The 98 percent approval rate and 70 percent voter turnout in Morocco's constitutional referendum, transferring power from the king to parliament, can be seen as a sign of the broad popularity of King Mohammad VI. Still, the fact that about three out of ten Moroccans refrained from voting, as advocated by the organizers of the "February 20" Movement that calls for more profound reforms to Morocco's political system, appears to indicate that not all Moroccans are content with the newly-approved constitutional changes.
Like most other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, Morocco has been affected by the spread of protests and grass-roots activism known as the Arab Spring, which has engulfed the region since the beginning of this year. Unlike some of its fellow Arab countries, the protest movement in Morocco has thus far remained mostly non-violent, a tendency reciprocated by the authorities. Moreover, the king responded to these protests by initiating the constitutional reforms which promise to enhance democracy and delimit his powers. The king's move should be seen against the background of the last fifteen years of democratic transition, starting during the twilight of the reign of his late father, Hassan II.
To be sure, even with the latest constitutional reforms, Morocco's democracy remains far from perfect. The king continues to hold the reins of real power and is unlikely to relinquish them, relegating himself to a figurehead. Morocco's parties, while numerous and vibrant, remain by and large part of the palace-dominated establishment. Meanwhile, Morocco's youth, the dynamic engine of the protest movement, may remain dissatisfied with the pace of reform, but lacks real power to accelerate it. Whether the momentum of popular pressure to reform will continue after this vote remains to be seen.
As the future of the region and its peoples remains uncertain, Morocco's example of peaceful and gradual progress towards greater and better-balanced democracy may serve as a positive example for its neighbors and should therefore be endorsed by the international community.
Moshe Gershovich, Martin Professor of History at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has done extensive research on Morocco and the region, and is the author of French Military Rule over Morocco: Colonialism and its Consequences. He is currently writing Serving the Tricolor: Oral History of Moroccan Soldiers in French Uniforms based on field research he conducted in Morocco between 1998-2000.
Suggested citation: Moshe Gershovich, Morocco Reforms Fall Short, but Provide Model of Peaceful Transition, JURIST - Hotline, July 5, 2011, http://jurist.org/hotline/2011/07/moshe-gershovich-morocco-reforms.php.
This article was prepared for publication by Yuriy Vilner, an associate editor for JURIST's professional commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org