The Kingdom of Morocco: an Absolute Monarchy Averse to Democratic Reform

By Sidi M. Omar

Researcher in Peace and Conflict Studies, UNESCO Chair of Philosophy for Peace,

Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, Spain

30 April 2004

Plan for reform

It has been recently reported in the media that the US Administration is working on a "reform plan" aiming at promoting democracy in the "greater Middle East". Scheduled to be announced at the G-8 summit hosted by President Bush at Sea Island, Georgia, in June, the plan would call upon the governments of the region to adopt major political reforms, be held accountable on human rights and introduce economic reforms. In return, the countries that choose to embrace the proposed reforms would be offered more aid packages, enlarged security arrangements and better deals to facilitate their integration in the global economy.

Some commentators have suggested that the plan aims at filling the gaps that had been highlighted in the Arab Human Development Report 2003 released by the United Nations Development Programme concerning the situation of freedom, knowledge, democracy, economy, and women emancipation in Arab nations. In this sense, the plan will probably recommend educational reform programmes, democratisation and human rights schemes as well as the need to strengthen the region's entrepreneurial and economic capabilities. It has also been indicated that the proposed plan is partly a response to the failure of the existing US-led policy in the Middle East, which seems to have generated many hostile reactions among a wide sector of the population of the region.

Although there is still an ongoing discussion on the genesis and objectives of the plan, what is obvious is that it comes in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the USA, on 11th September 2001, and the accelerating events that have taken place ever since both in the Middle East and elsewhere. In this context, the present plan could be viewed as part of the American post-11 September approach that aims at coming to terms with the complexity of the new developments in "the Greater Middle East", and with the root causes of the major problems facing the region, including particularly the rise of radicalism and its links to global terrorism.

A recent indication to this new approach could be deduced, for instance, from the speech delivered by President Bush, on 4th February 2004, in honour of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In his speech, President Bush underlined that the United States was seeking to foster the growth of democracy in the greater Middle East in order to remove conditions there that have bred all sorts of oppression and hopelessness amid the population of the region. He precisely made it clear that, "as long as that region is a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce men and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends. We seek the advance of democracy for the most practical of reasons: because democracies do not support terrorists or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder"[1] (emphasis added).

President Bush also went on to point out that he would ask the US Congress to double the budget for the National Endowment for Democracy, raising its annual funding to $80 million, with a view to focusing "on bringing free elections and free markets and free press and free speech and free labour unions to the Middle East." [2] It is in this context that the launching by the US Government of a new Middle East television network called Alhurra (meaning the free one in Arabic) can be appraised. The network is meant to be a media tool for reaching out to the population of the region, and telling them the truth about the values and the policies of the United States, as President Bush put it.

As expected, there have been many reactions to the proposed plan, especially from some leaders of the region who appeared to warn against any attempt to dictate change from outside. By contrast, many intellectuals across the Arab world, for instance, have approved of the underlying idea of the plan, while stressing that its goal should be the introduction of global reforms that would also involve the existing political structures.

Although its details are still being crafted, the proposed plan is not unproblematic. Above all, its professed scope is too ambiguous since it refers to a vast and heterogeneous area that does not lend itself easily to region-wide generalisations. Nevertheless, despite whatever reservations that one may understandably have about the plan, it can still serve as a timely reminder of the need to embark on a purposeful reflection on the root causes of the major socio-economic and political problems facing the region as a whole, and subsequently on the kind of structural reforms that are needed to tackle those problems.

In this sense, there is no denying the fact that the US Administration has hit the nail on the head when highlighting the direct correlation between "despair and anger" and the overall political conditions prevailing in the Middle East. Taken at face value, the proposed plan appears to depart from the understanding that the growing manifestations of despair and discontent amid Middle Eastern populations are inextricably linked to the political and social conditions that have resulted from decades of undemocratic rule in some parts of the region. In other words, the plan clearly recognises that the widespread and deep-rooted authoritarian structures in the Middle East are the major causes of despair and anger among the populations of the region. In the end, it is this situation of deep-seated desperation that has gradually proved a fertile soil for the emergence of all sorts of radicalism. In the context of trying to deal with the root causes of this volatile situation, the US Administration seems to have chosen to step in with a plan of global reforms that would involve the whole region.

Ever since it took office in January 2001, the present US Administration has made no secret of the fact that it has a security interest in countering radical movements that could put in jeopardy the US interests in the Middle East, including the stability of its allies. It has moreover shown its keen interest in fostering democracy and supporting adherence to internationally accepted standards of human rights and good governance in the region. The challenge that will face the US Administration will thus be keeping these two interests in balance, when contemplating any reforms in the Middle East.

In this sense, one key question that could be raised in connection with the "reform plan" is whether the US Administration is ready to tackle head on the compelling fact that fostering genuine democratic reforms in the Middle East must also involve a rigorous re-thinking of its traditional policies in the entire region. In other words, the US Administration will have to realise that, for its plan to bring forth any meaningful democratic reforms in the Middle East, the reforms must also involve the political structures sustaining certain regimes in the region (who are allies of the USA) that have traditionally proved unwilling to engage in any real reforms.

