Monday, November 28, 2011

Moroccan Elections are not the "model" for Arab Spring as the West Claims

Here is an opinion piece from the CSM offering some insight on Morocco's elections.
Morocco elections aren't a model for the Arab Spring as West claims

Contrary to the West's view, Morocco's parliamentary elections this weekend didn't signal a bold step toward democracy. They showed just how far the country has to go to achieve real reforms – and how much more power the king must give up.

By Ellen Lust / November 28, 2011

Rabat, Morocco

As the world turned its attention to the massive and sustained demonstrations in Egypt last week, much smaller but nevertheless significant protests took place in Morocco leading up to Friday’s parliamentary elections. As the country prepared for the first elections since King Mohammed VI implemented reforms last summer to give that body more power, thousands of Moroccans took to the streets in Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier, calling for regime change.

The demonstrations highlight the wide gap between the West’s vision of Morocco as a leading example of how to transition into democracy, and the average Moroccan’s view of a regime reluctant to release power.

The West has been veritably giddy about King Mohammed VI’s “progressive” democratic reforms – implemented to head off Arab Spring turmoil and appease protesters. American Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton heralded the constitutional reforms that paved the way for this Friday’s elections as an “important step toward democratic reform” by a “longstanding friend, partner, and ally of the United States.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy, too, commended the king for embarking on a “path to democracy."

Yet viewed from within, the constitutional reforms passed in July look very different. Under the new constitution, the king loses his “sacred status” and appoints a prime minister from the majority party in parliament. But the king has not loosened his grip on ultimate power, maintaining control over the religious establishment, the military, and all security matters. He can also implement “emergency law” and maintains veto power over all minister appointments. All laws must still be confirmed by the king.

Independent voices from the opposition were not involved in the reform process this summer. The ultimate demands of the February 20 Movement for Change movement were not met. Rather, the king relied on the political parties that have historically supported his monarchy to pass the initial reform.

Indeed, the 98.5 percent approval rate in the July 1 constitutional referendum highlighted how little had changed. If anything, the extraordinary rate reflected the authoritarian rule of the king’s father, Hassan II, more than the democratic reform of the “progressive” king.

Still, Friday’s elections showed signs of progress. Voter turnout was up from 37 percent in the last elections to 45 percent. And the moderate Islamist PJD (Justice and Development Party) – the former opposition party – earned unprecedented success, coming out on top with 107 of the parliament’s 395 seats. These developments suggest real reform may be possible. But there is a long way to go.

Parties played old political games. A pre-electoral alliance of eight ideologically diverse parties, from Islamists to conservatives, is better understood as a vehicle for political ambition than of ideologically driven, vibrant political parties. The counter-alliance prompted many to see the parties as dividing spoils before elections, with little regard for the voters. They were engaged primarily in a quest to be close to the center of power, not a struggle for change.

Citizens were largely disengaged. When the campaign season opened Nov. 12 there was little sign of the upcoming polls. Earlier this month, as I walked Rabat’s brightly decorated streets, crowded with people celebrating the end of Eid, only headlines unveiling party platforms and political intrigues hinted at impending elections.

Campaigns did gather some momentum as the election approached, but not because people believed they would change Morocco’s political future. Rather, many hoped to take advantage of the electoral season to draw candidates’ attention (and resources) to local problems. Others hoped to benefit more directly – and often financially – from mobilizing the “electoral market.”

Few believe the new parliament will solve the many problems plaguing nearly 35 million Moroccans, where 1 in 3 young, urban males are unemployed and poverty is widespread.

A large part of the struggle over Morocco’s democratic future is not taking place within the elections, but outside them. A broad-ranging opposition coalition, from small leftist parties to the Feb. 20 movement, which arose at the beginning of regional Arab uprisings, and the popular, outlawed Islamist Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane group, called for a boycott. They hoped to use elections to call for real change.

And although voter turnout remained strong, their movement had an effect.

