July 1st, 2011
05:07 PM ET

The challenge for the 'new' Morocco

By Elise Labott, CNN

Moroccans on Friday approved a referendum on constitutional reforms by more than 98%, the country's interior minister said. Morocco's King Mohammed VI has promised that these reforms will usher in an era of greater freedoms.

I just returned from Morocco, where there is some reason to be hopeful that amid the uncertain course of the Arab Spring, there may be some blossoms of progress.

While I was in Morocco, King Mohammed VI unveiled the new constitution, developed in coordination with a variety of political parties and civil society groups.

The new, elected government that will result from this constitution will be accountable to parliament, have an independent judiciary and provide equal rights for women and minorities.

Now some might call that move a model for how to modernize and hold onto power.

While Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh have responded to calls for regime change with military force, King Mohammed has stayed in place by offering to surrender some of his powers - answering his country's reform movement with promises that he will shift from an almost absolute to a constitutional monarchy. He has certainly gone further than King Abdullah of Jordan in offering political reform.

Morocco's King Mohammed VI has fashioned himself a reformer and modern monarch since taking office in 1999, promoting women's rights, easing up on human rights abuses and even investigating abuses during the reign of his father, King Hassan.

But genuine reform has been slow. The country is rife with corruption; there are still political prisoners and freedom of the press does not include criticism of the monarchy.

Inspired by their brothers and sisters in Egypt and Tunisia, young activists organized on Facebook to give the monarchy the push it needed to speed the pace of reform. Tens of thousands Moroccans with the February 20 movement, named after the first big day of protests, have taken to the streets.

They are happy for the king to reign, but not to rule.

They want a system like Britain or Sweden, where the monarchy plays an important symbolic role, but does not meddle in the affairs of state. These hopeful young Moroccans want jobs and an end to corruption its members say stems from a network of royal cronies.

In March, the King answered their calls in a speech promising substantial reform, which resulted in the constitution being put to a vote. February 20's answer to the King: Cosmetic touches won't cut it.

Indeed King Mohammed retains key powers. He remains the head of the military and Morocco's highest religious authority. He also presides over various committees and councils which suggest that he will still play a large role in ruling the country.

Most of Morocco's political parties say this is okay – for now. It's important, many politicians told me, for Morocco to remain stable as it moves on a more democratic path.

Many believe that the new constitution is a good first step and, while not perfect, supporting its passage will give the king the confidence to continue with greater reforms.

And a large number of Moroccans believe the challenge for Morocco is not how good or bad the constitution is, but rather now it is implemented. It will fall upon Moroccans to consolidate these new responsibilities and deliver on the demands for change.

The stakes could not be higher.

A moderate Islamic country, Morocco has had its fair share of terrorist attacks, most recently a bomb at a Marrakech café which killed 17 at the hands of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

While mainstream Islamic parties like the Justice and Development party hope to move the country toward a Turkish model, which marries Islam and democracy, the country's banned Justice and Charity Islamist movement favor a more extremist brand of Islam and are moving into poor Moroccan neighborhoods to spread their vision.

With an intense campaign for the referendum's passage by the government, political parties and on radio and television, almost to the exclusion of room for serious debate about its merits, it is a near forgone conclusion it will be adopted.

Whether the new constitution can satisfy the demands of the people and at the same time maintain the popularity of the king is an open question. If not, February 20 says it's ready. Its mantra is "Mamfankich." Translation: "We will never give up."

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Topics: Middle East • Revolution

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Mohhe

    Who are the extremist Islamists? Both actually hope to move the country toward a Turkish model, but Justice and Development party wants an Islamist constitution while Justice and Charity movement wants a "civil" constitution.

    July 1, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • the_boss

      not true, justice and charity have their own vision of Islam and of democracy, its more like a cult, a weird cult with retarded ideologies.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    It seems that monarchy in the Middle East is better accepted than hereditary presidency, therefore the people in Marocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia haven't demanded for the end of monarchy. In Bahrain is a different situation as one has a Sunni ruling minority vis-à-bis a Shia majority.
    In Jordan and Marocco the two young monarchs, educated in the west, are open to European culture. After the outbreak of the Arab Spring they saw the risk that their countries would be engulfed by the wave of the movement and were wise enough to reform the countries voluntarily and turn them into constitutional monarchies. This has saved their neck! Now the world is watching when Saudi Arabia follows suit.

    July 1, 2011 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  3. A Moroccan living abroad

    The new constitution is a recycled one. the king continues to maintain all of his powers. He will continue to increase his net worth at the expense on fragile economy as he is done over the past decade. According to forbes "The wealth of Morocco's monarch is up $1 billion over the past year as phosphate prices soared."
    the "New Constitution is self serving. yes.

