MARRAKECH – The conference rooms of small political parties and human rights associations are buzzing with constant meetings. Supporters of the “Moroccan spring,” inspired by the removal from power of the longstanding presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, are always preparing for the next street demonstration.
The youth-led February 20 Movement, angry about special privileges and corruption alleged within the entourage of King Mohammed VI, is calling for radical changes, including the ouster of some members of the King’s inner circle and defense of the freedom of expression. Some are even asking for a debate on Article 19 of the Constitution, the section that declares the king to be Amir al-Mouminine, or the Sacred Commander of the Faithful.
At times, the movement can attract tens of thousands of people throughout the country. The most recent march Sunday also took aim at those responsible for the café bombing in Marrakech last month that killed 17. Police say the three people arrested have ties to Al Qaeda.
The February 20 Movement is an eclectic mix of people fed up with traditional political parties, Facebook aficionados who want to break down taboos on sex or religion, old-school leftists and supporters of Sheik Yassin, the old leader of an Islamist sect. This is what Moroccans sometimes call the “Danone generation,” from the popular yogurt brand that symbolizes the globalization so present on Moroccan tables.
But engaging the regime in a constructive dialogue is not easy. The royal house, which controls most of the real power in the country, does not seem ready for any kind of heavy-handed repression. Demonstrations are authorized and police violence is quite rare.
King Mohammed VI has even tried to portray himself as the maker of a quiet revolution. As proof of his interest to the people’s demands, he has announced a number of institutional changes that could pave the way for a parliamentary monarchy. He has also promised to reform the justice system and step up efforts against corruption.
“The speech he gave on March 9 clearly shows that the king is not a rais,” says Mohammed Nabil Benabdallah, leader of the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), currently a member of the Moroccan government. “The blood of democracy runs through his veins, and it is not his nature to resort to violence.”
Benabdallah says that a part of Mohammed wants “to preserve the monarchy’s grandeur, and another part understands that that can only be achieved by opening it up.” He adds that: “The people in the streets are not challenging the values of the monarchy. None of the demonstrators is calling for Mohammed VI to go, and there are no slogans against his family.”
Both at home and abroad, Mohammed VI has been praised for his apparent desire for change. Conservatives worried about their future quietly complain that the King’s measures go too far, while reformers say they are not bold enough. “This speech would have had a much wider impact if it had come at the beginning of his reign, but now it only looks like a tactical move,” says a source close to Moulay Hicham, the King’s cousin, who is currently living abroad.
“May 68, Moroccan style”
The young people, meanwhile, are keeping up their pressure. The February 20 Movement is skeptical about the panel established to propose changes to the constitution, and refuses to take part in any of their meetings. “Young people are jealous of their independence. They do not trust anyone. We were promised a lot of changes but none of them materialized, or they were changes for the worse,” says Imam, 31, a French teacher in a Marrakech private school.
But some of the youths have agree to talk to members of the older generation. “It has allowed us to make an assessment of this movement,” says Omar Azziman, member of the committee for constitutional reform and former ambassador of Morocco in Madrid.
“Young protestors have plainly identified a need for change,” Mr. Azziman says. “They have created a shock wave that has finally awoken political players and unions from their slumber. And their demands are reasonable ones: they are right to complain about corruption, bad governance and wasteful public spending...But we should not think of the new constitution as a magic wand that could solve all the country’s problems.”
A proposal for change is due from Omar Azziman and his colleagues in June, in time for a referendum expected to take place at some point between July and September. Legislative elections should follow too. “We are now living a May ‘68 period, Morocco style,” says Mohammed Nabil Benabdallah, the general secretary of the PPS. “The country’s young people are behaving as if nothing existed before them. It is true, though, that murky politics have brought us to the point where no one listens to us any more. We have to face up to this fact.”
Read the original article in French.
Photo - LeJul