In practical terms, this means that the US Administration will have to take bold measures as regards those regimes by urging them to set in motion genuine major structural reforms, and to be accountable to their respective populations regarding the rule of law and respect for fundamental liberties. If the US Administration fails to go that far, the proposed "reform plan" will certainly be doomed to failure, leading to more disappointment among millions across the Middle East, and less credibility for the US policies in the region. It is hard to believe that the US Administration would allow its credibility to be further compromised in the Middle East, particularly at a time when that credibility is needed more than ever.

The kingdom of Morocco: the impossible reform

A prime example of those regimes described often as "strategic allies" of the United States in the Middle East is the monarchical regime of the Kingdom of Morocco, which has been ruling the country as a medieval absolute monarchy for centuries. Describing the Moroccan regime in such terms, however, may not resonate with the predominant, albeit erroneous, perception that many (especially in Europe and the USA) have of Morocco as an exemplary case of a "moderate regime" in the region, steadily moving towards modernity and democracy.

As will be demonstrated later, this perception of Morocco as a "moderate regime all in favour of reform" is indeed symptomatic of a vision that has a major blind spot. On the one hand, it tends to see the sporadic cosmetic reforms, carried out by the regime under certain circumstances, as impressive achievements. On the other, it fails, wittingly or unwittingly, to engage rigorously the regimes widely recognised crisis of legitimacy and its deplorable conduct as regards human rights and democratic rule. It is therefore in the broad context of unpacking this lopsided vision that the present paper sets out to demonstrate that what lies behind that self-ascribed mask of a reformist regime is a grim face of a tyrannical monarchy that owes its legitimacy (and hence longevity) to sheer absolute rule and state terrorism.

Evidently, the self-legitimating discourses of the Moroccan monarchical regime have already been challenged and unsettled in many ways by critical minds inside and outside of Morocco, and therefore the present paper does not claim much novelty in this respect. However, what it may claim as its own contribution is to look into the nature of the regime in Morocco against the backdrop of the underlying idea of the proposed "reform plan" in order to demonstrate that, before contemplating any reforms in the country, the US Administration will inescapably have to tackle the compelling fact that the monarchy existing in Morocco represents a regime that owes its longevity to absolute monarchical rule and state terrorism. As such, it is inherently averse to any tangible systemic reforms, which the regime has always seen, quite understandably, detriment of its own existence.

The United States and Morocco: a long history of friendly relations

Needless to say that United States and Morocco have a longstanding special relationship. Although the purpose here is not to dwell upon this long history of American-Moroccan relationship, suffice it to say that the two countries have always enjoyed privileged relations ever since Morocco recognised the Government of the United States in 1777. A milestone in the establishment of formal relations between the two nations was the Treaty of Peace and Friendship that was negotiated in 1787. Renegotiated in 1836, the treaty is still in force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship in US history. A testament to the special nature of the US-Moroccan relationship, for instance, is the fact that Tangier (north of Morocco) is home to the oldest US diplomatic property in the world, and the only building on foreign soil that is listed in the USA.

Described often by American officials as "a strategic partner of the USA", Morocco continues to enjoy a privileged place in the American cross-Atlantic relations, and it is unlikely that there will be any change of this privileged status in the foreseeable future. An indication to how the US-Moroccan relationship would continue in the future, for instance, can be deduced from the speech given by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, during his visit to Morocco in December 2003. Outlining his countrys support for Moroccos political and economic reforms, the Secretary of State made it clear that the US Administration would be increasing its economic assistance to Morocco four-fold over the next several years, and that it would double the support it used to provide to military efforts [3]. It is in this context of increased cooperation that the United States concluded with Morocco, in March 2004, a comprehensive and ground-breaking Free Trade Agreement (FTA) designed to strip away barriers and facilitate trade and investment between both countries.

Indeed, the long history of American-Moroccan special relationship has had a direct bearing on how Morocco has always been perceived in the United States. This, however, should not hinder the US Administration from trying to look critically into the realities on the ground in Morocco, and into the nature and conduct of the ruling regime there. Therefore, the acid test of the US "reform plan", as far as Morocco is concerned, is whether the US Administration will be prepared to press the authoritarian regime in Morocco to introduce genuine overall reforms in its political institutions including the inherently antidemocratic monarchical system. Closely related to this is the issue of whether the Administration will also be willing to uphold its own democratic principles, when it comes to respect for human rights, and then hold the Moroccan regime accountable for the gross violations of human rights that it has perpetrated against its own people and others.

After all, whatever way the US Administration may choose to go forward with its "reform plan", it must not lose sight of the fact it will confront in Morocco a despotic regime controlled by a political class with a medieval mind-set that is inherently averse to modern, secular and democratic rule. The US Administration (and the American people for that matter) cannot certainly afford being associated with a regime with such qualities.

Absolute monarchy in disguise

As indicated earlier, one purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that the Kingdom of Morocco is an epitome of an absolute monarchy that owes its existence to a mix of absolute rule and state terrorism. To this end, the paper will now focus on investigating rigorously the series of claims that the regime has been promoting right from the start, at the heart of which lies the recurring claim that Morocco is a "democratic, constitutional monarchy". In order to set the record straight, it is perhaps useful to start by looking briefly at the concept of "constitutional monarchy" and its evolution as a form of government.

