Morocco: Why do I boycott? | openDemocracy

This post was originally published on openDemocracy.

 

On November 25, 2011, Moroccans will vote in theirfirst parliamentary election since a referendum approved a series of constitutional amendments. The amendments, introduced by the king, are intended to reduce the monarch’s prerogatives in favour of an elected legislative body. However, for myself and a number of Moroccan democrats, there exist many reasons why we choose to respond to the call of theFebruary 20 movement and why we will boycott the upcoming election. Continue reading

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Showdown in Morocco: People Against the Makhzen

This text was originally published on Foreign Policy.

The makhzen refers to an ancient institution in Morocco — the extended power apparatus close to the Moroccan monarchy, made up of a network of power and privilege. It allows the King to act as an absolute monarch and the de facto head of the executive. Beneath the give and take of everyday politics, the makhzen has always been the ultimate guarantor of the status quo. For three months, the pro-democracy youth movement, known as “February 20,” has been advocating against that status quo. Protests have not been targeting the monarchy directly, but instead have been urging for reform that would yield a system in which the King reigns but does not rule.

What started as a small group on Facebook earlier this year, has since grown into a nationwide movement made up of a loose coalition of leftists, liberals and members of the conservative Islamist right. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings and powered by new media, the movement convinced hundreds of thousands to take to the streets. The demonstrations held week in, week out, were remarkably peaceful. In response, King Mohammed VI promised a package of constitutional reforms to be submitted to a referendum in June. But as protesters, unconvinced by the King’s promise, vow to keep up pressure on the regime, authorities seem increasingly impatient and determined to break up protests violently, paving the way toward escalation and confrontation with the street. The middle class is joining the mass of demonstrators, moving the protests beyond the core of mobilized youth. Their target is the makhzen — which has become a code word for the monarchy’s abuses of power and monopoly over large sectors of the economy.

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Morocco: Heading For A Make Or Break Moment

Sunday, February 20, 2011 was a rainy and cold day. Not the kind of days you would think one would choose to start a revolution. Yet Moroccan pro-democracy activists chose to make that day the start of what now has become a nationwide movement for change.

I’m not going to tell you a lot about the politics of Feb. 20 Movement (or #FEB20 as the movement is now widely recognized on Twitter), but I will rather be talking to you about the momentous moment that lies ahead in the road for reform in Morocco.

Later this year (probably in September) Moroccans will be asked to vote Yes or Noto a revised, already controversial, version of the Moroccan Constitution. How important will this moment be for the future of the country? What is really at stake? And what can we learn from other countries’ experience in using freely accessible technology to help people make informed and critical decisions on the day of the vote?

I’m working on a translation of this post which will be soon available in both Arabic and French.

I will be moving my blog soon to another platform. You can view this post in my new page here.

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The Tunisian Paradigm Shift: Why Tunisians Are Changing the Rules of the Game

I first visited Tunisia in the early 2000s. I was invited at the time there by a Tunisian colleague and we ended up touring the country from north to south. It was during summer holidays and I loved the place. I was really impressed by how orderly and clean the streets of Hammamet, Tunis and Monastir were, in comparison with the tumult and dust of a place like Casablanca where I lived at the time. But I soon discovered that a sinister reality lay under that immaculate surface. One day as we were driving by the shoreline, near Bourguiba’s mausoleum, I was struck by the heavy police presence along the road and downtown Monastir. Not that I wasn’t familiar with that kind of show of force but the deployment seemed so unusually disproportionate in such a quiet and uneventful place. I turned to my friend and as soon as I started explaining how impressive the number of police officers looked to me and how this seemed to confirm the reputation of Tunisia as a police state, he grabbed his cell phone, turned it off and kept it firmly squeezed in his hand with his thumb securely obstructing the microphone aperture. He then started mumbling indistinctly but it was clear that I had just recklessly stepped into a forbidden territory.

My friend’s precautionary measures bordered with paranoia but he knew exactly the kind of regime he was dealing with, and he also knew how to take advantage of it. My friend later showed me his party’s membership card with the red stamp of the Rassemblement Constitutionnel et Démocratique (RCD), the ruling party, on it. He said everyone in Tunisia needed to have that card, because otherwise you would be looking for trouble.

My friend’s father, an engineer and successful businessman, was himself, as I later found out, a prominent member of the RCD. He was briefly imprisoned in the late 90s, as my friend later told me, for allegedly providing a check with no sufficient funds. My friend then claimed that his father’s arrest was politically motivated since he was released soon after he committed not to contest a bid sought by a senior member of the party. “It was his membership in the party that saved him from prosecution and further humiliation,” he added.

