Mohammed VI: Dissecting the Hypocrisy of a Self-Proclaimed Progressive
When King Hassan II died in July 1999, the Moroccan people rejoiced. After nearly four decades of despotic rule—often referred to as the “Years of Lead”—Moroccans hoped that Mohammed VI, the crown prince turned king, would disavow his father’s intolerance of political dissidence, proclivity for violence, and tendency to make his subjects, state officials and common protesters alike, disappear without warning.
In the immediate aftermath of his coronation, 36-year-old Mohammed took to television to assuage his citizens’ concerns. At the turn of the millennium, it seemed as if the introduction of a perpetual bachelor who the New York Times called “a playboy...[with] a fondness for fast cars and nightclubs” would offer a welcome change to Hassan’s exceedingly conservative reign, and Mohammed’s preliminary televised speech, which emphasized human rights, economic development, and anti-corruption oversight, gave Moroccans grounds for optimism.
However, lost in the excitement of coronations and fresh blood, domestic and foreign pundits forgot an essential truth of governance: a monarch can modernize and invest in public goods, but to preserve his power and prevent democratization, he must suppress “strategic coordination” by challenger groups. A broad diffusion of power would reduce him to a ceremonial ruler in a constitutional monarchy.
To his credit, Mohammed has, on occasion, exhibited a willingness to reject convention in the interest of social reform.
Despite facing heavy criticism from conservative Muslim authorities, Mohammed issued a 2003 decree that rewrote the Mudawana—a Maliki-based “family code” intended to incubate common Islamic values in postcolonial Morocco—by raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18, establishing a shared, non-gendered approach to domestic duties, and affording women additional agency in choosing spouses (and in divorce), in addition to numerous other progressive provisions. Shortly after, in 2004, Mohammed also established the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, which aimed to atone for his father’s innumerable humanitarian infractions.
Yet, in light of developments throughout the early 2000s, Mohammad's advocacy of “progressive Islam” (in 2017, he pushed for legislation that banned the burqa) and efforts to democratize have proved largely superficial. While Mohammed has expertly constructed a mythos of monarchical benevolence that domestic and foreign presses have happily espoused, the reality on the ground is markedly more cynical—and for good reason.
Morocco's financial interests, for better or worse, mirror those of the king. Contrary to Mohammad’s claims, “almost all sectors [of Morocco’s government] suffer from rampant corruption,” and pervasive patronage, nepotism, and bloated bureaucracy have diminished Morocco’s ability to procure foreign investment and to promote economic development, according to a report by the GAN Business Anti-Corruption Portal. Furthermore, the term wasta, “the use of connections,” is common in Morocco’s business and political parlance and is indicative of the country’s longstanding deference to its feudal, centralized elite, which has maintained a tit-for-tat relationship with the Alaouite dynasty for centuries.
In 2011, as widespread protests disrupted MENA regional order and, in some cases, deposed despotic regimes, Moroccan citizens took to the streets during the 20 February Movement and demanded restrictions on Mohammed’s monarchical power. In, Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, Tangier, and other urban metropolises, police clashed with peaceful protesters for months before Mohammed finally ceded to the former's demands (or so it seemed).
A commission formed in March produced a series of reforms that were ultimately ratified during the July 1 National Referendum. Key changes included:
Berber becoming an official state language (along with Arabic)
New constitutional rhetoric that retracted Mohammed’s “sacred” authority to rule (although he still remained Morocco’s head of Islamic faith); instead, the new legal language contended that “the integrity of the person of the king should not be violated”
Expanded authority of the prime minister, who must be chosen from the party with the most parliamentary seats
A dedication to a better separation of political branches, which include the judiciary and the office of the prime minister
Freedom of thought, ideas, artistic expression, and creation
One must note, however, that Mohammed retains absolute control over the military, can dismiss prime ministers at will, and possesses the final say in matters pertaining to religion and foreign affairs. Thus far in 2017, six years removed from the 2011 protests, the king has successfully suppressed political opposition in parliament, which signals that, for the foreseeable future, Morocco will continue to resemble a predatory autocracy instead of a liberal constitutional monarchy as protesters once hoped.
In 2014, Wikileaks implicated Mohammed’s holding company in a corruption scandal, and as recently as this year, Human Rights Watch condemned the state’s excessive police brutality, discouragement of public protests, and blatant humanitarian transgressions in the Western Sahara.
Sadly, the king’s unwillingness to acquiesce to meaningful democratic processes should come as no surprise, and moving forward, Mohammed will attempt to negotiate the delicate dance of autocratic survival: making perfunctory promises of reform in moments of political unrest before responding in turn with pragmatic, unscrupulous policies to consolidate monarchical power.