Morocco: Constitutional reform will not save regime

Three weeks after the first Day of Rage in Morocco, King Mohamed VI made a surprise speech on television. He delivered a message promising ‘constitutional reform’. Fear of protracted revolutionary turbulence and even of the risk of being toppled seems to have gripped the regime.

Morocco was supposed to be an exception in the convulsive Middle East, a haven of stability guaranteed by a wise and enlightened ‘King of the Poor’. No need here for demonstrations like in Tunisia or Egypt. No need for revolt. No need for regime change. The obsessive repetition in the national and international media of this mantra – of the so-called Moroccan exception – in reality revealed certain nervousness within the ruling circles. Sometimes stubborn denials sound more like indirect confirmations.

Why should Morocco be an exception? The country has within it the same elements which proved lethal to the Tunisian and Egyptian autocrats. Morocco has some of the greatest levels of inequality in the Arab world. A 40% illiteracy rate, humiliating oppression, capitalist exploitation, endemic corruption, permanent and ever increasing unemployment among its finest and best educated youth and limited press freedom represent highly combustible material.

The world crisis of capitalism has also not spared Morocco, especially in the textile and confectionery industries where workers have suffered massive lay-offs. The worldwide speculation on food has also led to increases in the price of basic goods. The absolute monarchy and the pathetic ruling and “opposition” parties are an open insult to the political intelligence of the people.

The uniqueness of Morocco, the specialists explain to us, resides in the supposed popularity of the king and his religious status as the “Commander of the Faithful”, a descendent of the Prophet. Well, the Russian Tsar Nicolas II was also “popular” until… he stopped being popular and was overthrown. He also was at the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. This sacred status did not protect him from the earthly rage of the masses. A hallmark of revolutions is that they do not stop before the sacred and the divine.

There is nothing in the history of the country that could explain why it should stand aside from the Arab revolution. Morocco has known general strikes, spontaneous insurrections, bread riots, the development of revolutionary parties and student organizations. In the most recent years sharp confrontations have regularly taken place in mining areas, university campuses, and medium sized cities. Sometimes they have taken the form of local insurrections as in Ifni (See Souad Guennoun’s documentary, and ).The marvellous and tumultuous movement of the school students against the Israeli attack against Gaza in 2009 revealed the real spirit of struggle of the Moroccan youth.

No Moroccan exception

How could the youth, the working class, the downtrodden in Morocco not be inspired by the revolutionary uprisings of their Arab brothers and sisters! It is true that they cannot follow it on official Moroccan state television but they follow it via Al Jazeera! The talk of the “Moroccan exception” has no objective base in reality. It nevertheless expresses a clear fear of the ruling classes. It is like an exercise in political exorcism. They know that what seemed unthinkable a few months ago can become reality.

Enthused by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolution some youth launched via Facebook the “20F Youth Movement”. This is the same youth that in the past have been labelled as “politically aphetic” because they would not take part in the elections. Knowing the scale of electoral fraud in Morocco, the non participation of two thirds of the voters is more a sign of political maturity than apathy!

The day of action on Sunday, February 20 was the first coordinated nationwide political protest movement for a very long time. The reports of the 20F Youth Movement estimate that 238,500 people demonstrated in more than 50 different cities. The Ministry of Interior counted only 37,000 protesters.

These are the figures for the turnout in the following towns: Tetuan, 50,000; Tangiers, 60.000; Rabat, 16.000; Chefchawen, 7000; Casablanca, 5000; Marrakech, 10,000; Fez, 1000; Sefrou, 2000; Larache, 2000; Oujda, 5000; Al Hoceima, 50,000; Safi, 2000: Tata, 1000; Zagoura, 4000; Ouarzazate, 400 ; Agadir, 5000; Laâyoune, 1000.

The most widely chanted slogans were “Down with the dictatorship”, and “The people want regime change”. The day of action received support also from some left-wing parties like Voie Démocratique and the Part Socialiste Unifée; some unions like the CDT, the unemployed graduates’ organization and the militant human rights organization, AMDH. The general secretary of this association, Khadija Riadi, was brutally attacked in the demonstration in Rabat and had to be taken into intensive care. In some cities the demonstrations ended in youth from the working class neighbourhoods attacking the symbols of oppression like government buildings, police headquarters, banks etc. Repression was brutal (see Appeal for solidarity with the victims).

An interesting observation is that the scope of the mobilizations was far bigger in the medium-sized and smaller cities than in the economic capital, Casablanca or the political capital, Rabat, not only in terms of proportions but also in absolute terms. This is not a new phenomenon. During the wave of protests against the price hikes and “the high cost of living” (“vie chère”) a few years ago, the mobilizations were stronger in the smaller towns or villages than in the big urban centres. The level of democratic self-organization (“coordinations contre la vie chère”) was greater also in these places.