Campaign pamphlets and speeches frontlined calls for dignity, social justice, and fighting corruption, all brought to the fore in last spring’s demonstrations. Demonstrators, while small in number, made surprisingly strident calls for a change in regime, often drawing greater attention than the election rallies.

Perhaps most important, the parties reminded observers that the changes that followed last spring appeared more dramatic to the King’s Western allies than they did to most Moroccans.

Morocco’s problems remain unsolved, fueling widespread discontent and continued demand for reform. In the new Arab world, sluggish, half-hearted reforms of the last two decades no longer appease the people, in Morocco or elsewhere. Friday’s elections, and a parliament led by the moderate Islamist PJD party, may be a step forward in democratic reform. But, to make this hope a reality, the king still needs to take significant steps toward relinquishing power.

Ellen Lust is an associate professor of political science at Yale University specializing in Middle East politics.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

هل ستضعف الانتخابات في المغرب الاحتجاجات الشعبية؟ Will Moroccan Elections Subdue Popular Protests?

Here is an article from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website about the upcoming elections. The article is also available in Arabic.
There is also an recent call by Human Rights Watch asking Moroccan authorities to stop harassing people calling for boycott of the elections. That can be accessed here.

Will Morocco’s Elections Subdue Popular Protests?

November 22, 2011 Maati Monjib

Morocco’s legislative elections on Friday will be met with an apathetic electorate—signaled by the reduced number of registered voters: despite population growth and a change in the voting age from 21 to 18, the number of registered voters has dropped by over two million to 13 million since 2003. The constitutional amendments announced in June do not alter the balance of power between parliament and the king, nor do they reform the electoral law that limits the ability of large national parties to win a majority of seats. For once, however, the identity of the party that will emerge victorious from the elections has become of interest to the public , as the outcome of the elections will influence the future of the popular movements pushing for change outside the institutional context.

Morocco’s February 20 popular demonstrations created a new political reality by bringing together hundreds of thousands of citizens: for the first time since the ascension of Mohammed VI to the throne, the country situated itself with the two principals face to face with one another: the street and the palace. Organized by a Facebook-based network of Moroccan youth that formed after the fall of Ben Ali in Tunisia, this pro-democracy movement demanded an end to corruption and autocracy, the dissolution of the government’s “elected” institutions, fair elections unsupervised by the Interior Ministry, and the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy in which the king reigns, but does not rule. Demonstrators did not criticize the king himself except in isolated cases—a decision intended to guard against violent police reactions and keep from alienating supporters of a constitutional monarchy. Instead, the king’s closest counselors, like Fouad El Himma (his most influential advisor) and Mounir Majidi (who is called “the Rami Makhlouf” of Morocco) were the primary targets of the street’s anger.
In his first response to the protests on March 9, the king promised demonstrators far-reaching constitutional reform that gave executive powers to the prime minister, who would be officially given the title “the head of government”; judicial reform and greater public freedoms were also pledged. The February 20th Movement has since perceived these assurances as an attempt to stall for time, claiming they still fall short of the street’s demands.

The new constitution—which was carefully drafted at every stage by the king and his closest aides—is vaguer than the previous one, especially regarding the distribution of power between the king and the government. If interpreted in isolation, some articles give the impression that Morocco is on the verge of becoming a genuinely constitutional monarchy in which the executive branch rules and parliament legislates. This possible interpretation makes the November 25 elections politically significant: the constitution requires that the king choose a member of the winning party as “head of government”—consequently, who the victorious party will be is now of greater interest than in previous elections.

With that, however, so as to ensure a preferable outcome the palace has pushed the loyalist “administrative parties” (those established or sponsored by the Interior Ministry—e.g., the Authenticity and Modernity party, known as PAM; the RNI, a liberal party; and the Popular Movement) to form an electoral alliance with smaller organizations: a confederation called “G-8,” after the global economic organization. Among other things, this royalist alliance aims to outmaneuver the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), as it rides the coattails of Ennahda’s victory in Tunisia. And although the PJD is more conservative than Ennahda (and thus, less likely to secure secularist votes), it aims to garner around 70 of parliament’s 395 seats—emerging from the elections as the majority party.

