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Morocco: A Decade with Mohammed VI

When in July 1999, king Mohammed VI of Morocco – a man with a purported reputation of benevolence, empathy for his people and compassion for the poor- ascended to the throne, the expectations for change and progress were such that many international observers foresaw an albeit difficult but inexorable march that would lead the country to a prosperous, liberal and democratic future. The exemplary experience of the neighbouring kingdom of Spain was to serve as a model and case in point for the country to imitate an follow. It was the Moroccan spring and the air was discernibly filled with high expectations and, sometimes, extravagant hopes, in a country that has experienced decades of a dreadful dictatorship: namely the Years of Lead. The belief was that Morocco had an opportune moment; a historic window with the potential to become the first Arabic country to genuinely embrace a process of full democratization with a clear separation of powers, and with the aim of establishing strong and independent institutions. The painful and tumultuous past was to be confronted; people would end up reconciling with the establishment and with the monarchy. The Press was getting freer; the taboos were being smashed one after the other.

Ten years later, the dominant feeling is that of a missed opportunity, a departure from past official rhetoric and a steady backtrack as expressed by many bloggers and online news websites this week, as Moroccans commemorate the first decade of the reign of Mohammed VI.

ten-moroccan-years

Amidst concerns about growing restrictions imposed on independent press and citizen journalists, Moroccan Arabic-language news website Hespress [Ar] publishes an Arabic translation of the open letter sent to the king by veteran journalist, Khalid Jamaï [Fr]. Here is an excerpt:

سيدي،
تُطارد كلماتنا.
تُصلب جملنا.
يحاولون تقييد أفكارنا بالأغلال من خطوط حمراء.
تُسَفَّه كتاباتنا.
تُلاحق جرائدنا، أسبوعياتنا ومجلاتنا.
عدد منا عرف السجن وحتى بعض أشكال التعذيب.
كلنا أصبحنا تقريبا “سجناء” افي سراح مؤقت.

خصومنا، أعداء أي دمقرطة حقيقية في هذا البلد، يبدو أنهم وقعوا على قرار موتنا، وقد يكونون بصدد تنفيذه.
لكن إعدامنا لن يخفي الحقائق ولن يحل المشاكل التي تعاني منها بلادنا، بل على العكس من ذلك.
هذا الهجوم ضد حرية الصحافة والرأي ليس إلا دليلا إضافيا عن النقص في الديمقراطية التي يعاني منها البلد. بلد لم يعد شعبه يثق في شيء والذي أبان، خلال الانتخابات الأخيرة، عن رفضه لطبقة سياسية حولت المشهد السياسي المغربي إلى “سوق دلالة” مع “شانقيه”و سماسرته ووسطائه

سيدي،
أنتم تسودون وتحكمون.
ولقد اخترتم ملكية تنفيذية وصرحتم بذلك علنا.
اليوم، أنتم السلطة، وكالمالك الوحيد لهذه السلطة، نتوجه إليكم من أجل إيقاف هذا الهجوم العسفي وهذا الإضطهاد الذي يلاحق الصحافة المستقلة.
إننا لا نتسول امتيازا، بل نطالب بحق.

Sir;
Our words are hunted, our phrases crucified, our thoughts shackled by so-called red lines, our writings ridiculed, our dailies, weeklies and magazines dragged to courts.
Many of our colleagues have experienced imprisonment and even, in some cases, torture. We have all become indeed “prisoners,” with a suspended sentence.

Our opponents, the enemies of any real democratization in this country, seem to have signed our death warrant and may be about to achieve just that. But our exclusion will not hide the facts and surely will not solve the ills of our country; quite the contrary.
This attack against freedom of Press and opinion is only further evidence of the lack of democracy in a country where people lost trust, as shown during last elections, when they rejected a political class that turned the Moroccan political scene into a mean “auction.”

Sir;
You reign and rule, and as you publicly stated, you have opted for an executive monarchy. Today, you are the sole holder of authority, and as such we ask you to stop the harassment and attacks directed against the independent press. We are not begging for a privilege but we are asking for our right.

The letter sparked a fierce debate, not least amongst supporters of the status quo, like Hassouna who commented on Hespress accusing Mr. Jamaï of opportunism. He writes:

حين كان الحسن الثاني رحمه الله يحاول بناء مغرب متقدم فعلتم كل شيء من أجل عرقلة المسيرة و بعد مجيء الملك محمد السادس نصره الله وأعطاكم الحرية التي تريدون ماذا وقع الكل يريد استغلال الوضع لصالحه المشكل في الناس وليس في الملكف .
When late Hassan II [,the deceased father of the current monarch] tried to build a modern country, you did everything you can to block the march. And when Mohammed VI came to power, may God be with him (sic), and gave you the freedom you needed, what happened? Everyone wanted to exploit the situation. The problem lies with the people, not the ruler.

