Protest in support of King Mohammed VI' proposed reforms in the streets of Rabat, June 19. Photo sent by an Observer.
In an attempt to prevent the type of popular uprisings that have swept across the Arab world in recent months, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI outlined a series of proposed constitutional reforms in a televised address to the country on Friday, June 17.
The reforms are set to be voted on in a July 1 referendum and the majority of the country’s opposition party’s back the proposed changes and are mobilising their supporters. However, Morocco’s youth-based opposition ‘February 20 Movement’ have called the proposed changes inadequate and are already planning a boycott of the poll. Some leftist parties have also voiced their disquiet at the proposed reforms.
Politicians and political pundits in Morocco and abroad have all recognised the historical significance of the proposed changes to the country’s constitution, which would effectively impose limits on the monarchy’s power and transform the country into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic parliament.
Overall, the reforms would reach into almost every aspect of Moroccan political life. On a governmental level, the king would be responsible for appointing a head of government from within the political party that wins the country’s legislative elections, and more power would be placed into the hands of the prime minister, as he would have the authority to dissolve parliament, a prerogative that has previously belonged exclusively to the king.
In terms of justice, the reforms promise an independent justice system separate from the country’s executive and legislative branches.
And beyond government, it has also been suggested that Amazigh, a dialect spoken by the Morocco’s minority Berber population, would be declared as the kingdom’s official second language.
While these are definitely significant changes, the king would still hold on to a number of important powers, including his role as chief of the armed forces and as chairman of the country’s council of ministers. The king would also remain “Commander of the Faithful”, meaning he is the Morocco’s sole religious authority.
Almost immediately after King Mohammed VI’s speech on Friday, the country’s youth-based 'February 20 Movement', which was founded in the fervor following popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, called on supporters to rally against a constitutional monarchy in which the king would be anything more than a figure head.
As a result, thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday, June 19, to peacefully protest in several cities across the country, eventually prompting the government to deploy security forces. Demonstrations demanding greater limits on the king’s powers in both Morocco’s capital city Rabat and the western city Casablanca met with opposition after supporters of the monarchy turned out in support of their king.
Despite this underlying current of discontent, campaigning for the referendum is officially open, and the country’s various political factions, union officials and grass-root organisations are scrambling to get out the vote by urging Moroccans to head to the polls. All the same, among the king’s detractors, “boycott” is now the word of the day.
“A high abstention rate will be a victory for us”
Montasser is an active member of Morocco’s opposition 'February 20 Movement'. He lives in Rabat, where he participated in the protests on June 19.
We have decided to boycott the referendum because it’s a feeble pretence at democracy. The commission charged with reforming the constitution was named by the king, not chosen by the people. Any constitution it will draft can only be undemocratic. This is made clear by the fact that the King has retained considerable power under the new constitution.
Protest against proposed constitutional reforms in Casablance on June 19. Protesters yell out "refuse Makhzen" (which can be interpreted as a rejection of all traditional Moroccan institutions), and demand a "popular and democratic constitution". Video published on You Tube by 2Maroc on June 20.
“At least in France, the head of state is elected by popular vote”
Our king has many of the same prerogatives as the French president: he names the Prime minister and government ministers, he can dissolve Parliament. He also presides over the High Council of Magistrates [a top body of court lawyers http://www.conseil-superieur-magistrature.fr/], which doesn’t bode very well for the independent justice system he promised in his speech. We don’t necessarily want to follow the French model but at least in France, the head of state is elected by popular vote. We are asking for a sovereign who rules but does not govern. In the new constitution, the king will still have control over the executive, legislative and judiciary branch. In short, we were and we will remain an absolute monarchy.
We have called for a nationwide march against the proposed reforms on the coming Sunday. I think it will draw a bigger crowd than our opponents think. For now, we don’t plan to protest on the day of the referendum, because we don’t want to be accused of civil disobedience. We are trying to garner attention to our message through art activism. Previous votes have shown that Moroccans refuse the current system. Our movement aims to educate and encourage people to reject the system. A high abstention rate will be a victory for us.
Protest against proposed constiutional reforms in Tangiers on June 19. Video published on You Tube by m2mfree on June 19.
“Before, we were accused of being atheists and homosexuals. Today, we’re bearded Islamists and leftist extremists”
There are many rumours concerning the February 20 movement: that we are infiltrated by Islamists, that we’re all left-wing radicals… We’re not a political party, and it’s true that a wide spectrum of people agree with many of our demands. But it’s funny how our perception by the Moroccan media has evolved over the weeks. Before, we were accused of being atheist and homosexuals. Today, we’re bearded Islamists and leftist extremists. Yet in our general assemblies, members of Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane [a Islamist political party which is banned but tolerated by Moroccan authorities] represent about 5 out of 200 people”.
“We are on the verge of a constitutional monarchy, like in the United Kingdom or Spain”
Toufik Beytour is a telecommunications engineer in the capital Rabat. He is a member of the think tank Nbni Bladi (“I build my country” in Arabic).
I will vote next July 1 because I am a Moroccan patriot. When the February 20 Movement was born, I agreed with their views on employment, the press, health and education. I participated in the marches organised in Rabat until March 9. On that day, the king announced that a draft constitution was going to be submitted by the people. He had met my demands.
Protests in support of the "new" constitution in Rabat on June 19. Video published on You Tube by MrMaghribi7ore on June 19.
People from all walks of life in civil society participated in these discussions. Young people and not so young people mobilised on Facebook to encourage a democratic transition. Only the February 20 Movement refused. This is why I have decided to disassociate myself from them. What’s more, with the presence of small groups of Islamists and Marxist-Leninists, the movement has radicalised.
“If the king leaves, we risk falling into an Iraq-like scenario”
Little by little, slogans have evolved in the ranks of protesters. Today, they’re demanding the fall of the king’s government, which for most Moroccans is crossing the line. The king represents Moroccans and guarantees the country’s unity. If he leaves, we risk falling into an Iraq-like scenario, because Morocco is made up of tribes.
Protests in support of the "new" constitution inTaza on June 19. Video published on You Tube by mcbangman on June 19.
Morocco is not at a breaking point like Egypt and Tunisia were, and therefore doesn’t need a Constitutional Assembly. The constitution exists, we just simply have to amend it. Friday’s speech goes in this direction, and we can only encourage it. It was welcomed with enthusiasm in several cities in Morocco because we are on the verge of a constitutional monarchy, like in the United Kingdom or Spain. We must give the country time to get there and allow the debate to take place.
To heed the February 20 Movement’s call to not participate in the debate and boycott the referendum is to head in the direction of anarchy. If you don’t like the existing government, then we have to come together, work toward change and start by going to vote".
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.