In general terms, a constitutional monarchy is a form of government that is established under a constitutional system which acknowledges an hereditary or elected monarch as head of state. Although the king or queen may be regarded in modern constitutional monarchies as the governments symbolic head, it is the prime Minister, whose power derives directly or indirectly from elections, who actually governs the country. Historically, the concept of constitutional monarchy owes its origin to the absolute monarchies of the later Middle Ages in Europe, where governmental authority was exercised by the monarch and his (or in rare occasions her) government. The development of popular participation in democracy saw power shifting to governments selected from and answerable to legislative assemblies and parliaments, producing more democratic systems of governments in which the monarch "reigns but does not rule."

Closely linked to the development of constitutional monarchy was the idea that the will of the people, instead of divine rights, would be the ultimate source of legitimate authority. Therefore, as an immediate legacy of the revolutionary wars and domestic struggles during the late eighteenth century, the idea of popular sovereigntythe notion that legitimacy must come from the will of the peoplemarked a far-reaching shift from dynastically legitimated monarchical sovereignty to popularly legitimated national sovereignty (Bukovansky 2002).

Brief as it is, the foregoing conceptual framework can clearly serve to provide a useful backdrop against which the Moroccan claims can be investigated, especially those related to the constitutional quality of the monarchy and its alleged popular legitimacy. A good point of departure in this sense will necessarily be an analysis of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Morocco, in its latest version that was approved in a referendum held on 13th September 1996. It is perhaps interesting to point out that this referendum resulted, according to official figures, in 99.56% of the population voting yes and 0.44 voting no[4]--a fact that was particularly astonishing for many inside and outside of Morocco.

In its article 1, the Constitution declares solemnly that, "Morocco shall have a democratic, social and constitutional Monarchy". Taken at face value, this provision indicates that Morocco is a country where the overall authority is supposed to be vested in a prime Minster who is elected by the people and thus answerable to them, the same as in all modern constitutional monarchies. In fact, this is not the case since the institution of the King has been constitutionally accorded an Olympian vantage point from which the sovereign can wield his supreme power that overrides that of all other institutions.

According to the Constitution, the King, Amir Al-Muminin (Commander of the Faithful), who is "the guarantor of the perpetuation and the continuity of the State" (art. 19), "shall appoint the Prime Minister. Upon the Prime Ministers recommendation, the King shall [also] appoint the other Cabinet members as he may terminate their services" (art. 24). Furthermore, the King, who "shall, by Royal Decrees, exercise the statutory powers explicitly conferred upon him by the Constitution" (art. 29), "may dissolve the two Houses of Parliament or one thereof by Royal Decree" (art. 27). In case these provisions give the impression that the King is an executive institution (which is indeed the case) and, as any executive institution, he could be answerable to other institutions, the constitution states, in article 23, that "the person of the King shall be sacred and inviolable."

What the foregoing articles clearly indicate is that the king is the ultimate authority for each branch of the government as well as for all things religious, a fact which clearly undermines the principle underpinning true constitutional monarchies, i.e., monarchs reign but do not rule. The late King Hassan II was quoted, in 1992, elaborating on the kind of monarchy existing in Morocco. He said, "Islam forbids me from implementing a constitutional monarchy in which I, the king, delegate all my powers and reign without governing . . . I can delegate power, but I do not have the right, on my own initiative, to abstain from my prerogatives, because they are also spiritual." [5] Indeed, one cannot help but wonder why the regime keeps on marketing itself as a constitutional monarchy when it recognises at the same time that a monarchy of this type cannot be instituted in the country allegedly on some religious grounds.

As far as amending the Constitution is concerned, article 103 states that "the King, the House of Representatives and the House of Counsellors shall have the right to initiate a revision of the Constitution. The King shall have the right to submit, directly for referendum, the revision project he may initiate." Nonetheless, there are red lines that should never be crossed when it comes to revising the Constitution. These are provided for in article 106, which states that, "Neither the State system of monarchy nor the prescriptions related to the religion of Islam may be subject to a constitutional revision." Given that the Constitution was approved allegedly by a landslide majority, the provisions of article 106 seem to indicate that practically the entire Moroccan people have voluntarily chosen to institute the monarchical system as their timeless system of government. But since this is an assumption that many Moroccans will dismiss out of hand, this particular article (along with all other articles) can only be construed as an indication more of how the referendum in question was in fact conducted than of the real wishes of the Moroccan people.

It is also interesting to read the above article in relation to article 7 relating to the motto of the Kingdom which is "God, the Country, the King". As can be seen clearly, the hierarchical order implied in this article seems to have been inverted in article 106 in such a way that the monarchical system (the King) seems to take precedence over the religious basis of the Kingdom. In short, what all this means is that the monarchy lies at the heart of the "restricted zones" that should never be considered subject to revision, which, when read in political terms, means that the monarchy is not susceptible of reform or changean absolute monarchy proper.

When confronted with this compelling fact about the real nature of its monarchy and that it is incompatible with the democratic principles of modern constitutional monarchies, the Moroccan regime frequently resorts to the argument that it has its own idiosyncratic form of a democratic constructional monarchy that is grounded in the countrys historical and cultural specificity. Here is where the peculiar formula sustaining the regimes assumed legitimacy is evoked in order to bear out this contention. As will be shown, this argument is however much stronger in assertion than in proof.

