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Morocco protests as main protest groups wonders about future

July 11, 2011

Late to the party, it now seems some US media outlets are giving Morocco’s February 20 movement some press. Too bad the kingdom already passed constitutional reforms by a 98.5 percent vote.

Thousands of Moroccans flooded the streets of Casablanca and Rabat to protest the constitutional reforms. And with a 98.5 percent approval rating, I have some doubts over whether those numbers are legitimate. There’s no doubt the reforms were going to pass — newspapers lauded the reforms, and the King orchestrated a public relations campaign to push the reforms — but there was certainly a larger contingent of politically aware reform opponents than the 1.5 percent that shot down the proposed reforms.

But all this media attention and burst of protests came at the wrong time. The right time would have been before voting on reforms, when the movement could have had some influence. The vote on constitutional reforms was an overwhelming referendum on King Mohammed’s rule. That will make the King too difficult for the February 20 Movement to topple.

The February 20 movement is a precarious lot. Formed by leftist secularists and Islamists, it’s an unlikely coalition that seized on the Arab Spring.

I’ve written about how Morocco’s reforms do not go far enough and about the lack of media coverage on the reforms’ shortcomings. I mentioned that the interval between announcing reforms and voting on them was too short for a strong opposition movement to coalesce and reach the masses.

The February 20 movement was certainly organized, but in a relatively stable nation like Morocco its message was muted. Now, aside from a few protests here and there, its chance to make big changes in Morocco might be gone — although it certainly is the organization to thank for the incremental ones made this year.

From Issandr El Amrani of arabist.net, for the The National:

With the monarchy having won the first round by upstaging protesters and focusing on constitutional reform, many now wonder what the future of the movement will be. “We’re back to February 19,” says one member. Some predict its Islamist and secularist components will have increasing difficulty working together.

But others are less gloomy: they are content, for now, with the knowledge that without their movement, the government would have not even thought that a new constitution was necessary or released political prisoners in recent months. Nor would have new online publications, often run by exiled dissident journalists, cropped up to serve the new interest in political commentary. Whatever the future of February 20, if political life finally shows some signs of activity, Moroccans will have this unlikely coalition to thank.

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