But the regime has not shown any sign that the elections, which are framed by the new constitution, will truly be different from those prior. The outlined electoral system does not introduce any fundamental changes to the 2002 law and consequently still relies on districting that undermines national political parties in favor of local powerbrokers, who have no qualms about buying votes en masse. They also enjoy the protection of the state and palace because their demands are specifically local or sectoral, rather than political, in nature. Furthermore, the Interior Ministry is still in charge of organizing these elections, despite its atrocious track record of tampering with results. It was even allowed to set the conditions guiding electoral advertising in official media outlets—a task that should have been given to the High Authority for Audio-Visual Communication (HACA), which has the experience and resources to undertake this role and had been declared an “autonomous institution” under the new constitution. Rather the Interior Ministry took the opportunity to ban any calls for boycott of the elections even though several political parties—such as the United Socialist party (PSU) and the Democratic Socialist Vanguard Party (PADS) as well as many supporters of the February 20th Movement—will boycott the election.

Further, local observers have drawn attention to the fact that a number of candidates who the security agencies consider to be regime opponents have been banned from the race; Judge Jaafar Hassoun, former head of the Marrakesh administrative tribunal, is the most prominent example. Local authorities rejected Hassoun’s nomination on the PJD slate in his hometown on the basis that he had been fired from the judiciary less than a year earlier. However, in the summer 2010, Hassoun was also prevented from running in a judicial election on the grounds that he had been removed from his position. The justifications are, of course, contradictory, and the real reason behind the ban is that Hassoun has demonstrated a rare independent streak that has led the Ministry of Justice to swiftly remove him from his post on unsubstantiated corruption charges and without compensation.

Because of these limitations, the largest groups within the February 20th Movement announced they will boycott the elections. They organized nationwide demonstrations on Sunday and demanded an “end to corruption and autocracy,” reasserting that the official reforms announced do not in any way change the nature of the “absolute monarchy.” They emphasized that the proposals were intended to buy time and undermine the momentum of the pro-democracy youth movement, and there is already some discussion on how to prepare for a “million-man march” on the first anniversary of the protest: February 20, 2012.

As Sunday’s events demonstrate, street politics are likely to continue, and these groups are still able to organize protests in a number of different cities. But the outcome of the elections will affect the movement’s spread. The worst case scenario would be for the PJD to come out as victorious, with one of its leaders named head of the government, as such an outcome would restore credibility to the king’s reforms and the PJD would be unable to push for any core reforms once within the system. A PJD-led government would also have sway with the street, which could curb the popular momentum that the youth movement still enjoys. It is the only party which has stated that it will actually rule if it wins the voters’ trust, and that it will not simply follow the orders given by the king’s advisors or influential security officials. This relatively hard line on the monarchy’s control over decision-making is what pushed some secular activists and supporters of the February 20th Movement, such as the well-known businessman Karim Tazi, to announce they will vote for the PJD.

In contrast, the triumph of the G-8 coalition and the appointment of one of its leaders as prime minister would be the best opportunity the regime could give to those demanding further reform: it would demonstrate more clearly the limits of the proposed constitution—and remobilize the Moroccan street.

Maati Monjib is a political analyst and historian at University of Mohammed V-Rabat. He is the editor of Islamists versus Secularists in Morocco: Amsterdam, IKV, 2009.

This article was translated from Arabic.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thousands in Rabat Call for Boycott of Upcoming Elections

Here is an short piece from the AP on the continued calls for election boycotts in Morocco.

Thousands call for Morocco election boycott

(AP) – 46 minutes ago

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Thousands of Moroccans from the pro-democracy movement braved pouring rain and high winds in the capital to make a final call to boycott upcoming elections.

At least 3,000 people marched through downtown Rabat on Sunday, chanting slogans against the elections. It was the largest of these weekly demonstrations by activists in months.

Early elections are being held Friday in the North African kingdom as part of government reform efforts responding to pro-democracy demonstrations earlier this year.