It is recognised, by common consent, that all democratic systems of government derive their legitimacy from the will of people and that, by contrast, undemocratic regimes lack popular legitimacy. For that reason, in order to endow themselves with legitimacy, undemocratic regimes tend to invent new ideologies or traditions and try to indoctrinate the population with their legitimating discourses through various forms of socialisation and propaganda, thus creating moral incentives for the people to obey their rule.

The kingdom of Morocco is indeed an excellent example of a regime that has firmly established its legitimacy on the invention and reinvention of tradition. What underpins this tradition is a major claim that the holders of the title of the King are descendants of the Prophet, and thus have impeccable shurafa' ancestry, which can be traced back through the present Alawite dynasty until the Idrissides, the first Islamic dynasty of Morocco established in the eighth century. It is in effect the Alawite dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since the 17th century, that has transformed that tradition into a complex set of myths, religious and psychological concepts, which partly explains its longevity and the "stability" of its rule.

Much has been written about the nature of the Moroccan regime and its self-legitimating discourses. One important historical study on this subject, for instance, has been presented by Abdellah Hammoudi. In his book, Master and Disciple, which offers a penetrating insight into the nature of the authoritarian rule in Morocco, Hammoudi (1997) explores the ideological and cultural foundations of the persistent authoritarianism in his native country. Building on the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault, he argues that at the heart of Moroccan culture lies a paradigm of authority that juxtaposes absolute authority against absolute submission. In conflict with other cultural forms, and re-elaborated in colonial and postcolonial circumstances, this paradigm informs all major aspects of Moroccan personal and political relations. Its influence is so pervasive and so firmly embedded that it ultimately legitimises the authoritarian structure of the existing power.

At the heart of this paradigm lie the sharifian principle, which suggests that all Moroccan rulers are direct descendants of the Prophet, and the act of bay'a (oath of allegiance to the sultan/king), whereby people allegedly reaffirm their loyalty to the King and the Crown. In reality, the bay'a refers both to the act of delegating power to a new sultan or king and to the annual, symbolic renewal of allegiance (tajdid al-wala'), where religious scholars and other dignitaries, who are supposed to represent the community, renew their allegiance to the crown (Maghraoui 2001). The legitimacy of the Moroccan regime lies thus in these direct religious ties forged between the king-sultan-caliph and the subject-believer-citizen, which creates what Waltz (1995) has called a psychological contract.

To ensure its longevity and promote its legitimacy, the Moroccan monarchy has relied on a series of myths and symbols encouraged and often created by the monarchy itself (Campbell 2004). An example of the monarchys role in reinventing tradition, according to the author, is the case of Ahmad al Mansur of the Sadi dynasty (1548-1641) who, feeling vulnerable to the powers of other religious groups, seized the Prophets birthday as a chance to increase the monarchs legitimacy and staged huge celebrations to which only certain people were invited. This tradition has eventually been converted into an important tool to maintain the social order in the country and to publicise the Monarchs lineage from the Prophet, which continues to function in this way to this day. The late King Hassan II explained this to a reporter from Newsweek to whom he was displaying a gold-plated ceiling which contained a series of names: "Those are the names of my ancestors, every one of them dating back to the Prophet . . . Do you know what that means? That means I have legitimacy. I am both temporal and spiritual ruler of my people."[6]

Therefore, by linking themselves to the Prophet, and through him to God, the Moroccan monarchs ensure that challenges to their divine right to rule are indeed challenges to God. As Hammoudi (1997:13) notes, "[A]ttacking him [the King] would be both a crime and a sacrilegeinseparable notions in this logicat once a violation of divine law and the desacralisation of a figure of Islamic piety." The fact, however, is that identification with the leader is not only based on divine authority and sharifian descent, but also derived from the fear instilled into the heart and minds of the subjects throughout years of schooling and sheer terrorist practicesa theme that will be elaborated on later.

To tighten its grip on everything temporal or spiritual in the country, the Moroccan regime has also relied on the Makhzen, which is the expression of the group including businessmen and generals who constitute the "power behind the throne" and which are generally perceived as the conservative and corrupt class traditionally controlling Morocco's politics and economy. In this sense, Makhzen is a specific form of authority that is present throughout the governing class with the king as its linchpin. As Abderrahman Youssoufi, the former Moroccan Prime Minister, wrote more than 20 years ago, "The key to the makhzen system is the sultan, a hereditary, dynastic autocrat ... whose enthronement is accompanied by a ceremony of allegiance in which tame dignitaries act out their submission. This absolute power is aggravated by the pseudo-function of [the king as] 'representative of God on earth' which has been instituted and handed down by generations of oriental despots but has no real religious or legal basis. This power structure acts in two ways: first, through the mahalla, which is a sort of mercenary army in the service of the sultan to which it is tied by bonds of privilege or slavery; and second, through the makhzen itself, which is a body of agents, generally recruited among rural and urban notables, of which the most enduring characteristic is its corruptness".[7]

Let us now assume for the sake of argument that the sharifian descent and the act of bay'a (oath of allegiance) could serve as a basis upon which a certain ruler of an Islamic country could claim legitimacy for his or her rule. However, the line of reasoning that the Moroccan regime employs in order to justify its absolute rule on this basis is completely flawed. First, the bay'a is questionable as it is practiced now in Morocco because those who partake in the act (ahl al-hall wal-'aqd) are not true representative of the community, and hence cannot speak on its behalf. As Maghraoui (2001) points out, the notables, dignitaries, religious scholars, political and state officials who swear allegiance to the Crown are either co-opted by the Makhzen, or are directly in the service of the palace. Their allegiance is therefore nothing but a ceremonial consecration of existing, unequal power relations, and has nothing to do with the real wishes of the people.

