Morocco and the Constitutional Debate

Posted on July 12, 2011 by Jennifer Bubke and Colleen McCullough

After the King’s Speech: Constitutional Reform and the Outlook for Change in Morocco

Summary of an event organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. on July 11, 2011

Enders Wimbush (Senior Director, Foreign Policy & Civil Society, German Marshall Fund of the United States) began the discussion by pointing out that 73% of Moroccans turned out on July 1st to vote on the constitution and 98.5% of those Moroccans voted yes for the proposed constitution.  The international media has remained fairly divided on the issue stating that there are lots of challenges and risks that remain and that this is just one small step forward, but it is a courageous one.

Driss El Yazimi, a member of the Moroccan Council for Constitutional Reform and a long-time human rights activist in France, compared commonalities and differences in countries affected by the Arab Spring.  Three commonalities are the issue of the young people, the public visibility of women asking for rights, and the emergence of individuals – of people acting as individuals and not on behalf of the king, a tribe, or a political party – especially through new, online media.  Unique to Morocco is its old monarchy, pluralistic population, active civil society, and that it began the process of reform before the Arab Spring.  Two examples of this last point are the Family Law of 2004 and the establishment of the National Human Rights Council.  In addition, some elements of the new constitution were debated before the Arab Spring as well.  However, there are three long-term challenges facing Morocco: employing youth, reforming education and training to fit the demands of the job market, and fighting corruption.  Thus, while reform has been made, more is needed.  The constitution serves as a new step in the reform process.

Leila Hanafi, from the World Justice Project, argued that the main challenge is increasing civic engagement and the rule of law.  The real test of the new constitution will be whether ordinary Moroccans can participate in decisions that affect them. The main question for young people is how to strengthen citizens’ awareness with regard to their legal rights and to use the rule of law to protect and defend themselves.  Thus, the key is to build confidence in the system amongst citizens and be actively engaged, particularly for the youth.  In general, a bottom-up approach is needed; an emphasis should be placed on youth civil society groups.  In fact, young people are very interested in building their leadership skills to ensure they are engaged in the right way.

David Kramer, the president of Freedom House, started his presentation introducing Morocco in a global context; while it ranks as relatively free, its press ranks as one of the most controlled. But he stated that while there is need for further change in Morocco, there has been progress over the last few years that have been ignored to some extent.  For instance, the progress made over the last few years to increase freedoms has been taken for granted.  Also, the King deserves great credit for his relatively peaceful response to the protestors, especially compared to other leaders’ violent reactions. It was notable that the protestors called for reform, not revolution. However, there are strengths and weaknesses to the new constitution.  Strengths of the constitution include individual rights and more power for parliament.  Weaknesses include the amount of powers the King retains and the lack of independence for the judiciary.  Mr. Kramer emphasized the importance of strengthening journalistic integrity as a check on government activity. He also mentioned the need to ensure a level playing field for all political parties, increase the independence of the judiciary, address the issue of Western Sahara, and fight corruption.

Jennifer Bubke is the Spring and Summer 2011 Maghreb Center Intern. She is a graduate student at American University , in the International Politics program at the School of International Service (Class of 2012). Her area of focus is international organizations with a related field in international development.

Colleen McCullough is the Summer 2011 Maghreb Center Intern. She is a Philosophy Major and Near East Studies Minor at Princeton University, Class of 2012. 

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