Moroccan king promises reform

Amid continuing popular discontent in the Arab countries, King Mohammed of Morocco promised constitutional reforms in a speech yesterday (full text here).

Among other things, he talked of consolidating the rule of law, enhancing the independence of the judiciary and making the prime minister "fully responsible for government".

Naturally, the king presented these proposals as part of a steady progression in Morocco's democratic development rather than something new, though there is little doubt that that they have been stimulated by the current wave of protests in the region (including demonstrations in Morocco on February 20).

Before the protests started, Morocco had appeared to be slipping back into its old ways – for example, by stifling critical voices in the media (herehere and here).

Although the king's announcement was welcomed by the Islamist opposition Justice and Development Party and a Moroccan political scientist described it as "a break with a discredited past", in many ways it was redolent of the promises made by numerous Arab leaders over the years. The proof is in the delivery.

If implement properly, the reforms would – by implication – require curbs on royal power, though that is not something the king addressed directly in his speech.

As the Maghreb Blog notes, "In the past, the kingdom underwent top-down constitutional reforms that only strengthened the monarchical control over the political system, drowned the party system with more political parties loyal to the palace and introduced mechanisms for electoral engineering."

The real problem in Morocco is not so much the letter of the constitution but the way it operates in practice: the pervasive influence of the palace pulling strings behind the scenes, the monopolistic royal business interests and the cosy political elite who surround the king.

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Posted by Brian Whitaker, 10 March 2011.