Morocco seminar notes

A seminar on political reform in Morocco: the role of international
Organised by the Institute for Public Policy Research, UK (ippr)
Held at the Golden Tulip Farah Hotel, Rabat, Morocco
Wednesday 11 - Thursday 12 April 2007
Summary of discussion
This meeting formed part of a year-long research project on political Islam in
the Middle East and North Africa, carried out by the ippr in cooperation with a
number of regional partners. The purpose of this project is to deepen
understanding of political Islam in the Middle East and North Africa on the part
of European and North American governments, and to help these
governments to develop more thoughtful, nuanced and differentiated policy
towards it.
The seminar brought together representatives of the six largest political
parties in Morocco, leading academics, representatives of the international
community and political analysts. The first session aimed to describe the
current political scene in Morocco. Two subsequent sessions gave party
political representatives the opportunity to articulate their positions on political
reform in Morocco. The final session focused on the role of international
partners in supporting reform processes, looking particularly at the strong ties
between the EU and Morocco.
Below, we highlight some of the key points raised by participants over the
course of the seminar.
The reform process
The current King, Mohammed VI, was generally seen as having led the
political and economic reform process in Morocco in recent years. The
achievements of this process were seen to include: 1) a focus on
national reconciliation, 2) an acknowledgement of past human rights
abuses, 3) the creation of a more inclusive political culture, 4)
improvements in women’s rights, through reforms to the family code.
However there was less agreement about the future of the reform
process: some thought that the reform process had now effectively
stalled; others thought that further “reform from above” was possible.
There was a lot of discussion around the theme of ‘transition’, but there
was much less consensus about where that transition might be leading.
Some participants specifically talked about a ‘democratic transition’,
although they were less precise about the timetable and process by
which Morocco might move towards substantive democracy and the
implications of this for the powers of the monarchy. Others talked of
Morocco undertaking a process of modernisation that was significant
and profound, but that was quite distinct from a process of
democratisation, in which the elected representatives of the people
rather than the Monarch would take the key decisions.
Most participants felt that it was highly unlikely that Morocco would
revert to the more repressive era that existed under King Hassan II.
Despite some crackdowns on political activity, particularly following the
Casablanca bombings of 2003, the threshold of tolerance for dissent
and free expression was felt to be greater than previously. Others
noted that there has been some high-profile restrictions placed on
media freedom and freedom of expression in recent months.
One participant talked specifically and pragmatically about making
political reforms more sustainable, particularly through the link with
economic reforms and measures that improve the life chances and
livelihood opportunities of ordinary Moroccans.
The relationship
between political and economic reform was a common theme. A
number of participants argued that the root causes of social unrest
have not yet been addressed satisfactorily, and this has opened a
space where violent jihadist tendencies have flourished.
It was suggested that a more coherent strategy for reform should be
designed: one which identifies realistic changes that can be made
within the current political context without trying to completely overturn
the existing political system.
Others noted that the political scene in Morocco is still characterised by
centralised monarchical control, the weakness of social actors and a
lack of political representation - and that a serious commitment to
political reform needs to face up to this. One participant said that
Morocco under Mohammed VI could best be described as a 'pseudoabsolute' monarchy.
The king's grip on society has loosened
considerably, although little has been done to make politics genuinely
Another view was that the Monarchy prevents the government from
bringing its policies into law through a formal process. This is because
Ministers have not been given enough responsibility for their own
departments – for example, the Transport Minister does not have
administrative authority over the rail network/airlines etc.
Some participants argued that for reforms to be successful they require
wider public support from the Moroccan population. The rejection of
politics by a high proportion of Morocco's citizens makes this difficult.
There is also a tendency to vote for candidates based on personal
popularity, rather than for specific programmatic policies.
The structure of the Moroccan political system has made it impossible
for any party to gain a clear majority in government - future
governments will therefore be hamstrung by the same inability to reach
a consensus, irrespective of election results.
Participants expressed different views about the role of Islamist parties
and movements in Morocco. Some participants said that groups like al
Adl wal Ihsan have not yet reached a clear consensus on whether or
not they should work inside or outside the system. By contrast, the
PJD was judged by some participants as a modern political party,
although one that bases its ideas on a clear religious framework.