    July 1, 2011 at 11:12 pm | Reply
    • ed sr

      I have been to your homeland many years ago...............it is beautiful and at the time was full of beautiful people.............it was a wonderful experience for me...............

      July 2, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • adam

      I think you have a recycled mind, and it is time for it to be trashed in the garbage. You can't see changes, because you are pessimist. So, keep your self into your negativisme. No one needs your stupid opinion.

      July 4, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Reply
    • the_boss

      that's your point of view, but that is not the point.
      the main point is that Moroccan massively voted for it, so you will have to respect the quasi majority's vote.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • supporter of the king

      please stay abroad and don't come to Morocco.

      July 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Reply
  4. Langkard

    I didn't see any mention at all of Western Sahara in this article. How can Morocco's king be a reformer when his country still illegally occupies and controls a neighboring country?

    July 2, 2011 at 12:10 am | Reply
    • the_boss

      because it is only happening in your mind.
      there is no such country called "western Sahara"

      July 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  5. Freemorocco

    98% of votes are yes,do they really think people believe this stupidity... This regime pretends democracy ,freedom and social justice ,but actually it is one of the worst in arab world, they jail journalists ,torture is big part of their agenda, corruption is everywhere , 60% of moroccans are illiterate , more than half of young people are jobless, young women and kids practice prostitution in all big cities (Marrakesh,Agadir,...).With all this ,the king net worth doubled 5 times in last 2 years...Enough is enough.

    July 2, 2011 at 12:16 am | Reply
    • Morocco

      JUST SHUT UP ! PLEASE , and stop lying

      July 2, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
    • Red

      First of all the results of the vote are 70% yes and 63% of registered votes have voted. Its not 98%. To those that state that this new constitution is just like the old I would like to ask them to read it first and compare it to the models followed by European countries such as Spain or the U.K. It is incumbent upon the King:
      a. To Sanction and promulgate the laws
      b. To summon and dissolve the Cortes Generales and to call for elections under the terms provided for in the Constitution.
      c. To Call for a referendum in the cases provided for in the Constitution.
      e. To appoint and dismiss members of the Government on the President of the Government's proposal.
      f. To issue the decrees approved in the Council of Ministers, to confer civil and military honours and distinctions in conformity with the law.
      g. To be informed of the affairs of State and, for this purpose, to preside over the meetings of the Council of Ministers whenever, he sees fit, at the President of the Government's request.
      h. To exercise supreme command of the Armed Forces
      i. To exercise the right of clemency in accordance with the law, which may not authorize general pardons.
      j. To exercise the High Patronage of the Royal Academies.

      This is an excerpt of the Spanish constitution which also states that their king is inviolable and the head of state. If we were to reduce the king's powers further we would be moving towards a republic and that is not what vast majority of Moroccans want. This would shake the country's stability and we have all seen what has happened in republics in this region. Tunisia, Egypt, are a few example

      July 2, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply
    • adam

      Your comments are full of lies. Do your self a favor and go get some education asshole. How come you said that 60% of the Moroccan population is illiterate. This is a big lie. You are fully illiterate. You said that "young women and kids practice prostitution in all big cities". can you tell me in which country prostitution does not exist. I think you are concerned about prostitution because your sisters and brothers are prostitutes. Stop lying, get a live and shut your face.

      July 4, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Reply
    • the_boss

      if you have evidence that there was fraud then promptly and gently present it, otherwise please stfu, cause you will make people over here think that Moroccans are some kind of uncivilized apes.

      July 5, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  6. HERO

    this is just crap of the king

    July 2, 2011 at 12:48 am | Reply
    • adam

      So, since it is crap of the King, it is better that your crap. Ok fuck face.

      July 4, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  7. Toppolina

    About time Moroccans get some freedom. They lived under horrible oppression for almost 30 years when Hassan II ruled. He was brutal. We all hope this new constitution will be implemented and real and true freedom and democracy will reign not only in Morocco, but the whole world

    July 2, 2011 at 8:18 am | Reply
  8. Ted Ward

    Good for Morocco ! This is a good step in the right direction. Not perfect, but it's a start....

    July 2, 2011 at 8:39 am | Reply
  9. Hicham

    The new constitution is the same old one except some cosmetic changes. You can't change the color of your car and tell people you have actually bought a new one. But that's what the rulers of Morocco are doing. Then they say that 98% voted yes. Really? What a travesty. The king must step down from power and pay taxes like everybody else. That's the only way we can build a democracy.

