Saturday, February 12, 2011

Morocco Pressured to Step Up Reforms

Here is an article about how events in Egypt and Tunisia put pressure on the government in Morocco to implement reforms. May all of our countries get beyond cosmetic appearances of freedom. Ameen.

Morocco pressured to step up reforms

(AFP) – 2 days ago

RABAT — Emboldened by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, demands for political reforms are now mounting in Morocco, touching even the country's monarchy.

"Many believe that a constitutional reform, allowing Morocco to benefit from more modern institutions, is necessary," economist and analyst Driss Benali said of a phenomenon that might ultimately decrease the monarch's power.

The voices include those from one of Morocco's leading Islamist movements, Justice and Charity, which has called for "urgent democratic change."

"It is unjust that the country's riches should be monopolised by a minority," the movement, which is banned but tolerated here, wrote on its website.

Morocco is a country of stark economic inequalities, sharing some of the ingredients that exploded into massive revolts in nearby Tunisia; "A young, largely idle population facing problems of lack of training, employment and prospects and a fairly closed political horizon," said economist Najib Akesbi.

"Corruption and nepotism" are two other realities, Akesbi said, noting Morocco ranks 85th in the corruption perceptions index of watchdog Transparency International -- well below Tunisia's ranking of 59th.

So far, this country of 32 million has yet to experience the massive demonstrations now convulsing some Arab countries. But Moroccans in major cities have closely followed the popular uprisings of fellow north Africans in Tunisia and Egypt via Al Jazeera.

More recently, a group of young Moroccans have issued a call via Facebook to stage peaceful protests for "a major political reform" on February 20. The movement, which claims several thousand followers, is only part of a mushrooming Cybernet debate here on chances of change.

Morocco "will probably not be an exception" to the protest movements now afoot in the Arab world, Prince Moulay Hicham, cousin of King Mohammed VI, told foreign media in interviews.

The 46-year-old, third in line to the throne, is nicknamed the "red prince" because of his criticism of Morocco's monarchy.

Visiting European Union Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule urged Moroccan authorities to deepen reforms, particularly poverty eradication measures.

Moroccan officials have maintained subsidies on key staples like flour, sugar and butane gas. Price hikes of such basics helped spark revolt in other Arab countries.

"Moroccan society is not sheltered from what is happening elsewhere," analyst Benali said. "Rather than suffer events, it is better to anticipate them and embark on reforms."

Benali believes Morocco has one advantage over its Arab peers -- "the legitimacy of the monarchy."

Mohammed, who became king in 1999, "is not jaded" by too many years in power, Benali said, outlining a scenario in which Rabat could eventually evolve by stages into a system in which "the king will end up reigning without governing."

For its part Justice and Charity, which claims up to 200,000 supporters, does not challenge the legitimacy of the monarchy, but refuses to recognise Mohammed's role as "commander of the believers."

"It's an Islamism that is anti-establishment that is pushing for peaceful change," said Islam expert Mohamed Darif of Justice and Charity. "It doesn't talk about abolishing the monarchy."

More "integrated" Islamist movements also exist, he added, such as the Justice and Development party, which counts among the parliamentary opposition.

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved

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