However, it was still felt by many participants that the PJD were
unclear on a number of key issues, for example the extent to which
shar'ia law should be imposed on society or their attitudes towards
women. A number of participants argued that the PJD should be
accepted as a party with the capacity to rule and that other Moroccan
political parties need to overcome their fear of including them.
There was some discussion of the high levels of unemployment and
existing wealth inequalities in Morocco. Those on low incomes make
up the bulk of Moroccan society, and existing policies have been
insufficient to address the scale of this problem. Many participants
thought that more needed to be done to help marginalised social
groups in Moroccan society - particularly women, children and disabled
citizens. Illiteracy was also identified as a major political problem.
There are 30 million Moroccans who do not understand the
programmes that are being put forward by the political parties.
The role of international partners
It was noted that relations between Morocco and the EU have been
greatly enhanced in recent years through the Barcelona Process and
the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). These links aim to deepen
dialogue, create shared prosperity, and promote economic/social
cooperation. The Association Agreement, signed between Morocco
and the EU, has also established a framework for relations. It sets out
priorities and steps for future development, including the move towards
a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.
It was further acknowledged that the EU is currently supporting a wide
administration/structural adjustment etc.) as well as giving direct
financial support to the Moroccan budget. It has also put a strong
emphasis on strengthening human rights protection in Morocco. A
series of targets have been set in an Action Plan, and progress
towards these is being monitored on the ground. The EU has also
committed funds to approximately 35 programmes that promote human
rights for traditionally marginalised groups.
Some participants recognised that a range of innovative schemes have
been implemented by the EU and Morocco to ensure more effective
cooperation. These include a 'twinning system', through which EUMorocco counterparts working on particular issues (such as migration,
maritime safety and the environment) meet to share knowledge and
best practices, the Neighbourhood Investment Fund, the Governance
Facility, and people-to-people exchange programmes e.g.
Erasmus/Euromed Youth.
However, other participants questioned the “shock” approach that has
been used by international financial institutions and donors to
encourage macroeconomic stabilisation. This was seen to involve
significant cuts in public investment and to have led to severe financial
difficulties for many of Morocco's poorest individuals and social groups.
Participants identified three other groups of international actors that
have influenced Morocco's political development: a) countries with a
historical political relationship with Morocco: France, Spain and the US
and to a lesser degree the UK and Canada; b) international
organisations like the UN and the World Bank, and c) international
human rights organisations like Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch. The latter were seen by some participants as crucial in
stimulating the development of human rights networks in Morocco
List of participants
Mohamad Aojjar
Abdellah Bakkali
Mohamed Bennani
Jérôme Cassiers
Adrian Chapman
Mouhsine Elahmadi
Lena El-Malak
Amina El Messaoudi
Roula El Rifai
Alex Glennie
Mohamed Lakhsassi
Abdelouhab Maalmi
Mohamed Madani
Mhammed Malki
Brahim Mansouri
Rachid Medouar
David Mepham
Nabila Mounib
Anne Schouw
Nouzha Skalli
Parliamentarian, National Rally of
Independents (RNI) and former
Minister for Human Rights
Parliamentarian, Istiqlal
Hassan II University (Casablanca)
European Commission Delegation in
British embassy in Rabat
Political analyst, Cadi Ayyad
University (Marrakech)
Intern (ippr)
Mohammed V University (Rabat)
International Development Research
Centre (Canada)
Researcher (ippr)
Parliamentarian, Socialist Union of
People's Forces (USFP)
Specialist in international law and
former ambassador of Morocco to the
Political analyst and author of Le
paysage politique Marocain
Director, Centre for Constitutional and
Political Studies
Professor of political science, Cadi
Ayyad University (Marrakech)
Parliamentarian, Party of Justice and
Development (PJD)
Associate Director and Head of
International Programme (ippr)
Parliamentarian, Unified Socialist
Party (PSU)
Danish embassy in Rabat
Parliamentarian, Party of Progress
and Socialism (PPS)