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Morocco protests as main protest groups wonders about future

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.

As Moroccans vote on constitution, little discussion of reforms’ weaknesses

July 1, 2011 1 comment

Moroccan King Mohammed’s proposed reforms will be adopted following today’s vote with much fanfare and little analysis of the broad powers he will retain.

By rushing the referendum to the people the King was able to avoid an organized PR or protest campaign against the reforms.  The government launched an aggressive PR campaign of its own, and it certainly has better resources (ie: money, experienced staffers and organizational structure) than any protest movement. It took less than a month for the announcement of reforms to today’s vote — hardly enough time for any opposition movements to form and direct public dialogue.

Moroccan news outlets and various organizations have supported King Mohammed’s proposed constitutional reforms, which were voted on today. BBC and Washington Post have viewed the reforms positively. BBC said it will make Morocco “the first constitutional monarchy in the Arab world.” Truthfully, there’s a lot to like about these reforms, and that has people talking. But there’s been little to no mention of some of the reforms’ problems, which I have discussed here.

I believe the lack of reporting on dissenting opinions is a reflection on the inability to spread information. There was no time to organize or come up with a clear and impacting way to convey the message that the King holds onto enormous power with these reforms.

Chiefly, the King still has power over the military and religious spheres. He also will continue to appoint ambassadors and diplomats, effectively keeping foreign policy under his dominion. He also can dissolve parliament after consulting with a special committee, of which he would have appointed half the members.

The reforms are ultimately a good thing for Morocco, as it gives the prime minister and parliament more power.  News outlets have reported as much. News outlets can only report what they can observe, which was overwhelming support for the reforms. I think, however, that if this vote came in August that there would have been a stronger opposition once more information about the reforms’ weaknesses could be disseminated.

Moroccan reforms go far, but “all or nothing” approach may be best

June 22, 2011 2 comments

Moroccan King Mohammad VI offered the most sweeping reforms of any Arab nation during this revolutionary period. But when you have a progressive nation and a leader willing to go this far, it’s hard for activists to accept big changes when they would still be leaving plenty on the table.

Reformers have acknowledged the King has gone far, but in doing so he may have sacrificed some bargaining leverage. With a few more tweaks limiting the King’s powers, the proposed Moroccan constitution could be a benchmark for the rest of the region — and it would be wise for reformers to push for that rather than accept the tempting constitution being dangled in front of them.

While other nations in the Arab world might have to settle for incremental improvement in governance because rulers are strongly resistant to change — using force in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen — King Mohammad appears benevolent. And while that is certainly honorable in what has been a dishonorable era of Arab leadership, King Mohammad’s willingness to bend but not break may ultimately spell his downfall.

Notably, many of the King’s most important powers do not change and will help keep corruption and greed institutionalized. He would still be the unquestioned commander of the military. He still would have wide authority over religious issues. He would appoint all ambassadors and diplomats, effectively putting him in charge of foreign policy and keeping cronyism intact. He also could dissolve parliament after discussions with a new constitutional court — half of which he would have appointed.

So while there are greater guarantees of a representative democracy and power sharing (see below), the King would still have broad power to appoint confidants and friends to powerful positions. Still, the proposed changes seem to be made in good faith.

By offering so much but failing to offer a wholesale reform of his own powers, King Mohammad has given demonstrators a solid starting point. What he failed to realize is these protests in the Arab world are as much negotiation as they are a showing of solidarity and resentment. By acquiescing so much but still retaining a bulk of his powers, the King has shown he is reasonable and that he understands what a functional and fair government should look like.

But that is not the type of government he is proposing. Yet the King has shown his hand, that he indeed understands how a parliamentary monarchy should work. He has thus set in motion a movement that will ask for nothing more than an honest government with a limited monarch.

A brief rundown on some of the changes, as reported by CNN.com:

The reform movement has called for the creation of a parliamentary monarchy, an end to the influence of the king’s inner circle and for a crackdown on corrupt officials. Spain and Britain are examples of a parliamentary monarchy.

