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Morocco’s Mohammed VI must decide

Protests in Morocco have not been as intense as in many neighbouring nations, despite some outbreaks of violence. However, if he is to avoid more alarming scenes, the monarch must take some big decisions – and soon.


Moroccan Interior Minister Tayeb Cherkaoui addresses the press.

February 20 was Morocco’s “Day of Dignity” but it ended in violence and ignominy as five people died engulfed by flames in a ransacked bank after what had begun as a protest against a rigid political system turned violent in some of the North African country’s most deprived urban areas. The contrast between the orderly demonstrations in many cities including the capital, where banners were raised and slogans in favour of greater democracy were chanted without causing incident, and the rampaging mobs in the streets of many northern towns such as Alhucemas, where the fatalities occurred, could not be more stark. And, given the broader context of revolts sweeping the region, King Mohammed VI cannot duck the biggest decision of a 12-year reign which began with encouraging strides in terms of civil liberties, but has become increasingly bogged down in corruption and a grey political scene which does not engage the majority of the population.

The two faces of protest suggest two diverging paths open to the monarch. He can listen to the articulate demands for constitutional reform, reducing his own powers to the summoning of governments and hand over sovereign power to a freely elected parliament. This would confirm the faith European leaders such as Spain’s Zapatero continue to show in Morocco and also hand over the daily concerns of the nation to a genuinely representative prime minister. The downside for Mohammed VI is that such a course of action would not help the monarch’s vast business interests, in which state policy and the needs of his burgeoning personal fortune have tended to intermingle. Or he could attempt to consolidate royal power by setting himself up as the saviour of the nation’s poor, castigating existing ministers and officials as Jordan’s King Abdullah II did at the first hint of revolt and majestically overseeing the satisfaction of some material grievances. In this scenario, Fouad Ali el Himma, the king’s old friend who has positioned himself as a future visir with the formation of his patriotic Party of Authenticity and Modernity, would be the obvious choice to do the palace’s bidding.

More democracy or less democracy; to be a reforming monarch or a populist king. The choices for Mohammed VI are clear, but his initial response to Sunday’s events offer few clues to which direction he will eventually take. Rejecting the idea of “ceding to demagoguery,” the king said he would continue to work to construct “an effective democracy, which goes hand in hand with sustainable human development.”

The suggestion is that he wishes to continue to pull at the strings of a technocratic government, but there is sufficient leeway there for him to take on board –if pushed– the need for reforms. Or will he be pulled into a rearguard saving of his own skin by mass unrest? Either way, he cannot wait too long to decide.

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Published: Feb 23 2011
Category: Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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