell'

Cameron won’t accept more refugees for now

Mideast wars cause 13 million school dropouts

Turkey arrests '4 traffickers' over migrant toddler's death

Egypt sentences dozens of alleged Islamists in mass trial

Netanyahu defiant after Obama secures Iran deal support

Family of drowned child repeatedly displaced in Syria

Britain to Cameron: Do more for refugees!

Iran’s Basij militia puts on show of strength in Tehran

Death toll in IS Yemen mosque attack rises to 32

UN urges Lebanon parliament to elect president

Suicide bombers hit Shiite mosque in Yemen capital: witnesses

Netanyahu threatens to shoot stone-throwers

David Petraeus: Use Al-Qaeda fighters to battle IS

White House wins enough Senate support for Iran deal

12 Syrian migrants die off Turkish coast

Car bomb kills 10 in Syria regime bastion Latakia

Saudi top cleric slams Iran prophet movie

Iran police to confiscate cars of 'poorly veiled' women

Libya's Tripoli authorities undecided on joining peace talks

Lebanon protesters escalate “You Stink” campaign

Turkey transfers British reporters to new jail

Two Yemeni Red Cross staff killed

Qatar to begin enforcing key labour reform law from November

Syria war takes its toll on heritage riches

US carries out secret drone campaign in Syria

Gunmen kidnap 17 Turks in Iraq capital

Turkey government says it 'had no role' in reporters' arrest

IS claims Tripoli car bomb near oil firm

Dispute with Israel government keeps Christian schools shut

Kuwait charges 24 'linked to Iran' with plotting attacks

Turkey police raid anti-Erdogan media group after British reporters jailed

New Turkey caretaker government holds first meeting

Dozens of Lebanon protesters occupy environment ministry

Shebab attack Somalia AU base

Will Erdogan's political gamble solve Turkey poll impasse?

UN confirms Palmyra temple destroyed

Over 10,000 Icelanders ready to welcome Syrians

Libya loyalist forces battle IS jihadists in Benghazi