Furthermore, according to the Islamic tradition, the system of the bay'a to the head of state is meaningful only as long as the leader works for the interest of the society. In this sense, Islam has laid down the concept of checking the leader, holding him accountable and putting him aright if he falters or even deposing him. In Morocco, while people there are obligated to swear allegiance to the King, they have no recourse whatsoever to hold him accountable for their security and wellbeing. What follows from this is that the kind of baya, upon which the assumed legitimacy of the Moroccan regime is predicated, is in fact a perverse interpretation of bay'a as construed in Islamic established tradition.

To grant itself some illusion of democratic legitimacy and of public support to its institutions, the regime has also been known of orchestrating all types of "elections". As has been demonstrated on many occasions, coercion and corruption always plague such phoney elections and the interioir ministry has always be charged with fabricating high voter turnouts and seemingly fair results. Furthemore, instead of serving to consolidate a fair political game, the so-called multi-party electoral system in Morocco is used essentially as a means to select, control and reproduce a docile and corruptible political elite. As the US embassy in Rabat has pointed out, some of the main obstacles in stabling the rule of law in Morocco "include a general lack of transparency, inadequate material resources, excessively lengthy court proceedings, and widespread corruption."[8]

The overall conclusion that could be drawn from the above analysis of the Moroccan Constitution and of the basis underpinning the regimes legitimacy is that it does take more than a constitution, written or otherwise, for a monarchy to claim being constitutional. In this sense, what the Moroccan Constitution shows, in effect, is that the constitutional monarchy à la marocaine is just a euphemism of an absolute monarchy in disguise. As Wesson (1987) affirms, there is no more reason to credit dictators with being democratic, however much they use the word, than to assume that libertines are chaste because they claim chastity.

To fully grasp the implications of the preceding conclusion, let us look briefly into the kind of arguments that were traditionally marshalled for justifying absolute rule, in order to see that they do resonate with the same arguments used by the Moroccan regime to justify its own rule. As it is known, the idea that monarchs held their position by the grace of God and were therefore not answerable to mortals but only to God dates back historically to the seventeenth century in Europe when many theorisations on the nature and justification of absolute monarchy began to flourish. One of the principle theorists of absolutism, for instance, was Jacques-Benigne Bossuet (1627-1704). In his work, Politics, Bossuet (1990) argued that monarchs are placed in power by God, and thus respect for the king is "bound together" with service of God; disobedience to a monarch is equivalent to disobeying God. Since monarchs are placed in power by God, that also meant that monarchs are answerable to no-one except God in matters of ruling the state. Bossuet also underlined that the office of king should be sacred in itself and should be honoured, for he is Gods "lieutenant on earth."

In view of the foregoing, it is easy to discern how strikingly similar is the line of reasoning employed by the Moroccan regime in order to justify its absolute rule and that of an absolutist theorist such as Bossuet, especially when it comes to divine rights and the inviolability of the person of the sovereign. What this indicates, on the whole, is that the kingdom of Morocco is in effect one of the few regimes in the world that has long outlived its own time. While traditional absolute monarchies, as indicated earlier, have long given way to genuine constitutional monarchies and democracies, the Kingdom of Morocco of the 21st century is still ruled by a medieval monarchical regime where the monarch makes no secret of the fact that he is destined by some divine will to "reign and rule" forever and at any cost.

State terrorism

In her analysis of the nature of the monarchy in Morocco, Patricia Campbell (2004) points out that, in order to promote its own legitimacy, the Moroccan monarchical regime has relied on a series of myths and symbols encouraged and often created by the monarchy itself. If these reinvented traditions represent the discursive legitimation of the regime, the practical bases of its authority are actually embedded in a long history of state terrorism and use of ruthless force.

In view of the inherently unsustainable bases of the regimes authority and of their concomitant legitimating discourses (which are too irrational for a secular democratic mind to tolerate), it is little wonder therefore that the regime has long opted for state terrorism as an essential means to promote its assumed legitimacy. This explains, for instance, why it has long declared the shaky bases of its legitimacy off limits, along with other taboo-issues that are considered highly vital for the survival of the kingdom, such as Islam and the Moroccan claims to Western Sahara. Whoever dares to cross the line will be severely punished. The recent imprisonment of the Moroccan journalist, Ali Lamrabet, on account of having "insulted the person of the king" is a case in point.

As Mcionis (1996) has pointed out, terrorism is not only used by groups but also by governments in what he calls state terrorism, which refers to violence used by officials of the state against their own citizens. In the Moroccan case, state terrorism is practiced by the states notoriously oppressive security apparatus that involves several overlapping police and paramilitary organisations. The National Police (which includes the Border Police and the Mobile Intervention Corps), and the countrys intelligence service (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire - DST) and the Auxiliary Forces are departments of the Ministry of Interior. In addition to the Judicial Police, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and the Royal Gendarmerie that reports to the Palace, all this security apparatuses constitute a gigantic security network that has over time permeated all private and public spheres of society, thus turning Morocco into an effectively police state.

