Morocco at dusk

Article published on Oct. 20, 2003
community published
Article published on Oct. 20, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Mohammed VI has inherited an archaic system. The terrorist threat hasn’t helped matters. The best thing the EU can do for the country is to focus on the vitality of its society.

Four years after King Mohamed VI’s accession to the throne, Morocco is at a standstill. More doubts than certainties are weighing the country down. Where is Morocco heading?

The regime’s progressive-modernist rhetoric in favour of democracy and respect for human rights is discredited by the reality: freedom of the press is experiencing a marked decline, as demonstrated by the case of the journalist Ali Lmrabet, sentenced to three years in prison for ‘insult against the King,’ and ‘attack on territorial integrity,’ and by the fate of other journalists, prosecuted under the anti-terrorist law.

This is a law which sacrifices freedom and restricts civil liberties. A person can be remanded in police custody for up to 12 days (during a period of 3 days open to 4 renewals). House searches are now possible at all hours of the day and night. The regulations governing the interception of mail and phone calls, and the violation of bank confidentiality, have been relaxed. Militants have been arrested, sometimes tortured or even raped, as the fate of Rachid Chraii, activist in the Moroccan Human Rights Association in Safi, shows.

A crippled political class

Since the attacks of 16th May 2003, Morocco has seen a real authoritarian clampdown.

But, admittedly, Morocco’s political situation is complex. For years King Hassan II and his right-hand man, former Minister of the Interior, Driss Basri, have discredited politicians and built up a political class only to knock it down again. And this in order to give an illusion of democracy. As a result, the new king has inherited not only an archaic and makhzenian* system of government, but also a crippled political class. Political parties have difficulty forcing through any changes even within their own movements – disputes between leaders, clientelism and nepotism are commonplace. At the time of the last municipal elections, the parties indulged in various shameful practices: outbidding tactics, selling votes, corruption, mudslinging, brawling. All in all, very revealing behaviour. None of which in any way absolves the King, as head of state, from his responsibility for violations committed by his services.

In 1998, Abderrahmane El Yousfi, secretary general of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (SUPF), opposition party since 1956, signed a contract with Hassan II guaranteeing a so-called democratic transition at the head of the supposedly ‘rotating’ government. But he found himself trapped within a locked system.


This was, by the nature of the contract, political deadlock. The Prime Minister approved a constitution which left little room for his government, and concedes full power to the king. And on top of this, he has not committed himself to modifying it. There’s economic deadlock as well, due to the dominance of an omnipotent makhzenian mafia grown rich over the years through racketeering and corruption, and the obligation to adhere to an economic plan laid down by the Palace, not to mention the Moroccan state’s commitments towards international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which no government can back away from.

Social deadlock exists too. One of the great projects of Yousfi’s government was women’s integration into development. A sensitive question in a conservative society, and one which could not possibly escape becoming the subject of clashes. The aim of bringing about a pronounced evolution within Moroccan society and justice for women could not be realised because of resistance from conservatives, headed by Islamic groups.

Finally, the king, taking advantage of the events of 16th May and of the shift in the balance of political power, which seems to have changed camp, announced to the Moroccan parliament a reform of the family code. A reform described as a ‘giant leap’ by certain women’s rights associations.

The EU must rely on flourishing society

What saves face for Morocco, and remains a source of hope for the country, is the extraordinary flourishing of society, which is increasingly diverse and plays an important role in promoting the values of citizenship and human rights. It is in any case the strongest pillar the EU can lean on in helping Morocco to face her challenges and to promote peace and stability in the region. At the time of Hassan II’s reign, the Moroccan regime had been denounced repeatedly by the European Parliament for serious attacks on human rights. Unfortunately, these denunciations were redundant, not being followed up by meaningful economic sanctions. Nevertheless, they remain important in terms of their symbolic impact on a regime much more preoccupied with its own image than with the reality of the country.

Will the European Union demand more of its Moroccan partner, force her to respect human rights and incite her to democratise the way her institutions function? This would be the best favour we could do this society which needs more space and freedom in order to flourish.

* System of government based on corruption, clientelism, nepotism and repression.