The New Makhzen*

(* definition at the bottom of this post)

To understand Morocco, one should look at its very long History to realize that this unique country has always been ruled by a unique system of governance: the Makhzen
Throughout this singularly long History and for centuries, Morocco has been ruled by dynasties and sultans who were both religious and political figures. Some dynasties lasted for centuries. Sultans were generally more feared than revered, and often the relationship between them and their “subjects” consisted on tax collection. Thus the term “Makhzen”, which literally means “warehouse”, where most of goods and taxes were stored. It has long been a Tax-for-Security kind of relationship with government obligations held to their lowest minimum. Morocco of course has since evolved, and significantly so. But the Makhzen has also adapted to change, and is still the main system of governance.
In a predominantly conservative society, many still believe that the Makhzen is a guarantee for stability in a region of the world torn by conflicts and wars. Others are more keene in holding to the status quo for purely selfish reasons: the Makhzen treats its “clients” generously and provides them with power and privilege. My grand-mother used always to warn me: “beware of two things my son: God and the Makhzen.” I think she summed up very well the two structuring themes of the Moroccan psyche.
The new Makhzen has a new face and takes more subtle forms today: while displaying a façade of modernity and institutional “democracy”, power is actually wielded in an archaic fashion. Corruption is part of daily life. Plutocracy and nepotism, “kleptocracy” and cronyism are the rule everywhere… leading to the widening of the social gap between the haves and the have-nots, to alarming rates of unemployment and to public services being held to minimum despite people paying huge amounts of taxes by Moroccan standards. Public welfare is almost non-existent…
The Makhzen has always alternatively, allied itself with religious and secular movements within the country, while co-opting (hence discrediting) political dissenters. Sometimes they were purely and simply silenced.
In the 1960’s, right after independence, there was a vibrant Left in morocco, headed by its historical leader Mehdi Ben Barka. The world was then in the heights of the “Cold War”. The Moroccan establishment, after having tried unsuccessfully to co-opt Ben Barka, forced him to exile. Allying itself with political Islam, the Makhzen launched a campaign of oppression against the opposition (mainly Leftists) with the help, as it is now widely documented, of the CIA. Many were “disappeared”, others tortured or simply liquidated. Ben Barka himself while in exile in Paris, was abducted with the help –it is believed- of American and Israeli secret services. He was reportedly then tortured to death (his body was never recovered and his family still struggles for the truth).

In recent years, and after the “assimilation” of the Socialist party, which now participates in the government and which has become an empty shell in the eyes of many Moroccans, the Makhzen has designated political Islam as its new enemy. The Islamist movements have flourished mainly as a result of the vacuum left by the devastated and discredited secular parties.


Some genuine progress in the human rights and civil rights’ areas has been achieved in the last years of the reign of the late Hassan II (late 90’s). But we have been witnessing a steady move backwards since 9-11, in the name of the struggle against extremism. The current king, Mohammed VI, has not relinquished an inch of his “royal prerogatives”; quite the contrary. There is no separation of powers and the actual cabinet is made up of “close friends” of the monarch. Internet websites are being blocked, the press has been stifled in many instances using justifications such as the sacrality of the monarchy, blasphemy…etc. Journalists have been jailed, threatened or fined with record amounts of money.
There are talks about torture, people being abducted (Islamist radicals); reports about “Black Sites” used by the CIA, notably near Rabat, the capital.

As the tension grows between the Makhzenian state and the radical Islamist movements, the majority of Moroccans continue to live in abject poverty. More than half of the population are illiterate. Young desperate people play Russian Roulette with their lives in a daily basis, trying to reach the shores of Spain. Many die, but those who succeed, end up (for the most part) almost enslaved in the Spanish fruit fields enriching big local owners, picking fruits and vegetables they can not even afford to buy! A very tiny minority though, especially in big and modern cities like Casablanca or Marrakesh, enjoy a substantial improvement on their standards of living: this is the Moroccan middle class, made up of a metropolitan elite, generally well educated and subject to solicitations from the Makhzen or political Islam. And then there are the wealthy: mostly the notables who constitute the core of the Makhzen. They enjoy a huge amount of power and privileges, often living in obscene richness in comparison with the level of poverty all around.


Moroccans are overwhelmingly friendly and tolerant people. They aspire as any other society, to live with dignity and to enjoy their rights in a country that is wonderfully beautiful and full of potential, which is squandered mainly by a corrupt ruling “elite” and by a medieval system of governance.

”Makhzen” (مخزِن) is a ”’Moroccan Arabic”’ term for the governing elite in Morocco, centered around the king and consisting of royal notables, businessmen, wealthy landowners, tribal leaders, top-ranking military personnel, security service bosses, and other well-connected members of the Establishment. Today, this term carries a heavy negative charge which means the absence of democracy and freedom and the absolute rule of dictatorship and corruption. The term is used in Moroccan independent newspapers to describe or condemn the lack of democracy and the human rights abuses committed by state police or officials.The word “makhzen” literally means “warehouse”. It is likely a metonymy related to taxes, which the ”Makhzen” used to collect. Recently, the term is also being used to describe the Police. The word has also been adopted into French language and Italian language as ”magasin” and ”magazzino” respectively. It came into the English language from Middle French as ”magazine”, originally referring to a “Magazine (artillery) storehouse” for ammunition and later to Magazine publications.
The term often carries a derogatory connotation, as it is associated with an archaic and hermetic mode of governing, which resists democracy. While the contours of the Makhzen are vague, the government itself is generally considered [just a] part of it. Sometimes inclusion in the Makhzen is even hereditary because of nepotism.Although considered archaic and backward, many believe that the Makhzen has also been a factor of stability in Morocco, because its roots are deeply connected to Moroccan society. It has served as a very sophisticated mean of managing wealth and power by using cronyism and in tying Moroccan society to the t
hrone. It has also managed to co-opt many of its opponents which often lead to discrediting them. By its way of governing, consisting in distributing money, land, luxury cars, privileges, authorizations in regulated economic areas like sand extraction pits or fishing and transportation authorizations, to buy the allegiance of its members or to acquire new ones; Makhzen has been accused of being responsible of the widespread corruption in Morocco. With an ongoing democratisation process taking place in Morocco, the Makhzen is now often considered as a barrier to democracy. The dilemma for Morocco being to smoothly evolve to more democracy [while avoiding confrontation between progressists on the one hand, and powerful conservatives who are benefiting from the system on the other]. [Morocco is still a predominantly conservative society where many consider the Makhzen to be an important factor of stability and a pillar of the monarchy]. The Makhzen has also been heavily involved in the so called Years of lead ”

(source: Wikipedia)

(latter picture by ” Babasteve“)

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