Indeed, the raison d'être for the existence of such huge security machinery is solely to defend the monarchy by containing and eliminating, if necessary, any from of opposition to its rule. Right from the start, no sooner had Morocco gained its independence in 1956 than the regime started devising all sorts of strategies in order to contain and counter the mounting opposition of many Moroccans who had no faith in the absolute monarchical system. Those were Moroccans that felt bitterly disappointed at seeing the fruit of their anti-colonial struggle for instituting a democratic republican rule in the country abusively appropriated by a monarchy that they had long fought to abolish. One of the most disturbing examples of the regimes intolerance of opposition was the 1965 riots in which hundreds of protesters were killed by government forces[9]. The riots symbolised the growing rift between the monarchy and the opposition groups who were calling for an end to monarchical rule in Morocco. Furthermore, opposition to the monarchy has boiled over into other riots as well in 1981, 1984, 1990, 1999each effectively crushed by the security forces. This clearly shows how the Moroccan regime has always resorted to sheer brutal force and repression in order to bolster its imposed legitimacy, and it is no wonder that the regime has been listed among the worlds most repressive regimes [10].

As far as human rights in Morocco are concerned, the security apparatus is notorious for having been involved in unspeakable practices of terror, assassinations, summary executions, arbitrary detention and gross violations of human rights. A cursory glance at the successive reports released by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations will clearly reveal the gravity of the situation of human rights in Morocco. In its report regarding human rights practices in Morocco in 2003, the US Department of State, for instance, notes that the human rights record of the country remains poor in many areas. Moroccan authorities, at times, arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, and infringed on citizens privacy rights. Freedom of the press was restricted. The police violently dispersed several peaceful demonstrations, while police impunity remained a problem. Although the Moroccan constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the courts were subject to extrajudicial pressures including government influence.

The terrorist practices of the Moroccan regime have not been confined only to Morocco but have also involved the occupied territories of Western Sahara, where the human rights of the Saharawi civil population there continue being violated on daily basis by Moroccan administrative and security apparatus. Ever since the invasion of the country in 1975 and the campaign of terror unleashed by the invading forces against the Saharawi civilians, whose towns and villages were bombed by napalm and cluster bombs, the Moroccan state has been pursuing an unprecedented repressive policy against the Saharawis living in the occupied territories. While the fundamental freedoms of the entire population there remain severely circumscribed, many Saharawis were arrested arbitrarily and jailed in Moroccan secret detention centres, where they were subjected to all sorts of torture and to inhuman and degrading treatment; hundreds have disappeared, while the Moroccan state remains silent about their whereabouts. What adds to the plight of the Saharawis there is that the Moroccan state has long imposed a total blackout on the territory in order to ensure that its terrorist practices remain unknown to the international public opinion.

Despite his declared commitment to protect human rights and promote democracy, the regime of the new King, Mohammed VI, has not officially admitted responsibility for past human rights violations nor showed the slightest interest in bringing to book those officials involved in perpetrating gross abuses of human rights. That is why many observers have already noted that the regime would never try these officials, since that would imply a trial of the entire regime of the Kings father, the late King Hassan II. This is for the simple reason that those officials were acting upon the kings direct orders.

One prime example of the officially protected torturers is the long-term Minister of Interior, Driss Basri, whose power was second only to the late King Hassans for more than 20 years, who has been personally responsible for the countrys horrible human rights record. This is why the new Kings move to oust him in November 1999, which was viewed as a "courageous act", did not bring any real change in the regimes handling of the situation, since it has left intact and operational the entire repressive system that Basri put in place and ruled for years.

As has widely been indicated, the embracing by the Moroccan regime of terrorism as a state policy, which has drained almost all the countrys meagre resources, has already plunged the country into a deep socio-economic and political crises of which repercussions are felt throughout the country, especially among the most vulnerable classes of society. In the UNs recently released annual Human Development Report, Morocco was placed number 126 in terms of human development out of 175 countries worldwide[11] - only 50 steps from the absolute bottom (Sierra Leone). In addition, Morocco was also rated most corrupt country in the Maghreb in a survey by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum[12]. The ranking was based on questionnaires among each countrys citizens, ranking their own government and thus reflecting the populations discontent. What these indices reveal is that Morocco is really going through a deep crisis that has exacerbated the already difficult situation of the majority of Moroccans, especially the young generation of who many have began turning to the Islamists-moderate and radical-searching for some sense of belonging and a forum for airing their grievances.

The suicide bombings that took place in Casablanca on 16th May, 2003 that killed more than 40 people bears witness to this increasingly unbearable situation in Morocco. These terrorist attacks (which could unfortunately still happen there or elsewhere) were indeed an abhorrent and condemnable crime. Nevertheless, there were neither novel nor spontaneous, and this is a fact that seems to have been overlooked, wittingly or unwittingly, by some commentators in their readings of this event.

