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.
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.