The last two weeks have been, arguably, the busiest and most exciting in the Moroccan blogosphere. The banning of two Moroccan weeklies, Nichane and TelQuel (who’s August issues were seized then destroyed by the interior ministry before any legal order was issued), and of the french daily Le Monde, has triggered a webstorm of protests against yet another violation of Press freedom in the country. The banned publications were about to reveal the result of a poll conducted amongst Moroccans who were asked to assess the first decade of their king’s reign. Although the survey showed an overwhelming support for Mohammed VI, the whole process was considered illegal and the journalists deemed blasphemous: the king is considered sacred, he rules by Divine right and the constitution puts him above the law. In no way, the traditionalists argued, he should have been assessed or his work evaluated.
While Moroccans are widely believed to be strongly attached to the 12 century old royal institution, which many consider as an inseparable component of their national identity, democrats and progressists, who never questioned the legitimacy of the monarchy, have long been pointing at the incompatibility between an executive monarch who reigns and rules on the one hand, and the need for a genuinely democratic and accountable state on the other. These fundamental contradictions have led many journalists, civil and human rights activists, ordinary citizens to pay the price for daring to confront the government, or by extension the establishment (the Makhzen as it is widely dubbed in Morocco) as materialized in this affair.
The problem in Morocco is that an organic component of democracy, accountability, has been willingly disabled, and criticism of the real power holders is de facto incapacitated. In other words, the country has a government who is vociferously and persistently claiming democracy, but who is ruled by a monarch who controls every aspect of power:
The king is head of the executive, although, and for the sake of protocol, he is flanked by a prime minister who’s role has been emptied and who transformed, in the prime minister’s own words [Fr], into an executioner of royal edicts and rulings decided on behalf of the elected government, by the royal cabinet, the real administration of the country, composed of a batch of highly trained, apolitical technocrats who are kept beyond the scope of any form of answerability apart from that of the monarch himself.
The monarch is also technically in control of the legislature (indirectly, as a jurist friend of mine might add), whereby law proposals emitted by the palace are approved without further discussion or debate whilst alternative law proposals which might be considered challenging for the establishment (they seldom pop up under the parliament’s roof anyway) are opposed after swift discussions or dismissed out of hand within parliamentary groups if deemed too “contentious.”
All the rulings, verdicts and laws in the land are pronounced under the name of the king who also enjoys the role of a military and religious leader (Amir Al’Mou’minine or Prince of the Believers).
The current state of affairs and the obvious autocratic regime that it breeds is prescribed by the constitution of the country which, the traditionalists would claim, was approved by “national consensus.” The text was first promulgated back in 1962, right after independence from colonial France, from which it borrowed the main outlines with the purported ambition to establish a modern state run by powerful and independent institutions. But it was then amended eight times in order to further increase the king’s prerogatives – indeed written for and by late Hassan II, a jurist incidentally who submitted the text to eight popular referenda, all blatantly rigged and engineered to look (mostly to the the outside world, or at least this was the thinking of those in charge) as overwhelming popular endorsements for the monarch and his proposed system of governance, with often approval rates surpassing the 99 percent mark.
I become politically conscious in the late 90s, at the end of the reign of Hassan II, when the country was enjoying a democratic “spring,” gained after decades of struggle for freedom, equality and democracy, mainly conducted by the Moroccan left. The late king having lost his strategic clout after the end of the cold war and sensing his death approaching, had no choice in order to preserve the monarchy, but to give back to an elected executive, although partially, the prerogatives he has been keeping for himself for too long. He freed political prisoners and cautiously accepted to start a process of democratization that will guaranty a smooth transfer of power to his son.
The accession of the socialists to the government -companions of late Mehdi Ben Barka-, the political virginity and the purported reputation of benevolence of Mohammed VI, who succeeded his deceased father in July 1999, all this preluded very optimistic expectations. They were exhilarating times.
But neither the apparent inclusiveness of the regime toward historic opposition parties (which turned out to be mere cooptation), nor the advent of Mohammed VI has resulted in democracy. Quite the contrary.
Independent media, bloggers, human rights activists, even the own cousin of the king, they all learned very early on that what was actually happening is a replacement of the old guard by a new and younger one, made up of close friends of the monarch, influential businessmen, powerful landowners, military figures: a new Makhzen.
