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The Never Ending Story: Protests and Constitutions in Morocco

[King Mohammed IV casting his vote in the constitution referendum. Image from wn.com] [King Mohammed IV casting his vote in the constitution referendum. Image from wn.com]

On 1 July 2011, Moroccans went to the polls in a referendum promoted by King Mohammed VI to approve a new constitution to replace that of 1996. A vote of over ninety-eight percent, in an official turnout of over seventy-two percent, unsurprisingly approved the new text.

The new constitution supposedly represents a further step in the direction of establishing a liberal-democratic system and does indeed contain provisions to that effect. For instance there is now the explicit recognition that Morocco is a ”parliamentary constitutional monarchy,“ that national identity is pluralistic and not simply Arab and Muslim, and that, crucially, the figure of the King is no longer ”sacred.” but simply inviolable. In addition, the Parliament’s powers have been increased.

There is no doubt that the new constitution represents a concession to the Moroccan protest movement that emerged during the Arab Spring. Yet, this should not obscure the fact that the monarch strictly controlled and managed the whole reform process. In order to avoid further challenges to his authority and public role, Mohammed VI decided to pre-empt the most radical demands of the demonstrators such as the end to the monarchy’s executive role. He wanted to offer Moroccans a new charter that indicated the country was moving towards the establishment of democratic governance. With the vast majority of Moroccans approving the new constitution despite the 20 February movement’s calls to boycott the referendum, it seems that the monarchy has been able to end the debate about its primacy in the country’s institutional set up. Sectors of civil society, the vast majority of political parties, the trade unions and both the national and international press all supported the “yes” camp in the referendum, clearly suggesting that they still trust the monarchy to lead the reform initiative. While the provisions of the new constitution do represent a considerable change, critics have outlined that they are in no way radical or “democratic.”


This article is now featured in Jadaliyya's edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.

4 comments for "The Never Ending Story: Protests and Constitutions in Morocco"

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you keep talking about political parties, in Morocco there is no such thing just some political entreprises that serve only their interests and avail themselves from the status quo and the king is only a doll who knows nothing of what's going on, now we have come out to streets to say that we want a ruler whome we -the people- choose and call to account when he goes astray

it's me wrote on August 13, 2011 at 09:26 AM
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Watching from Rabat, I'm very glad to see pieces on Morocco published here, and the authors make an important point about the monarchy's self-positioning as an 'arbiter' and a conduit between Muslim practice and so-called modernization. However, one thing I've seen starkly missing from analysis of the #Feb20 movement and the general conditions from which it sprouted (for example in this otherwise comprehensive piece: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,druck-764898,00.html) is a strong class analysis of Morocco. It's a rather stunning omission given the deep class rifts and hugely lop-sided access to jobs and advancement opportunities.

South/South wrote on August 13, 2011 at 01:33 PM
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Excellent article on the (changing) pattern of protest and reform in Morocco. Protest and resistance appears to be taking many forms, though, and not all of them fall under the banner of Feb 20.

The case could be made that the unemployed demonstrators who recently sabotaged phosphate mining operations in the Chaouia posed a more direct threat to state stability - and, unlike Feb 20 participants, were more quickly and conclusively confronted by the law.

Mark Drury wrote on August 19, 2011 at 12:44 PM
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Glad to see something written about Morocco and protests.What about the US bases Sidi Slimanie and Kenitra? Are they closed? Do they still have nuclear weapons there-deployed already in the fifties. Dont forget to protest against US dominance in the area.Agneta Norberg

Agneta Norberg wrote on September 12, 2011 at 03:10 AM

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