    July 2, 2011 at 11:44 am | Reply
    • adam

      Your comments do not make any sense. You're comparing constitution to changing the color of the car, buy a new one..... What the fuck are you saying? And what taxes are you talking about? You don't even pay taxes asshole. How do you allow your self to give advices. Do your self afavor and change your self first. Get a live and know how to discuss and post comments. Okay fuck face.

      July 4, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  10. Moroccan refugee living in Morocco

    Morocco is a ticking time bomb. Over 50% of youth between the ages of 18 and 25 are unemployed; this would not be a big deal were it not for the fact that over 50% of the population is UNDER the age of 30! When you couple this with the dramatic income disparity between the criminals who support the regime and the rest of the population, you have all of the ingredients needed for a revolution. Moroccans understand that the Regime has simply put lipstick on a pig and submitted it as a revised constitution.

    The key here is to move away from Apartheid Laws. In Morocco, Christians, Jews and tourists have the legal right to do things that Moroccan Muslims cannot. This is an affront to the dignity of all Moroccans. Either Alcohol consumption is legal for everyone, or it is illegal for everyone. Either men and women of all religious persuasions have the right to share hotel rooms, or none of them do... Until Morocco's govt. actually creates laws that make sense and enforces them, it is on the path to the type of people's revolution that gripped Tunisia and Egypt.

    The regime missed an opportunity with this referendum to seriously take into account the concerns of the Moroccan people and try to affect positive change.

    July 2, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  11. Lelu


    July 3, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  12. Roelof

    Moroccan aint welcome in Europe. 54% of the Moroccan community have been in contact with the police more than twice in the Netherlands. Last week a group of Moroccan (20) beated 3 60 years old almost to death. Why? Because they had a party in their street. Last week groups of Moroccan disturbed funerals. Why? Because they were not Islamic enough. Every day Moroccan are in the news, because they can't adapt to our culture or behave normal. Than they mollest out ambulance brothers, than they rape some girls, than their kids won't go to school (we've got evening clocks for that). We even pay money so their parents keep them off the streets. Moroccan in Holland is one big failure. Racial riots coming up soon, that incl. Vlaanderen Belgium.

    July 4, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • murdock

      yeah right, you also forgot that Moroccans have 7 legs, 3 arms, crocodile like mouths and hunt little European school girls during the night when it is a full moon...

      your comment is text book racism, maybe you can post such things on your countries forum and get away with it but not here, we do not discriminate based on sex, age, religion or ethnicity.
      welcome to the free world, prick !

      July 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  13. Moroccan Sahrawi

    Mr langkard

    There is no such a thing called western sahara, the reality is that a group of terrorists sponsored by algeria living in the algerian territory call themseleves the people of western sahara . there is something called the Moroccan sahara and national geography channel can confirm that to you mister. thank you for listening : )

    July 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  14. En-nouar Mohamed

    Thank you for such a good article, and for the interest that you have expressed toward the Moroccan people.
    I would like to clarify some of the points mentioned in your report:
    1- King M6, have gained since he has started the leading of Morocco, the confidence of his people. He was a young citizen, that all the people have had a youthful image of, and no one has dared at the moment to doubt his capacity to role such a wonderful country. However, he has started the reforms at the earliest years of his ruling, by making peace with the old system, and by avoiding more losses to the Moroccans, that were due to the old generation's ideology. It's not easy to succeed a new era, without a reconciliation with the past. This step was the biggest and the hardest.
    2- 12 Years of ruling, M6 had been a leader to a huge campaign of projects, i remember reading everyday, new steps, and magnificent acts from his part, the king loves his country and loves his people, this explains the supreme confidence he has gained through theses years, while the others Arab countries's leaders have been neglecting their own.
    3- The ten thousands demonstrators that you have mentioned in your report, in which i had participated, in last mid-February, have had as aim to support the king's plans, and to urge the other parties in the government to do the same. We are not against the constitutional monarchy, but we are for the good reforms, and for the growth of patriotism in the heart of the people we are electing to help leading this country.
    4- The person who have spoken and asked to exclude the Moroccan desert from the referendum, should know that the highest ratio of participation in this event was in Dakhla Wad Eddahab, which in the heart of Morocco's south, which we consider as dear as our own hearts. Morocco is from Tangier in the north to Lagueera in the south.
    Morocco is a big country, and anyone who touches to our scarified symbols, in no longer a member of this society. Our king is a holder of our identity, and of Morocco's democracy. May god bless him and keep our country safe.

    July 5, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply

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