One of the explanations given by activists on the ground and researchers is that in the big cities a network of NGO’s and other associations have mushroomed since the coming to power of Mohamed VI. Partially or totally EU, US or government funded they function as a kind of reformist buffer for the regime against the independent initiative of the youth and urban dwellers. NGO’s are renowned the world over as instruments for buying off the most revolutionary youth and directing them down safe channels. Thus they can – temporarily at least – neutralize or minimize political revolt. Sooner or later, however, this dam will break. Apart from the regional imbalance in the mobilizations, the young people have not yet brought the urban, poor and proletarian masses on the streets. But has it not always been the role of the youth to be the first to move?

Repression no longer deters the youth

The youth often function as a catalyst for a broader and larger social movement. But it will require a conscious approach of the youth movement to harness the revolutionary potential of the working class and the urban poor. Planning intensive propaganda in the popular neighbourhoods, in front of the factories and secondary schools, with “classical” methods (such as posters, leaflets, street discussions and meetings), planning the route of the demonstrations through the working class areas and more importantly taking up the social and economic grievances of the masses can guarantee the vital convergence of the youth and the workers.

Since this successful day of action, the actions have not stopped. Protests, sit-ins, skirmishes and demonstrations have gone on unabated in many places, often on the following Sundays but sometimes also during the week. They have been smaller in size but persistent. It has been as if the movement has been trying to test the state apparatus, in search of weak points [see videos of demonstrations on March 6,

At the same time the movement is learning all kinds of new skills. It is maturing. The new generation of activists is also getting steeled by these actions. They are also losing their fear of repression. This is how comrades of the Communist League of Action reported on the detention of an activist by the police: “We also talked with our comrade five minutes after he was released and he told us that they had been badly beaten by the police, but he said he was fine and in a good mood, enthusiastic and passionate, and he has lost his fear of repression”. These smaller actions are like mini-dress rehearsals for the new day of action on Sunday, March 20.

Until now the government and the King have reacted with superb arrogance in the face of this protest movement. Demonstrators have been described as being “nihilists”. The main message was along the lines of, “don’t you dare defy us, you scum of the earth”. Here again their arrogance is not a sign of self-confidence, quite the contrary. This attitude can only serve to inflame the revolutionary youth. We’ve seen this in the process of the other Arab revolutions. The repression of the 20F day of action and the numerous other smaller actions has not at all deterred the determination of the youth. When open repression no longer works this kind of regime can of course resort to cunning and deceit. What is not an option anymore for the regime is to do nothing with the hope that the movement will ebb away.

Shadowy reforms

It is in this context that we have the Royal speech on March 9. The Monarch made promises of “real” democratic parliamentary elections, an independent judiciary, to increase the separation of powers, more democratic and civil rights, the head of the party that wins the most votes to become prime minister, etc.. All of this is to be elaborated by a commission appointed by... the King himself! And within three months the proposals that commission comes up with are be submitted to a referendum.

As one blogger, Mariam, commented: “The King of Morocco has spoken to his people. I wonder though how many people actually understood what he was saying, considering that 40% of the Moroccans can't read or write and even worse that they don’t know what is in the constitution. Personally I didn’t understand too much of what he said. For the poor, who need change the most, the promises the king made today won’t make any difference. All this really doesn’t matter when the King keeps appointing family members and friends as cabinet members and when protesters are being beaten at peaceful protests”.

She goes on: “This was speech number two by The King and the speeches only seem to encourage the people to protest even more. I think the King wanted to play it smart by 'answering the call for change'. The Constitution has thirteen chapters and one of them, 'The Monarchy’, has 34 articles and the King only wants to change seven? Let's just say I am looking forward to speech number 3 so we can get it over with.”

The proposals of “constitutional reform” correspond also to what imperialist think-tanks have been advising the Arab dictators since the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak: to stay in power and protect yourself from revolution you had better pretend to understand the desire for change and engage in ‘reform’.

The CIA sponsored Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ( made the following comment on Morocco a few weeks before the King’s speech:

“To avoid any popular dissent, Morocco must now undertake a number of reforms towards more balanced power sharing. The executive authority, namely the government, must have broader powers. The Parliament must fully play its oversight role by monitoring government actions. The judicial authority should be more unbiased and autonomous by distancing itself from the other two authorities. The governance system in Morocco has to evolve in the right direction to guarantee more rights and more equality to Moroccans.”

The constitution indeed gives to the King almost absolute powers that would have made the French king Louis XIV envious. How can anyone believe that this dictatorial regime will reform itself out of existence? The new king, when he started his reign more than ten years ago, promised political reform. What has happened to those earlier reforms? Most of them were stalled. Old habits die hard. That explains why scepticism is the mostly widespread reaction to those reforms.

Manoeuvre of the regime

All dictators, every now and then launch so-called ‘changes’ or ‘clean-ups’, as in the time of the sultans. These are designed to give the system a new stability and new lease of life. The royal advisers have over decades built up considerable experience in “changing everything in order to change nothing”. The fact is that a regime will not reform itself out of power. This is impossible. No one should expect the royal dictator to commit suicide. This is a classical case where the regime tries to reform from the top to stave off a revolution from below. It is trap set up for the more naïve or opportunist elements within the opposition.