Protesters, however, maintain that the political system is corrupt and elections are pointless when the king and his court hold the real power. Past parliamentary elections in Morocco were marred by low turnouts.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Boarding School in Ain Leuh Provides Education to Girls in Rural Morocco

Here is the article from the AFP about a school in the mountains near Ifrane providing educational opportunities to needy girls from rural areas.

Mountain boarding school gives hope to Moroccan girls

By Omar Brouksy (AFP) – 21 hours ago

AIN LEUH, Morocco — In the heart of the snowbound Atlas mountains in central Morocco, a boarding school takes in young girls from isolated villages in a bid to fight poverty and illiteracy.

There are more than 300 such schools in Morocco, with another 30 planned for construction next year. They are now both home and class to almost 16,700 girls, who are often living far from their families. More than 70 percent of them come from a rural background, according to official figures.

"The criteria for admission to the dormitory? They are simple and clear: poverty and remoteness. A committee studies requests and the girls are swiftly selected on the basis of these two criteria," said Souad Arkani, the headmistress of the establishment in the village of Ain Leuh.

The dormitory has taken in 35 young women, just a little way from the school they attend each day.

Despite landmark changes in the family code known as Mudawana, pushed through by King Mohammed VI in 2004 against tough opposition from religious conservatives, many women are still second-class citizens in the north African country. In conservative rural zones, only one out of every two girls finishes middle school and only two out of every 10 goes to high school.

The king promoted the boarding schools -- for both boys and girls -- soon after he took power, in 1999.

"My parents live a few dozen kilometres from here. But thanks to this home, I'm doing my studies in good conditions because I'm looked after and the school is just nearby," Khadija, 19, told AFP.

"They are taken in hand, with a precise programme from morning to evening: breakfast, going to the nearby school, lunch at 12:30 pm, studies and, finally, lights out at 10:00 pm," Arkani said.

The boarding school is financed and jointly run by the ministry of social development and a local non-governmental organisation, the Islamic Association of Charity (AIB).

Ain Leuh is located in the province of Ifrane, 300 kilometres (185 miles) east of the capital Rabat, at the heart of mountains covered with cedar trees where it often snows in winter.

"From November, it begins to get very cold because the region is mountainous. The girls stay in the home all week, but they can spend the weekend with their relatives or close family," Arkani said.

To see her parents, Khadija must first take a "big taxi" (a collective taxi) for several dozen kilometres. Then she needs to walk down a track for at least an hour to get home.

When he encouraged these boarding schools, the king stated that he wanted to make up for the lack of infrastructure in rural regions, but according to some of the staff at Ain Leuh, inaugurated by Mohammed VI in 2003, the means are limited and help from any quarter is welcome.

"Local communities, the ministry (of social development) and our association participate in the finance, but we have to struggle to balance our budget," said Mohamed Bouyamlal, vice-president of the AIB.

"We have to make choices which are sometimes difficult and choose the strict minimum, which is to say food," he added.

The headmistress only earns 1,200 dirhams a month (106 euros / 148 dollars), which is less than the national minimum wage of about 125 euros.

But in spite of the difficulties, the results are promising. The schools say their success rate in graduating girls runs between 80 and 100 percent, and more than half the boarders end up following university studies.

Overall, the rate of illiteracy among rural women has dropped from 64 percent in 2006 to 40 percent in 2011, according to official figures.

And the rate at which girls drop out of school in rural areas has fallen from 14 percent in 2006 to 10 percent in 2010, thanks to this programme. School is by law compulsory in Morocco until the age of 15.

Apart from the studies, Ain Leuh offers otherwise isolated girls a new social network, to exchange views and open their minds.

"When I arrived from my distant home in the country, I was very shy," said Souad, one of the students. "The home has broadened my horizons and I have realised I can be autonomous and independent."

"I have ambitions and I see my future differently," she added proudly. "I want to be a mathematics teacher."

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Morocco Needs a New Social Contract to Promote Stability

Here is an article from The Nation on the need for a social contract in Morocco that addresses problems in a way that can support sustainable social peace.