My friend then explained in great length why, despite what happened to his father, he thought Ben Ali’s regime was good for his country and how repression, cronyism, plutocracy, corruption, lack of freedom were small prices to pay considering the prosperity, stability and Western support the country was enjoying.

My friend’s ambivalence toward the regime is scarcely unique. I was reluctant to challenge him a the time not least because he was my generous host, but also because his arguments about the validity of the regime’s approach were not completely groundless. It almost invariably breaks down like this: you want people to be happy, bring them prosperity. You want prosperity, you need security. And security needs a strong man with a firm hand on power. Democracy? That won’t work –we’re not mature enough.

Those arguments are difficult to disprove in the Arab context. With a Per Capita Gross Domestic Product way ahead of neighboring countries, the Tunisian regime presents itself as a success story and is making the case for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa a difficult idea to sell. As a consequence, Tunisia often serves as a model for other regimes in the region, who use the perceived success of Ben Ali as a pretext to further consolidate their grip on power.

Morocco is a case in point. Since 9/11, Moroccans have been witnessing a steady “Benalisation” of the regime, with the use of police state tactics, borrowed from the Tunisian model to intimidate journalists and political dissenters. The idea is: if Ben Ali can do it and still manage to score high on growth indexes, benefit from Western support, succeed in attracting millions of tourists and foreign investment, then we can do it as well. What’s more, the Tunisians seem to be enjoying it: look how docile, happy and prosperous they look. Well, that was almost impossible to contest until the Tunisian people proved it wrong.

Public demonstrations are unheard of in Tunisia unless they are organized by the ruling party itself. So much so that when the first images of protests filtered through the heavy wall of internet censorship, the world knew something potentially serious was underway. It all started in the interior city of Sidi Bouzid when a 26-year-old university graduate, Mohamed Bouazizi, sat down in front of the town hall and self-immolated in an act of desperation after the police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling illegally to make a living. Demonstrations then spread across the country, in a rare show of anger that has been up and down, going on for two weeks. Unconfirmed news now suggest that Bouazizi’s burn injuries may have proved fatal, which may reignite the protests only hours before universities reopen their doors after the end-of-year holiday.

The question in the mind of every observer is whether the protests will gather strength enough to lead to a regime change. Whilst I personally doubt this will happen due to the lack of sustainability and organisation of the movement (read Brian Whitaker’s piece on this subject) I believe the Sidi Bouzid uprising has already achieved something tremendous: a mental paradigm shift. No longer will anyone, neither the regimes nor their apologists, claim that repression and authoritarianism can bring prosperity and happiness. And as the Tunisian national anthem goes…

When the people wants to live, destiny must surely respond
Darkness will disappear, chains will certainly break!

For updates and further analysis on the Sidi Bouzid uprising, please follow these links:

– On Twitter: #SidiBouzid
– Nawaat collects the latest news and multimedia material
– Nesrine Malik – Tunisia’s inspiring rebellion
– Octavia Nasr – Tunisia Uprising Vs Iran Election Aftermath. Similarities and Differences
– [Video] Aljazeera’s Inside Story – Tunisia’s unemployment crisis
– Jillian C. York – Why I Don’t Believe in “Net Freedom”
– Me Bochra Beljaj Hamida – Rue89 – « Les Tunisiens, fatigués d’un pays tenu par quelques familles » [Fr]

Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize

The Norwegian Nobel committee seems to have rehabilitated itself this year. Instead of awarding, as it did last year, the Nobel Peace Prize to someone who’s effectively the commander in chief of an army, actively at war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the committee decided today it should go to someone who deserves it: Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident and writer currently serving an 11-year sentence for “incitement to subvert state power.” Although the term Peace is subject to debate, no one seems to question the courage or integrity of Liu Xiaobo, one of the rare voices that have spoken up for the establishment of multi-party democracy in China. He co-authored in 2008, along with 300 other dissidents and human rights activists Charter ’08, a blueprint for democratization and political reform in China. Human Rights Watch describes Charter ’08 as “the birth act of a real civil society in China.” The charter is a manifesto for democracy and human rights in China and is much the product of the Internet age. The importance of Liu Xiaobo as a non-violent and powerful figure within the seemingly growing Chinese civil society may have been the crucial motive behind his arrest by the Chinese authorities who continue to harass other signatories of the document and seem infuriated by the dissident’s Nobel win.