Morocco, a model for the Muslim world
As the evening chergui, a mild Atlantic breeze, blows across the squeaky clean Moroccan capital, the city’s hip young crowds are out on the tidy streets, cafes and parks. There’s no sign of an Arab spring here. Nor is one being expected.
Despite uprisings in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya, Morocco has managed to steer to safety, thanks to an already open society and nearly European lifestyle.
A protest movement for more democracy did spring up in cities like Casablanca on February 20, though nobody was gunning for the crown.
But Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, is taking no chances. He swiftly ordered a drastic reform of Morocco’s constitution through a referendum on July 1, in which Moroccans voted overwhelmingly. The result: the king, whom most Moroccans adore, will hand some of his powers to parliament.
The new Constitution establishes human rights as core principles and gives more rights to the Berber minority community with provisions for gender equality. It allows Parliament, rather than the king, to control government actions. The king will no longer be “sacred”, even though he remains the chief of state. All this, at the behest of the king.
Morocco’s transition to democracy could well be the bellwether for the region. Its foreign ministry along with the Moroccan Diplomatic Club called a conference on September 16-17 on Democratic Transition and Constitutional Processes, where many Arab Spring leaders were present.
The conclave, the first one on reforms needed to stabilise the region, comes as the strongest evidence yet that democracy is no passing fad. Not at least in Morocco.
“We have embarked on a profound reform process. Governments come and go, but people stay (on),” Moroccan foreign minister Taib Fassi Fihri told me.
Morocco has now decided to hold parliamentary polls in November, 10 months ahead of schedule, to adopt the reforms.
But behind the changes, lies a key Moroccan aspiration: joining the European Union, rather than the African Union, in seven years. Long a French colony, Moroccois as European as Arab, with Spain just 40 km away from the port city Tanger. The EU has, for now, rewarded Morocco with the status of a “special associate country”.
My impression of Morocco is this: an open society with an Islamic ethos but European aspirations, rightly selfish (meaning they are more concerned about their own future rather than the entire Arab world, and for good reasons), and better integrated to the world on the other side of the Mediterranean. This makes Morocco a model for the Islamic world.