As proved beyond doubt, the terrorist attack was a Moroccan phenomenon arising out of local conditions, despite the regimes initial attempt to blame foreign quarters for having instigated and perpetrated the bombings. The 15 terrorists involved in the bombings were Moroccans belonging to the Sirrat al-Mustaqim (the straight or right path in English) fundamentalist group who grew up and trained in the desperately poor neighbourhood of Sidi Moumen in eastern Casablanca, one of many shanty towns that ring Moroccan cities; they had no direct link to any international terrorist group-despite the regime's unrelenting efforts to prove otherwise. As the Moroccan journalist, Aboubakr Jamai, editor in chief of the newsweekly, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, affirms "this time, all the attackers were Moroccans. All grew up in poverty; none had been outside the country."[13]

Ignacio Ramonet (2000) has also observed that such violence, unprecedented in Morocco, is the product of a mix of economic, political and social problems that has created a deep malaise among the countrys young people. Many young people would now join the Islamists who represent the only political alternatives to the political parties in power who no longer dare protest or offer proposals for reform. What all this means, in a few words, is that the deplorable act of the terrorist group was in effect an expression of the deep-seated feeling of "despair and anger" amid many Moroccans and, as such, a desperate reaction to the diversified terrorist practices employed the regime for many decades against its own people, which has eventually taken many of them to extremes.

In the aftermath of Casablancas bombings, the Moroccan parliament was reported to have passed, on 27th May 2003, a broad anti-terrorism bill. Those familiar with the ins and outs of the Moroccan regime did not see anything extraordinary in the bill, simply because Morocco is not short of declared and undeclared bills that have always given the security apparatus of the Makhzen a free hand in detaining, torturing and executing, in extrajudicial way, any "suspect" of threatening the national security. In this sense, since defining what could be "threats to national security" is an exclusive royal prerogative, no wonder that the palace has rushed to impel the legislature to pass such bill that will only serve as an additional means whereby the regime can buttress its rule.

In this sense, the so-called anti-terrorist bill, apart from its being a mere public relations exercise, shows clearly how determined is the regime to continue bolstering the foundations of its absolute rule by devising further strategies to ensure its longevity and thwart any attempts hostile to its imposed legitimacy. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Morocco does not need more security measures, but rather structural reforms of its political system starting from the very monarchical regime itself. As the journalist Aboubakr Jamai further notes, "To fight terrorism, Morocco needs more democracy, not less."[14]

The state terrorism of the Moroccan regime has been a policy pursued not only at home but also abroad. The expansionist ideology of the "Greater Morocco" (which allegedly includes Western Sahara, Mauritania, and parts of Algeria and Mali), was in effect the legitimate offspring of a regime in lack of solid and people-supported legitimacy. As a testament to the regimes insatiable expansionism, Morocco launched, in 1975, an illegal and brutal invasion of Western Sahara, which it continues to occupy in defiance of a ruling by the International Court of Justice and a series of UN resolutions. Having always entertained territorial claims to its neighbours as was the case with Mauritania and parts of Algeria (the sixties), and even Spain (the invasion of the islet of Perejil in July 2002, to say nothing of other Spanish territories), Morocco is the only country in the region that considers its borders open-ended. More seriously is the fact that the Moroccan homemade terrorism could still spill over and threaten the stability of the entire region[15].

It is indeed an irony that the Moroccan regime, which has been long associated with horrendous terrorist practices against its own people and neighbours, is seen now leaving no stone unturned to demonstrate its credentials for joining the international anti-terrorist campaign. What should be borne in mind, however, is that the Moroccan regime is joining the campaign not necessarily for the sake of any international peace and security (which the regime has violated repeatedly), but mainly for its own sake.

First of all, the regime has never been interested in establishing any basis for stability and security in the region let alone somewhere else; it is still occupying illegally Western Sahara and rejecting any peaceful solution to the conflict; furthermore, it continues entertaining expansionist claims to the territories of its neighbours. Secondly, since charity begins at home, the regime should first demonstrate its interest in dealing with the root causes of the terrorism emanating from the Kingdom itself, which is a direct consequence of its own terrorist practices. On the whole, what the regime is seeking, in fact, is to try to make the best use of the anti-terrorist card in order to buttress the shaky foundations of its rule, exactly as it did with the anti-Communist card during the Cold War era.

The fact remains however that all measures that the regime may choose to take in order to address the symptoms of its deep legitimacy crisis will all be of little avail. The reason is that it is the regimes inherent anti-democratic nature and state terrorist policies that are breeding all sorts of hopelessness and despair amid Moroccan population, especially the growing number of the have-nots of whom many would prefer to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean than live under this dictatorial regime.


This paper has sought to look into the nature of the regime in Morocco against the backdrop of the underlying idea of the proposed US "reform plan" is order to demonstrate that, before contemplating any reforms in the country, the US Administration will necessarily have to tackle the compelling fact that the monarchy existing in Morocco represents a regime that owes its longevity to absolute monarchical rule and state terrorism and that, as such, it is inherently averse to any tangible democratic reforms.

The analysis has also shown that, despite the fact that Morocco nominally possesses a constitution that provides for modern institutions such as the parliament and multiparty system, the country is still a feudal absolute monarchy underpinned by a complex set of myths, religious and psychological concepts, which partly explains its longevity and the "stability" of its rule. As a result, bearing in mind that the Moroccan society has persistently been socialised and coerced into accepting the monarchys absolute rule, it is unlikely that the country will experience any genuine democratic change, not least under the existing political structures that are being used for the sole purpose of perpetuating the monarchical system and thwarting the prospect of any real systemic change. This is indeed a crucial issue that the Moroccan people will have to tackle before hoping for any real change in their political situation.

