A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Morocco: The King Tries to Get Ahead of the Wave

King Muhammad VI of Morocco has gone on TV and pledged constitutional amendments to provide for greater justice and democracy, including a Prime Minister chosen from the party that wins the most votes, and has also pledged to make Tamazight ("Berber") an official national language.

Whether this is enough and in time I'll leave to someone who knows Morocco better than I. The King has come a long way since his father's day and is young enough and Western enough that he may get it, and be able to surf ahead of the wave. The monarchy has a lot of prestige, including religious prestige, and the King even has the old title of the Caliphs, amir al-mu'minin, Commander of the Faithful. But the Palace also has a huge economic monopoly and there are the usual demographic and wealth distribution issues. But at least he's acting before he's cornered.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

This kind of pro-active political reform, leading to either a constitutional monarchy or a constitutional democracy is the preferred U.S. response for Arab governments. In addition to Morocco, Kuwait is well along the path to constitutional monarchy with King Abdullah of Jordan vacillating. Lebanon, for all its problems, is the farthest advanced of the Arab republics, but it is fairly irrelevant as a model for states like Tunisia and Egypt. If the West and the US care, we had better make sure that those who dare to go the furthest with constitutional experiments actually reap some benefits.

There are other possible responses for an autocrat like Bashar al-Assad, and the "short term" success with repressing political opposition of both his papa and the Iranian government suggest that the virtues of pro-active political reform are not obvious to him. Algeria also falls in this category.

There are a number of hereditary autocrats with vast wealth at their disposal who may well find it "safer" to smother the opposition with money and relieve the hormonal drives of their young subjects by job creating economic reforms combined with nominal political reforms. I expect that would be the case for the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. I keep hoping that the Sultan of Oman intends to leave constitutional monarchy as his legacy to Oman. It helps that he is not particularly fond of other members of his family and has no heir of his own. King Hamad of Bahrain has not got the balls of his uncle Shaikh Khalifa, but his son Crown Prince Salman may have caught the U.S. bug for constitutional reform as a student at American University. He'll have a fight on his hands with the rest of the family and the Sunni community if he pushes his father to go that way.

If anything might work in Yemen, I am not smart enough to even guess at it.