Attacks on freedom of speech have been mounting recently (please read links about Mohamed Erraji , Fouad Mourtada, Zahra Boudkour [Fr] amongst many others). The latest of which was the banning of the aforementioned poll, triggering an immediate and spontaneous protest reaction that arose mainly amongst bloggers, spiraling into a Twitterstorm that led to the creation of a Facebook group calling itself “I’m a 9%” (made up of a little less than a thousand members now), and a Hashtag page on twitter. The “I’m a Ninepercenter” epithet, which refers to the 9% of people in the poll who declared being unsatisfied with the first decade of Mohammed VI, was never meant as a polarizing theme. Indeed many of the group members declare being part of the 91% satisfied, yet they chose to join the movement basically to protest a pattern of recurrent attacks on freedom of expression.
I put the question on the Facebook group pages, under the rather flashy -I have to admit- slogan: Give me a Five for Morocco! basically asking people to give me five urgent measures that they, members, would consider most needed for the country, and the result I hastily gathered showed quite an interesting (non scientific) outcome.
Out of the 35 people who answered my request, almost half felt that a constitutional reform was needed in the sense of establishing a parliamentary monarchy, equivalent to the Spanish or the British. Another half estimated that education was a priority in a country that is still plagued by widespread illiteracy with an estimated shameful figure of 60%. Overall, measures proposed by correspondents came, in terms of popularity, in that order:
Constitutional reform and the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy.
Reform of the educational system and the eradication of illiteracy.
Reform of the judiciary, insuring its total independence.
Ensuring a more just economy, freed from the hegemony of the Moroccan establishment (the Makhzen).
Ensuring freedoms; all freedoms.
Separating state from religion and ensuring freedom of conscience.
Ensuring a more equitable health system.
Rethinking the country’s foreign policy.
Unifying the progressive/leftist forces.
Reform of the administration; getting rid of the burden of a heavy bureaucracy.
Working on improving mentalities (sic).
Promoting solidarity and reforming social policies.
Ensuring the principle of equality.
Reforming the electoral system.
Reconciling with the past, correcting present violations and preventing by means of law any recurrence in the future.
Strengthening the moral and symbolic roles of the monarch.
(Please see details here.)
As I say, this exercise is in no way meant to be statistically accurate nor representative. It reflects mainly the point of view of young, cosmopolitan and educated, most likely left leaning Moroccans.
At this stage one can’t help wondering, as veteran pro-democracy militant Moumen Diouri pioneered in asking: Who owns Morocco? And not only in economic terms. To whom belongs morocco? A basic question that ought to be answered through a badly needed constitutional reform. Do not the people deserve the right to have a say on how they are governed and on who really governs them?
Moroccans have always been infantilized and hold as immature by the system, the country run as if it was owned by one person. The Nine Percent movement symbolizes this progressive segment of the Moroccan population who wants to reclaim what, at the end of the analysis, belongs to the people: a land they collectively own, a government they pay and therefore should be able to hold accountable, a fabulous and rich history they should be able to revisit, rewrite if need be, beside a tradition they hold dear and a monarchy they undoubtedly respect.
Further sources and links about the 9 percent movement:
Le Parisien – Le «mouvement des 9%» soutient «Le Monde» [FR]
Libération – Une liberté d’expression reelle mai non garantie [FR]
The National (UAE) – Moroccan Dissent Alive on Twitter
Le Blog des Blogs/Courrier International – Beacoup de bruit pour 9% de marocains [FR]
Arret sur image – Sondage censuré: La Blogosphère marocaine partagée [FR]
Maghrebia – Morocco’s blogosphere buzzes over the banning of two magazines
The Nine-Percenters: A Moroccan micro-blogging mutiny by Ted Scheinman and Aaron Wiener in The Online Journalism Review
Jillian C. York for Global Voices Online – Morocco: Bloggers React to the Banning of Magazines
Jillian C. York for the Huffington Post – In Morocco, 91% Approval isn’t Good Enough
The Nine Percent Nation by Jesse Walker for the Reason
Jillian C. York evoking the Nine Pourcenters on a radio Interview for WorldStream Radio
Global Voices en Français » Maroc : “Je suis un 9%” – Des blogueurs réagissent à la censure d’un sondage [Fr]