In Morocco, the Arab Spring began as a series of demonstrations on February 20, 2011, when thousands—including students, unemployed youth, feminists, and human rights activists—took to the streets to protest Morocco’s economic stagnation and unemployment problems, democratic and human rights deficits, and the like.
Though Morocco may have shared many of the same factors that sparked revolution in other regional countries, the February 20 protest movement quickly lost much of its momentum thanks to pre-emptory actions taken by King Muhammad VI. On March 9, 2011, only three weeks after protests began, the Moroccan monarch gave a historic speech outlining landmark constitutional reforms.
On the two year anniversary of this speech, the time is ripe to reflect on the state of these reforms. Commentators often point to King Mohammed VI’s success in overhauling the constitution, redefining the role of the monarchy, reformulating the legal system, strengthening the rule of law, and guaranteeing human rights and personal freedoms. Of all of the region’s leaders, Mohammed VI seems to have pursued the most reasonable and gradual transition to democracy, introducing dramatic changes, in record time, with minimum turbulence.
Despite these accomplishments, it is important to recognize that the political parties that occupy parliament—as well as the government—remain weak relative to the monarchy.
Though it won a majority of votes in the November 2011 elections, the government, which is led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party, has had to deal with resistance from the populace, other political parties, and especially the Makhzen, the entrenched, corrupt elite close to the monarchy. Whenever the government attempts to implement a reform, public backlash often hinders its efforts. While the citizenry may openly express their dissatisfaction with the new government’s policies, they rarely complain about the monarchy.
Despite the stability characterizing Morocco’s contemporary political scene, the so-called reforms have yet to yield concrete and meaningful results. While foregoing certain powers, King Mohammed VI remains politically and symbolically dominant, the sole guarantor of Moroccan sovereignty, and well positioned to capitalize on the “failings” of the democratically elected government.