From the Editors
On 1 July 2011, Moroccans took part in a constitutional referendum, resulting in what is now Morocco's sixth constitution since 1962. Similar to previous constitutions, direction was taken solely from the pinnacle of Moroccan society, leaving the majority voiceless. Members of the February 20th Movement, inspired by pro-democracy movements in neighboring countries, immediately announced their decision to boycott the referendum, citing the undemocratic nature of the process through which the constitution was drafted.
Within a time span of nine months, Morocco experienced pro-democracy protests, a referendum, and a new constitution. The 2012 elections were also rescheduled for the end of November 2011 instead. The reform process has been significantly rushed and crafted in a manner that sustains the regime while disregarding the concrete demands to place a check on Moroccan King Mohammad VI’s powers. Measures of liberalization, such as the redefinition of “national identity” and the inclusion of Tamazight as an official language, address matters that do not constrain the King’s power in Moroccan society.
Many expected the latest announcement of a new constitution to appease the February 20th Movement. However, it has done more to unify and strengthen the increasingly growing dissenting voices in Morocco. Recently, the February 20th Movement announced their decision to boycott the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 25 November. After reaching consensus by means of a weekly general assembly, it asserted that taking part in the elections would legitimize an undemocratic system, which they argue has not demonstrated a commitment to democratic reform.
Zineb Belmkaddem of the February 20th Movement places emphasis on actors in the regime and their involvement in the reform process as a source for the movement’s dissent. In the popular movements in Tunisia and Egypt, even Jordan, there has been a significant change and shuffling around of figures in the regime. The Moroccan regime, however, embarked on a path towards reform while the same politicians remained in their positions. It undoubtedly ensures the same ruling elites’ interests while demonstrating a clear conflict of interest, which Zineb explains as a reason to continue protesting. In describing her vision for the movement, she says, “Our job is to put pressure so things move towards the right direction, and honestly, things are barely starting to move and it's not enough.”
Members of the February 20th Movement point to the recent arrests and murders of activists to buttress their claims. On 9 September, Moroccan rapper Moad Belghouat, who goes by the name of Haked, was arbitrarily arrested on charges of “assaulting a pro-regime demonstrator.” On 13 October, February 20th Movement activist Mohammad Boudouroua died from injuries after a police officer pushed him off a roof. The officer stated that Boudouroua jumped in an act suicide, a claim that has been refuted by his family and witnesses. On 20 October, activists protesting against the arbitrary arrest and detention of Haked were themselves arrested in Casablanca. On 27 October, another February 20th Movement activist, Kamal Hassani, was murdered by a baltajiya, a pro-regime thug.
The "March of Coffins," protesting the death of February 20th Movement activists. Image from 24.mamfakinch.com
As the February 20th Movement has remained consistent in its demands for genuine democratic reform, the state-media embargo on the movement has also remained steadfast, focusing instead on the upcoming parliamentary elections. The government launched a campaign urging youths to register to vote in order to counter the opposition’s boycotting of the elections. By the 5 November closing date, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior announced that 13.6 million voters—about sixty-five percent of the total adult population—had registered. Despite the regime’s campaign to encourage registration, the amount of registered voters decreased by over a million since the 2007 elections. Considering population distribution is more concentrated between the twenty-to-thirty age range and with a median age of 26.9, the drop of registered voters could be a result of the movement’s gains in this particular demographic.
The 1 July referendum was Morocco’s most recent demonstration of what the regime claimed was a “democratic process.” According to the Ministry of Interior, the referendum’s outcome was a seventy-five percent participation and an overwhelming ninety-eight percent approval rates, figures contested by many Moroccans. The referendum allowed for the participation of Marocains résidant à l'étranger (MRE), or Moroccans residing abroad. However, MRE will only be able to take part in the parliamentary elections on 25 November through a proxy vote. MRE have the option to register with consulates, inform their family in Morocco of their voting decision, and have a family member vote in their place. Many MRE associations advocating for complete inclusion have expressed frustration over this decision.
Close to fourteen percent of the total Moroccan population—most of which consists of skilled and educated people—resides outside of Morocco. Moreover, according to the Oxford Business Group, Moroccan expats provide the highest amount of remittances in the region after Egypt. As a result, many speculated that MRE inclusion in the Moroccan government is inevitable. The constitutional council did respond by adding articles 17 and 18 to the new constitution, which lay out MRE representation in parliament:
Article 17: Moroccans residing abroad have the full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote and run for elections. They can stand as candidates in the local, regional, and national levels. The law sets specific criteria for eligibility and incompatibility. It also determines the conditions and procedures for the right to vote and run for elections from the country of residence.
Article 18: The public authorities are working to ensure the widest possible participation of Moroccans residing abroad, through consultative institutions and good governance created by the Constitution or by law.
In a parliamentary conference with MP Mbarka Bouaida two weeks after the constitutional referendum, she offered little by way of clarifying the above articles. When asked how representation would be determined, and to clarify the aforementioned “specific criteria for eligibility and incompatibility,” her response was, “This has not been discussed yet.” Yet, a member of the Ministry of MRE defended the decision to exclude expatriates from parliamentary elections claiming, “The agendas of the political parties are neither communicated to consulates nor posted on internet, so how can people vote without knowing the party they would vote for?”
The disconnect between political parties and constituents was also brought up by Anas Alaoui, co-founder of Cap Démocratie Maroc (CAPDEMA). CAPDEMA is a French- based NGO that works with the February 20th Movement through the publication of various reports and the hosting of Démocafés, which serve as public forums for political discussion. Alaoui argued, “To these activists, all the candidates are the same. They will get elected and five years later, the voters will be in the same position. It’s not about a political party’s program to create 200,000 jobs or generate a five percent economic growth; the candidates lack credibility with the voters.” When asked how candidates could improve their credibility, Alaoui suggested that candidates should make more of an effort to get in touch with their constituents. Frustrated, Alaoui explained, “Elections are in three weeks and people still have no idea who is running in their electoral district.”
Alaoui explained how CAPDEMA has not reached a consensus on whether to participate in or boycott the elections. He did, however, indicate that many of the articles in the new constitution need to be implemented through organic laws, which require a newly elected parliament.
Politically aware Moroccans, whether voting or not, agree that the Parti de la justice et du développement) (PJD) will most likely garner the most electoral votes. Commentators have been quick to draw assumptions regarding PJD’s position as an Islamist political party, but it is PJD’s transparent system in selecting candidates and its overall organization that has produced the presumed support. Unlike other major parties in Morocco who choose a candidate based on their influence and personal wealth, the PJD institutes a three-step process: a commission proposes candidates, a second commission chooses one through a secret ballot, and a third commission works with the candidate to specify his or her position.
It is relatively difficult to assess the value and causal implications of elections in a country ruled by an unelected figurehead. The new constitution reiterates the King’s role as the sole arbiter of Morocco’s political system while maintaining vague wording on his limits. The process of democratization is no doubt one that requires ample time and maximum inclusion. In a region experiencing significant transitional junctures, the Moroccan regime has an opportunity to step beyond the paradigm of authoritarian politics which have dictated the Maghreb for decades. The 25 November elections will demonstrate Morocco’s commitment to democratic reform only through monitoring the polls, fighting the bribery and corruption that have plagued Morocco’s electoral process, and the ability of the newly elected parliament to implement organic laws that will place value on the new constitution. The February 20th Movement has succeeded in steadily pushing the reform process forward and it has made no signs of retreating until their views are actualized. The results of these elections and the response of the movement will be fundamental to assessing the future of the Greater Maghreb.
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