Amine Chigani, PhD
In light of the so-called “Arab Spring,” the world has witnessed the toppling of two repressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and revolutions spreading throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) threatening the economic, social, and political stability of the entire region. Morocco is consequently experiencing, in its own way, a similar awakening for a better and a more democratic country. In view of these developments, Moroccans find themselves today at a crossroad manifested in a proposed “new” constitution touted as a “defining historical transformation in the path of building a state of law and democratic institutions.”
Only hours after the king’s speech of June 17 of 2011, the opinion market was flooded by reactions that filled both ends of the spectrum. The Moroccan diaspora in the U.S. expressed strongly its opinions about the speech as soon as it ended. To my surprise, many of these opinions went one way or the other with very few in the middle. Some hailed the speech as a historical moment and said they would vote “Yes” for the constitution. Some drew a bleak picture and said they would vote “No” or even boycott the referendum altogether. I find odd the swiftness by which these conclusions were reached, many times before the proposed document was read. Nonetheless, one has to respect others’ conclusions, and hope they will be expressed on the day of the referendum.
The intension is to bring reasoning to the collective brainstorming that Moroccans are going through in their quest for better Morocco. Additionally, this perspective will hopefully serves as a model for Moroccans to do what is required of them as citizens. In this sense, I am motivated by the king’s description of himself as “the king, the citizen.” I am also inspired by the structure of the speech that started first by providing an assessment of the worthiness of the proposed changes and then a decision to vote “Yes.” I view the king’s call for Moroccans to vote “Yes” not as a decree but rather an invitation to critically assess this document in light of their own political and philosophical orientation as well as the reality around (the same way the king did) before they decide.
Complex situations are often hard to grasp at once. Therefore, the key to this complexity is modularization (i.e., divide to conquer.) Between the speech, the current and new constitutions, and the chatter surrounding them, two things are to bear in mind. The bigger picture Moroccans should draw for themselves is where Morocco is now (politically, socially, economically, geographically, and historically) to have a factual understanding of the criticality of the current situation. In this context, the new constitution should be read with a focus on where it puts us in comparison not only to advanced democracies but also to the fundamentals that make Morocco the country it is now. Only through this understanding can we pragmatically achieve an objective assessment of its content.
While the details of the new constitution should be entirely a fair playing field for discussion, opponents of a particular article or set of articles must remember that a constitution is an architectural construct that can only be sound if its parts continue to fit together after an alteration or amendment. Therefore, when changes or amendments are to be argued for and against, careful consideration should be given to the soundness of the entire document with respect to reality on the ground. Moreover, details remain as such – details – in contrast with the bigger picture. Thus, once the context (i.e., bigger picture) is understood, the reading of the details will take on a meaning that is more grounded in reality. Of course, one should go through this exercise to develop his or her own mind about the constitution, not to do it as an afterthought.
Personally, I read the proposed constitution (as I read a couple of others) and what I see is that it actually contains more than enough to implement a true Moroccan democracy and a true state of law. I say this from the belief that constitutions are only as good as the reality of their implementations. If there is an honest will for democracy, Moroccans can build a true one just based on the first 10 articles of the proposed constitution. With that said, I understand that things are not as simple as I describe. However, the point I want to make is that constitutions, although essential, are not a goal in and of themselves.
Here, I should remind the reader that I am addressing mainly Moroccans who have opposition to parts of the constitution not the entire document or the process by which it came to life. For the latter, I inform them that the new constitution affords them, especially, the absolute right to express their opposition (Article 25). Thus, I encourage them to do so in the spirit of freedom of choice and acceptance of the will of the majority, which will be expressed on July 1 of 2011. Similarly, I urge those who believe strongly about the value the new constitution will add to Morocco’s quest for a true democracy to uphold its articles by refraining themselves and others from repressing the rights of others who think otherwise. The expectation from now on should be that there would always be opposition to any majority, and that opposition is to be respected.