If the draft is ratified in a referendum set for July 1, its most radical change would be empowering voters to select a prime minister, thereby ending the longstanding practice in which the king has selected his own man for the job. The prime minister has tended to take his lead from the sovereign on key matters of state.

If Moroccans back the draft, then the new prime minister would have new powers in decision-making and in day-to-day management — relieving the king of a number of duties and aligning the style of management along the lines followed by some European Union countries.

In an example of power sharing, the draft constitution empowers the prime minister to dissolve the House of Representatives, and stresses that the king shall consult him before announcing the dissolution of parliament.

 

Sunday links

Here are some links from the weekend that will make you think. I’ll try to do this every Sunday because who subscribes to newspapers anymore?

Iran is building a state-run Internet to that will help them control social media that helped bring about the Arab Spring and the 2009 Green Revolution.

Iran recently confirmed plans to establish a self-enclosed national Internet – a two-tier or dual network, comprising a publicly available but easily monitored Internet, with restricted access to the wider Web; and an open access Internet for government, business and tourists. Cuba, Burma, Russia and China are trying to form similar two-tier systems.

Yasser Hareb writes for the Gulf News about how Arab journalists must Tweet change to grab youth.

When half of the population in the Arab world is under the age of 25, it becomes a fact that half of the media’s targeted audience is young people using smart phones and new means of communications. Those young people do not want to sit and watch news bulletins on TV and will not be disappointed if they miss a certain programme; nor will they wait for the re-run.

Mona Eltahawy says “virginity tests” administered by the Egyptian government blur the line between politics and sex.

Let’s be clear, “virginity tests” are common in Egypt and straddle class and urban/rural divides. Be it the traditional midwife checking for a hymen on a bride’s wedding night, or a forensics expert or doctor called in after a prospective bridegroom’s suspicions, young women are forced to spread their legs to appease the god of virginity. But no one talks about it.

But it’s different when the state/SCAF is the one forcing women’s legs apart. A protest is planned for Saturday. It’s a perfect time for gender to come out of the revolution’s closet.

Following Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s failure to reform government in 100 days, protesters took to the streets.

With security greatly improved in Iraq, the citizenry has finally had the time to focus upon other issues such as governance and services. The country has been hit by twenty years of wars and sanctions, which have devastated its infrastructure. Despite the expenditure of several billion dollars in reconstruction funds, water, electricity, health care, etc., have not caught up with demand.

A martyr may spur a revolution to change the monarch’s role in Morocco, says Betwa Sharma in Foreign Policy.

Kamal Amari, 30, was a university graduate with a degree in physics who worked as a private security officer at the port in the western city of Safi. On May 29, he was caught up in the crackdown there. “Seven policemen beat him for five minutes,” said Adel Fathi, a friend.

On June 2, Amari succumbed to his wounds. Local activists call him the “first martyr” of Morocco’s freedom movement. His death has transformed Safi into a front line of the country’s protest movement.

Muhammad Faour of the Carnegie Middle East Center says Arab nations must use revolutions as a launching pad for education reform and teaching young Arabs what it means to be a citizen.

Educating young Arabs for citizenship requires much more fundamental reform than what has so far been undertaken in education reform plans. It requires getting past several serious shortcomings in the Arab education and political systems.

These shortcomings begin at the individual student level, including low learning achievement; lack of creative, independent, and critical thinking; and lack of problem-solving skills. They also include the home or family level, which is often guided by authoritarianism, obedience to authority figures, limited freedom of expression, and dependence on a family network for prospective employment.

Elliot Abrams says he believes democracy will take root in Syria when and if Bashar al Assad’s regime falls.

Some day, and tomorrow would not be soon enough, the Assad mafia will be gone and Syria will face the difficult challenge  of building a democracy after decades of bloody repression.  The Damascus Declaration—and the courage of those who wrote it and suffered time in Assad’s prisons for their principles and their patriotism—provides Syrians with the key guidelines to follow, and provides us all with some hope that democracy can indeed be built in Syria.

 

 

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