A sharp comment on this has been made professor Bouzizi: “The speech may also have been intended as a means of placating those old-school political organizations, like the Socialist Union of Popular Forces that, in the aftermath of the February 20 marches (if not before), have called for constitutional reform themselves If anything, the political parties have been too positive in their evaluation of the speech. Even the head of the [Islamist] PJD is saying there's no need for more demonstrations."

The activists of the Communist League of Action who have been in the forefront of the struggle have a clear view:

“In our opinion the ‘reforms’ of Mohamed VI are a manoeuvre on the part of the regime and of French and American imperialism, to absorb the movement. They want to neutralize the reformist currents and parties, who have been obliged under the pressure of their rank and file, like the ‘socialist’ USFP for instance, to support the movement of the 20F. They also want to create a division within the ranks of the youth movement, which is not well organized and has no clear perspective. A division aimed at separating the more radical youth from the moderates, with the hope of isolating the former who have not stopped struggling and who will come out on 20M.

“They hope that by doing so this will make it easier to unleash repression against them. In his speech the King did not forget to mention that he was the ‘Commander of the Faithful’ which makes him sacred and which gives him full powers by the will of Allah.

“The King himself has appointed Mr. Abdellatif Manouni who will chair the commission on constitutional reform. This same man was a member of the Constitutional Council from 1994 (under Hassan II) until 2008. He has always been a ferocious defender of the absolute monarchy. We want to add that this ‘constitutional reform’ will be submitted to a ‘popular referendum’. Following the Moroccan traditions this means that the result is known in advance… It will obviously be ‘approved’ by 99.9 % of the voters…

“More important is that in our discussions with some youth of the 20F movement and the media, the majority of the youth do not give a damn about these ‘reforms’ and are more determined than ever to organize and prepare for March 20.”

The immediate effect of the Royal speech will not be to dent the determination of the youth, but quite the contrary. It will encourage them to mobilize more strongly than ever for the next day of protest.

Dismantle the oppressive state!

Interestingly, the King did not say a word about corruption in his short speech. The eradication of this plague stands high on the lists of demands of the movement. Corruption under capitalism is not only a symptom of moral degeneration, of hypocrisy. In all its varied forms it serves to oil the mechanisms of power. Opaqueness and corruption are vital elements in the functioning of a capitalist state apparatus. They represent not an aberration or a dysfunction of the capitalist state but an objective necessity. The state apparatus is experienced in acts of humiliation, extortion, small and large scale corruption because these all serve the interests of the big and small, national and foreign capitalists.

The King has a very strong personal control over the key levers of the state apparatus. This is firmly guaranteed by the constitution. This hegemony serves his economic interests. The state is intertwined, almost fused with the capitalist interests of Mohamed VI. The king and his family are at the centre of Moroccan capitalism. Thanks to the fusion of the old colonial conglomerate Omnium Nord Africain with the Société Nationale d’Investissement, Mohamed VI is a the head of an eight-armed holding company.

Thus “King of the poor”, as he was dubbed at the beginning of his reign, is the biggest industrialist, the biggest banker, the biggest landowner of the country (with his “personal garden”, as Moroccans like to joke). His holding represents 60% of the shares on the Casablanca stock exchange, the second biggest financial centre in Africa after Johannesburg.

The tentacles of the King’s economic interests, however, are not limited to the legal economy. It is commonly accepted that he has links with the different networks of organized crime, especially with the drug mafias of the north. Tied closely to the absolute monarch we find also around 50 families who make up the ruling class in Morocco. They all benefit from their kinship with the monarch.

This capitalist state cannot be reformed. It must be overthrown and dismantled. No commission, no negotiation, no referendum can bring the full democracy the youth and the masses want in Morocco. So let us not be distracted by the manoeuvrings at the top. The struggle has only just begun. We demand complete democracy, without kings, princes, experts, bureaucrats and capitalists. Instead of a ‘commission’ we want a Constituent Assembly. Let the people draw up a new constitution! Of course we cannot trust this regime to organize the election of a Constituent Assembly. We will have to call it ourselves! Therefore we need to organize and elect local and regional people’s councils. The struggle must go on. Our slogan is: Revolution until victory!

  • We are no fools! No confidence in the reforms of the regime! No collaboration with the Royal commission!
  • We can only count on our own organization and mobilization!
  • Full mobilization for 20M! For the unity of the youth and the workers!
  • Solidarity against the repression of the youth.
  • Down with the dictatorship!
  • The immediate election of a Constituent Assembly.
  • This assembly has to be called by revolutionary democratic committees elected in the neighbourhoods, factories, schools and universities.
  • Power to the workers and the poor peasants!

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