Many opponents of the new constitution focus on the powers that remain in the hand of the king. They argue for a “parliamentary” monarchy where the king rules but does not govern, and they give as examples Spain, Britain, and other countries. An obvious reaction should be that Morocco is neither Spain nor Britain. Morocco is a country that is shaped by 1,200 years of history that it cannot divorce so that it can look like Spain or Britain. Morocco’s kings are called “leaders of the faithful,” a title given only to people trustworthy to govern. The keyword is trust. It is the most important criterion Moroccans should keep in mind when assessing the structure, separation, and balance of powers that the new constitution proposes. If we are objective, we should not be afraid of a king who proactively proposes changes to the constitution with input from the majority of the political, social, and human right players in Morocco relinquishing several of his powers. Moroccans should instead assess the new constitution based on how it curtails the loopholes through which corruption and oppression come in from other players in the political and economic scenes. As the last 12 years show, the king is the least to be concerned about abusing his powers.
Morocco, unfortunately, has always had a constitution more advanced than the reality on the ground. The new constitution is certainly one that is a major shift towards advanced democracies, and I am not comparing our constitution to those of neighboring countries. In my opinion, discussions should focus more on the next critical challenge, which is “will Moroccans continue to exercise their civic responsibilities with the same intensity as today to ensure that mistakes of the past 12 years are not repeated, and that never again will they let corruption-moguls come between them and their king?” When we look at the past 5 months, we see that Moroccans have shown a lot of civility in expressing their aspirations. Likewise, the king, by all accounts, has responded in a manner that demands a lot of respect for his leadership in this difficult time. The obvious conclusion is that there is definitely a goodwill – a critical element that was absent from what we have witnessed in other places. Moreover, I believe that the new constitution provides the tools to capitalize on this goodwill to rid our governing class from corruption, especially through the constitutionalization of the Counsel of Accountability, which will be tied to all form of public service and management of taxpayer Dirhams.
As an active observer of the situation in the MENA region, Morocco had three alternatives to deal with the “Arab Spring.” Chaos (Libya) and political instability (Tunisia) were two options that it could have certainly emulated. However, it has chosen a third course. Morocco, instead, embraced this critical moment of history in its own way, because again Morocco is not Libya nor is it Tunisia. That is a fact to be proud of and value, and to attribute to the special relationship Moroccans have with their king, and vice versa. As such, Moroccans should aspire to build their history with their signature on it. I believe we have already begun to do that by the way Moroccans have demonstrated, and by the way the Moroccan state has generally responded, and most importantly by the approach the king has adopted to lead the country through these historical times.
Can the new constitution be better? Of course, but wasn’t that the case for all drafts of existing constitutions of advanced democracies? This document is the result of its own time and context, and we cannot divorce the two. Therefore, an article-to-article comparison with other constitutions is for one unmerited and two is undesirable. I emphasize the fact that we can only construct a constitution that represents Morocco and its own situation.
The main question is how to read this constitution in light of what I have presented thus far. Well, I read the constitution and based on what I envision for my beloved country, I see in it respect of the Moroccan identity, values, and history. I see in it openness and acceptance of the positives of modernity. I see in it a balance of powers that allows Moroccans to know exactly who they will hold responsible when they see their country lagging behind its counterparts. I see in it enough to build a democracy in our own way. And most importantly, I see in the context and time in which it was created, a clear goodwill that Morocco is about to embark on a new chapter of its history. That is enough for me to vote “Yes” now. However, although I understand that goodwill is not enough, I also understand that standing in the way of progress without a practical and pragmatic alternative is not an option either. Therefore, my reservations are irrelevant until Morocco crosses the critical juncture of July 1. That is my answer to the June 17 speech.
In this spirit, I encourage my fellow Moroccans to conscientiously read the new constitution, take their time to think and consult with peers (two weeks are enough), and then vote their own mind: That is the main inspiration of the speech and the humble goal of this article. Engaging in this exercise is only a first step towards what is shaped to be an example for the entire region: A genuine (not perfect) form of democracy that bridges between universality and locality, born from a goodwill between the people and their king.