It is against this backdrop that the US Administration must realise that, for its proposed "reform plan" to bring forth any tangible reforms in Morocco, it should be willing to press the authoritarian regime there to embrace genuine structural reforms and be accountable for the gross violations of human rights that it has perpetrated against its own people and others. In this sense, the regime should also be compelled to accept the holding of a referendum in Western Sahara as the only viable democratic means whereby the Saharawi people can exercise their internationally recognised right to self-determination.

After all, as a democratic nation, the USA will gain nothing from being associated with the Moroccan despotic regime, for its real interests lie in promoting democracy, freedom, human rights and economic development. As President Bush said, as part of the speech mentioned at the beginning of this paper, "American policy looked away while men and women were oppressed, their rights ignored and their hopes stifled. That era is over ..." [16] (emphasis added). The burden of proof clearly rests on the US Administration to demonstrate its steadfast support to all oppressed peoples and its zero tolerance towards all dictatorial regimes, such as the Moroccan one, because only then can one say that the era indicated by President Bush is really over.

[1] See Remarks by the President on Winston Churchill and the War on Terror, Library of Congress, located at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/02/20040204-4.html (retrieved 1st March 2004)

[2] Ibid.

[3] See the transcript of the speech delivered by US Secretary of State in Marrakech, Morocco, on 3rd December 2003 located at: http://rabat.usembassy.gov/U.S.Moroccan%20Relations/transcript_Powell_Says_U.S._Supports_Morocco's_Reforms.htm (retrieved 4th March 2004)

[4] See "RESULTATS DU REFERENDUM DU 13 SEPTEMBRE 1996", Moroccan Ministry of Communication, located at http://www.mincom.gov.ma/french/PRC/Resultat.html (retrieved 5th April 2004)

[5] Cited in Campbell "Morocco in Transition: Overcoming the Democratic and Human Rights Legacy of King Hassan II." African Studies Quarterly 7, no.1, located at: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v7/v7i1a4.htm (retrieved 2nd March 2004)

[6] Ibid

[7] Abderrahman Youssoufi quoted in Ignacio Ramonet "New Hope, old Frustrations: Morocco: The Point of Change", Translated by Harry Forster (Le Monde diplomatique) july 2000, located at:http://mondediplo.com/2000/07/01ramonet (retrieved 29th March 2004)

[8] See "Democracy and Human Rights", Embassy of the United States of America in Morocco, located at: http://rabat.usembassy.gov/Themes/CivilSociety/democracy_and_human_rights.htm (retrieved 9th March 2004)

[9] See Patricia Campbell "Morocco in Transition: Overcoming the Democratic and Human Rights Legacy of King Hassan II." African Studies Quarterly 7, no.1, located at: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v7/v7i1a4.htm (retrieved 2nd March 2004)

[10] See "Freedom in the World 2003: The Annual Survey of Political Rights & Civil Liberties", A Special Report to the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Geneva, 2003

[11] See "Human Development Reports: Morocco", located at http://www.undp.org/hdr2003/indicator/cty_f_MAR.html (retrieved 15th April 2004)

[12] See "What is rotten in the Kingdom of Morocco?" Afrol News, located at http://www.afrol.com/articles/10331 (retrieved 15th April 2004)

[13] See Aboubakr Jamai, "Morocco's Choice: Openness or Terror", The New York Times, located at: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/31/opinion/31JAMA.html?ex=1083211200&en=d5c750e641ee311b&ei=5070 (retrieved 7th March 2004).

[14] Ibid.

[15] The author would like to point out that this paper was already in the process of elaboration when the terrorist bombings took place in Madrid on 11th March, of which perpetrators were later identified to be mostly of Moroccan origin.

[16] See Remarks by the President on Winston Churchill and the War on Terror, Library of Congress, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/02/20040204-4.html (1st March 2004)

Other works cited

Bossuet, Jacques Bénigne, (1990) Politics drawn from the very words of Holy Scripture, translated and edited by Patrick Riley, Cambridge [England] ; New York: Cambridge University Press

Bukovansky, Mlada (2002) Legitimacy and Power Politics: The American and French Revolutions in International Political Culture, Princeton University Press

Hammoudi, Abdellah (1997) Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism, University of Chicago Press

Macionis, John (2001) Society: The Basics, Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall. 6th edition.

Maghraoui, Abdeslam, "Political Authority in Crisis: Mohammed VI's Morocco" (Middle East Report 218, Spring 2001), located at: http://www.merip.org/mer/mer218/218_maghraoui.html (retrieved 2nd March 2004)

Monod, Paul Kleber, (2001), the Power of Kings: Monarchy and Religion in Europe (1589 -1715), Yale University Press

Waltz, Susan (1995), Human Rights and Reform: Changing the Face of North African Politics. Berkeley, CA: University of California

Wesson, Robert (eds.) (1987), Democracy: A Worldwide Survey, New York: Praeger Publishers.

The Constitution of Morocco adopted on September 13th, 1996. (Moroccan Ministry of Communications homepage) http://www.mincom.gov.ma/english/generalities/state_st/constitution.htm (retrieved 22nd March 2004)

Morocco: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003, Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 25, 2004, located at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2003/27934.htm(retrieved 17th March 2004)

"Background Note: Morocco", US Department of State, located at: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5431pf.htm (retrieved 24th March 2004)

© Sidi M. Omar, 2004