The Pathos of Politics (85-2) Morocco


Morocco is a mountainous country at the northwest tip of Africa, with mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Settled by Phoenicians in the 2nd millennium bce, Morocco was later the westernmost province of the Roman Empire.

The Arabs conquered Morocco in the late 7th century, in the region known as the Maghrib (the West), whereupon the majority of Moroccans converted to Islam.

Early European attempts at colonization in the late 15th century were repulsed, but the country was finally overtaken in the 19th century, and became a French protectorate. Morocco gained its independence in 1956 and became a constitutional monarchy; the only one in north Africa.

Led by a king, Morocco has a bicameral parliament: a hereditary upper chamber and a popularly elected lower chamber. A prime minister heads the cabinet, which constitutes the executive.

Although all citizens are franchised and have equal rights, discrimination against women is as expected. Few women hold political positions of any significance.

The overwhelming authority of the monarch, Mohammed VI, has been a subject of debate and criticism. In 2011, Moroccan voters approved a new constitution proposed by the king which expanded the powers of the prime minister and parliament but left the sovereign with broad authority over all branches of government.

Morocco is stable, relatively free, and prosperous, though poverty remains pronounced in rural areas. Political discontent lingers, but gradualism is the popular approach among progressives.

The monarch is popular. His efforts to grant women more rights and tackle poverty have been well received. Most Moroccans credit him for the country’s stability. Critics grumble that he is a cunning politician.

The king has capitalized on the calm by positioning the country as a hub for European manufacturers with tax breaks and good logistics. Morocco sports the world’s largest concentrated solar plant and plans for high-speed rail lines are moving ahead.

Not everything is rosy. The average Moroccan must deal with a stifling bureaucracy.

The further you get away from the king, the harder things become. ~ Canadian sociologist Merouan Mekouar

Those close to the royal court use their proximity to advance pet projects and line their pockets. There is a pronounced lack of accountability. Oversight is amiss, and the press is muzzled in criticizing the monarchy.

Protests over pay and employment are common, and often broken up by police brutality. When protesters questioned the enormous royal budget in 2012 they were badly beaten for it.

Many Moroccans are ill-equipped to question their king. Almost 1/3rd of the population is illiterate.

Predictably, poverty has been the primary motivator for youth to respond to the siren song of religious extremism. The king has countered with a religious training institute which promotes his moderate brand of Islam. Cunning indeed.