The recent years of the reign of Mohammed VI, have seen indeed a steady decline in the freedom of the Press. Earlier this month, 20 Moroccan leading publications were released with blank editorials, as reported by The View from Fez, protesting “a court decision that was handed down against three Arabic newspapers and a monthly economic francophone magazine, convicted of defamation” against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who was awarded damages. The court ruling provoked consternation and dismay throughout the blogosphere. Nibrass A'shabab, a collective blogging website aimed at young Moroccan writers, published this [Ar] cartoon by Saad Jalal [Ar] representing the Moroccan premier subserviently congratulating the Libyan leader saying:
- You must be pleased sir, now that we've disciplined those newspapers that dared writing on your good self.
To which Gaddafi replies:
- I spit on your Moroccan press!

abbas-with-gaddafi-by-saad-jalal

Badr Al Hamri [Ar], also in protest against the court decision, linked to a video showing veteran Moroccan humorist and activist Ahmed Snoussi, mocking [Ar] the Libyan leader (and the Tunisian president as well in passing).

In a country where the judiciary is much linked to the executive and legislative powers, this ruling was considered by some observers and by the National Press Syndicate [Ar] as a new setback and yet another extension of the so-called red lines that were so far pertaining “only” to the monarchy, the Western Sahara conflict and Islam, and which might now include criticism of foreign dictators, friendly to the Moroccan regime.

Corruption has been a constant feature during the last decade. The Snipers, as they are affectionately called by their blogging peers have gained fame by shooting videos showing traffic policemen taking bribes, and by then posting them on the web, hence exposing a problem that has plagued the country for years and, seemingly, prompting some strong governmental initiatives.

Some, like eatbees, an American visiting Morocco after a three year absence and posting on his journey's observations on the evolution of the Moroccan society under the new monarch, think that what little initiatives have been taken, were too little too late. Instead a new establishment is replacing the old one. He writes:

Despite a great yearning for change among the Moroccan people, nothing has changed, and there is no intention of bringing change. Indeed, [...] it seems that a new generation of profiteers is being groomed to replace the old ones.

Larbi [Fr] came up with the idea of a platform, inviting fellow bloggers to reflect on the last decade, offering to publish selected posts on his own pages. Whilst contributions are hesitantly still pouring in, Mounir Bensalah [Fr] offered an inquisitive but rather balanced analysis explaining that the abdication of the opposition has given a free rein for an autocratic kind of governance, conceding that some progress has nevertheless been achieved. He writes:

Aujourd’hui, alors que le règne de Mohamed VI perd sa qualité de « nouveau » après dix ans, les choix du souverain semblent être décidés : Renforcer les infrastructures du pays, renforcer les pôles économiques régionaux, œuvrer dans une politique sociale, renforcer l’image moderne du Maroc à l’étranger, … quant à la démocratie, la séparation des pouvoirs, l’équité sociale, … ils sont en seconde priorité. Modernité économique,[...] … la modernité politique serait reportée sine die!

Today, after 10 years of rule, and whilst the monarchy has lost its newness, the choices of the king seem clear-cut: to reinforce the country's infrastructure, bolster regional economic poles, work on a social policy, strengthen the image of a modern Morocco abroad … as for democracy, separation of powers, social equity, … they become secondary. Modernity in economic terms, … political modernity will have to wait!

Larbi also published [Fr] a guest-post by Mostapha Arrifi who echoed a sentiment often expressed by many fellow bloggers. He explains that whatever progress has been achieved, it shouldn't be seen outside of the perspective of the natural duties of any regime that claims benevolence for its own people. He writes:

[L]es plus optimistes d’entre nous préfèrent voir du coté des réalisations à caractère économique et « social ». Des projets d’infrastructure, parfois très ambitieux, ont été ouverts et certains menés à terme pour être soigneusement exhibés aux actifs du « nouveau » règne. On s’en félicite au point de s’en satisfaire comme réponse suffisante aux attentes énormes héritées de l’ère Hassan II. Mais est-ce vraiment le cas ? un pareil sentiment n’est-il pas le résultat d’une longue absence de vraie politique de développement qui a fini par faire oublier une notion simple selon laquelle le développement n’est pas un acte d’aumône, mais plutôt un droit, une traduction simple du rôle « naturel » de l’Etat qui a le devoir de gérer équitablement les richesses du pays et l’argent du contribuable au profit de tous ? Or la résignation, fruit d’une longue tradition de pratiques antidémocratiques et antisociales, fait que le devoir s’est transformé en acte de bienfaisance dont on se vente jour et nuit comme s’il s’agissait d’une générosité qui nous impose une dette morale envers l’Etat et son sommet.

The most optimistic amongst us prefers to see the bright side of the economic and “social” achievements. Very ambitious infrastructure projects have been launched and some accomplished only to be carefully displayed in favor of the “new” reign. We congratulate each other and satisfy ourselves, as if this was the adequate response to the huge expectations accumulated during Hassan II era. But is this really the case? Such a feeling, is it not the result of the lasting absence of any genuine development policy that led us consign to oblivion the very basic concept that development is not an act of charity but a right, an embodiment of the “natural” role of the State which duties are to deal equitably with the country's wealth and taxpayer's money for the benefit of all? Resignation, the result of a long tradition of anti-democratic and anti-social practices, has turned [state's duties] into acts of charity, that we pride ourselves with, day and night, as if this was mere generosity that imposes on us, a moral debt towards the State and its head.

Ten years have passed since a young, promising Arab monarch succeeded his father on the Alaouite throne of Morocco. – ten years that have seen people believe that some radical change may be on its way. And as Moroccan bloggers try to review and assess the last decade of the reign of their monarch, some loathing him, others praising his “achievements,” there seems to be a common denominator: the sheer appetite for a better future.

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