Tags: Analysis: Moroccan King Tests Democratic Reforms

Analysis: Moroccan King Tests Democratic Reforms

Monday, 18 Jul 2011 09:56 AM

Morocco is implementing constitutional change that strikes a delicate balance between monarchy and democracy.

On July 1, 2011, a referendum on constitutional reforms proposed by King Mohammed VI passed with 98.5% support and more than 70% of registered voters casting ballots. A new constitution will strengthen democratic institutions in the country while allowing the King to retain a share of power. Under the reforms, an elected parliament will now appoint the Prime Minister which had been selected by the King. The Prime Minister will also have expanded powers and will make day-to-day decisions regarding the government. The new constitution also will create an independent judiciary and improve the rights of women and non-Arabs. The King will remain head of state, head of the military and head of the Moroccan intelligence service. He also will remain the highest religious authority in the country.


King Mohammed appears to have found a way to usher in democratic change and mollify pro-democracy protesters while retaining significant power. The compromise provides the opportunity to build democracy and move toward wide-scale change without abrupt dislocation or instability. The King’s success likely resulted from a combination of popular fear of the chaos that has rocked neighboring countries and the goodwill he has created since taking the throne. Although there have been repeated allegations of corruption by the monarchy, King Mohammed had already ushered in some changes toward democracy, including human rights improvements, moves to eradicate poverty and corruption, and changes in the family code granting some rights to women and allowing divorce. He also has freed several prisoners the opposition claimed were being held for political reasons.

The referendum results indicate that the Moroccan public overwhelmingly prefers stability and evolution over revolution.
The new constitution expands the role of elected government, but includes protections against radicals. If a party unpalatable to the monarchy, such as one of the Islamic extremist organizations, won an electoral landslide, it would not be able to rule the country independently. The King’s control of the armed forces and intelligence apparatus, as well as his enormous influence as a religious leader – his family claims to descend from the Prophet Mohammed – would severely limit extremist authority in country. The monarch’s control of the military could act as a veto power over any elected official. If he chose to unseat an elected candidate, the King could use the army to remove him and take control.

The majority of opposition parties supported the July 1 referendum and called on followers to support the changes. A few minor parties, however, continue to oppose the reforms, saying they do not go far enough to bring democracy to Morocco. They also question the transparency of the vote and suggest that the monarchy padded votes in support of the referendum. The February 20 democracy movement continues to call for protests to force the monarchy to make additional concessions. Since the referendum, however, protests have dwindled from hundreds of thousands to a few thousand.


The opposition so far has failed to mobilize protestors to call for an end to the monarchy. They lack strong leaders for the public to rally behind and are disorganized. Internal divisions in the remaining opposition groups are likely to continue to undercut its effectiveness, especially as legitimate parties have left the movement to support the constitutional changes. Without a strong unifying leader, the group is likely to remain fragmented and sidelined, unless the monarchy fails to deliver on promises of reform.

The next several months will determine whether Morocco continues on a positive path toward a constitutional monarchy, reverts to complete control by the monarch, or erupts into renewed protests against the current system. Elections are likely to take place in October, and the King’s response to those election results will be critical in determining his commitment toward democracy. Likewise, journalists almost certainly will test the limits of the new openness, and the public will carefully monitor reaction of the monarchy to any criticism.

While the new constitution lays the foundation for positive democratic change, the question is how the government interprets and implements those changes. If the King delivers on promised openness, the country likely will continue its march toward democracy. Political parties will need to organize and take advantage of the new constitution and exercise the opportunities it provides in order to move the country along the continuum. Failure by the King to implement promises will lead to renewed public frustration, remove trust in the monarchy, and make it more likely that public protests will destabilize the government.

Lisa M. Ruth is a former CIA analyst and officer. She is currently Managing Partner of C2 Research, a boutique research and analysis firm in West Palm Beach, Florida and is Vice President at CTC International Group, Inc., a private intelligence firm.

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Morocco is implementing constitutional change that strikes a delicate balance between monarchy and democracy.
Analysis: Moroccan King Tests Democratic Reforms
Monday, 18 Jul 2011 09:56 AM
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