Morocco needs a new social contract to promote stability

Lahcen Achy
Nov 3, 2011

The social package implemented by the Moroccan government in the first few months of the year has cast a shadow over the preparation of next year's budget. The budget deficit is expected to be around 6 per cent of GDP by the end of the current fiscal year, a level unprecedented in the last decade.

The Moroccan government - in an attempt to preserve social peace and avoid any escalation in the protest movement sparked by the Arab Spring - increased civil servants' wages by about $70 (Dh260) a month, announced plans to hire more than 4,000 unemployed college graduates and doubled subsidies to preserve the price stability of fuel and basic consumer goods whose prices have risen considerably on the world market.

The worsening of the budget deficit in Morocco comes at a time of scarce liquidity in local banks and public dissatisfaction with the privatisation process, which has played a key role in the country's economy over the last few years by allowing the sale of public assets to keep pace with high public spending. The high interest rates on loans in international financial markets, due to the sovereign debt crisis and the repercussions of the Arab Spring, have seriously reduced the government's margin for manoeuvre.

The postponement of the budget law's approval ahead of critical legislative elections scheduled for the end of November reveals Morocco's vulnerability to structural imbalances. The country needs frank and transparent dialogue among the various stakeholders to come up with a social contract that ensures stability and balances current social demands and future economic growth goals. This requires an ambitious, yet realistic development strategy whose implementation may take years.

Policymakers need to focus on three structural distortions. First, Morocco suffers from a large trade deficit: it imports almost twice as much as it exports. This situation reflects the inability of Moroccan producers to compete globally and the inefficiency of economic policies that have failed to develop the local industrial sector and bolster its potential to compete in foreign markets. Morocco has grown accustomed to covering its increasing trade deficit with income from the tourism industry and remittances from emigrants, but these will both pose a challenge for the Moroccan economy over the coming years.

Despite their high resilience during the past decade, the long-term sustainability of remittances should not be taken for granted. New waves of emigrants are critical to support the continued growth of remittances. But policy barriers to Moroccans' traditional destinations have been increasing. The inability, so far, of the European Union's member states to develop a common migration policy has seriously impeded legal migration flows to Europe.

The ageing of former emigrants and the migration of entire families tend to cause a decline in remittances. New generations, born abroad, continue to remit, but less so than their parents' generation. Most of them have acquired the citizenship of their host countries and have different consumption and remitting habits.

More educated emigrants also tend to remit less and instead use their savings to invest in real estate in their country of residence.

And in the current climate, Europe's slow economic growth, high unemployment and austerity measures to reduce public deficits are likely to affect remittances negatively.

Morocco faces a second structural distortion because it will not be able to build a strong and competitive economy without a skilled and well-trained labour force. The government needs to allocate more human and financial resources to its adult literacy strategy to increase its efficiency and extend its coverage. Policymakers need to remove barriers to participation in literacy programmes and adapt their content and time schedules to fit the needs and desires of recipients.

The third structural weakness is that despite Morocco's efforts over the past decade, poverty rates have remained persistently high, particularly in rural zones, and inequality has been on an upwards trend. The poorest 10 per cent of the population accounts for 2.7 per cent of total consumption. At the other extreme, the richest 10 per cent makes up one-third of total consumption.

Consumption and income inequality are only part of the story, as inequality of ownership is even worse. Data on the distribution of agricultural land indicate that 5 per cent of farmers own one-third of all land.

Policymakers need to reinforce public redistribution policies to reduce inequality among individuals and territories. They should fight tax evasion, implement a more progressive taxation system and increase taxes on property and wealth. They also need to cancel full tax exemptions that benefit the entire agricultural sector, regardless of the size of a particular business and the income it generates. This exemption, which has been in force since the mid-1980s, is socially unfair and economically inefficient.

The next government, which will enjoy greater powers under the new constitution, should establish its priorities to ensure a balance between immediate popular demands and the requirements for economic growth based on human capital and the stimulation of investment, and to establish an equitable tax system to ensure a sustainable social peace.

Lahcen Achy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut