When the popular movements in the Arab world began, starting in Tunisia, Arab regimes adopted various approaches in dealing with them. Whilst most regimes resorted to confrontational methods to tackle the popular movements, three Arab regimes adopted a different approach which involved addressing the demands that were being made, working with them and responding to any demand that could be achieved.
The first of these regimes was the Sultanate of Oman. It was forced to deal with demonstrations in which people demanded an end to corruption and a solution to the problem of unemployment. The authorities quickly took the initiative to dismiss any person whose name was mentioned repeatedly during the demonstrations, or in the factual findings. The Sultanate then rushed to take practical measures to overcome the problem of unemployment. Furthermore, it scrutinized the demands made by the people and took measures towards meeting them. The result was that the authorities were able to overcome the crisis whilst it was still in its infancy.
The second regime was that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which anticipated that a popular movement might take place within the country. As a result, King Abdullah issued a series of royal decrees, allocated large sums of money to contribute to the daily budgets of poor families, and took practical decisions to incorporate a significant sector of the unemployed into some ministries. Permanent institutions have also been established to deal with corruption, housing, and services such as electricity and water etc. Consequently, the initiative was able to forestall any anger that may have arisen, and block the path for any external exploitation of internal Saudi problems.
The third regime was the Kingdom of Morocco, which followed its own approach and confronted the root cause of the problem that the country has been facing for many years, which is related to the constitution, democracy, fighting corruption, and the country’s identity, in light of two issues: the Sahara and the Imazighen. In addition, Morocco called discussions regarding the nature of rule i.e. the roles of the monarchy, the prime minister, the parliament and political parties, all of which are based on the “parliamentary monarchy” and a commitment to regional government, otherwise known as decentralization.
The Moroccan inclination was personally initiated by King Mohammed VI, in a speech he delivered to the Moroccan people on the 9th of March 2011, after a few heated demonstrations which began on the 20th February, 2011. In his speech, the King called for constitutional reform and for popular participation by individuals, parties and trade unions, to discuss all issues. Morocco is now witnessing a lively debate with collective participation, and this has rarely happened in Morocco or in any other Arab country before.
In his speech, King Mohammed VI called for a revision of the constitution, commitment to regional authorities and regionalization, and for this to be part of the constitution, and for this to happen particularly in the Saharan regions. He called for empowering the heads of regional councils to implement council decisions, instead of governors and Walihs.
The king also spoke about fixed values, namely Islam as the state religion, the concept of ‘Commander of the Faithful’, the authority of the monarchy, national and territorial unity, and democratic choice.
The king also called for comprehensive constitutional amendments relating to numerous key issues, most notably pertaining to the Amizigh language and identity. This is an issue that has been discussed at great length in the past, and has been a source of strong and heated debate between two sides that once seemed irreconcilable.
Numerous Moroccan parties have taken the initiative to discuss the King’s speech and to put forward their own suggestions in response to it, to the extent that one can say that Morocco is experiencing a state of comprehensive political dialogue and is surrounded by political, cultural and popular interest.
In the midst of this debate, an address entitled the ‘Democratic Statement’ was issued by a group of high-ranking figures including intellectuals, writers, economists, university professors, party leaders and former ministers. The statement was distinguished by the depth and clarity of its visions, and the meticulous way in which it dealt with sensitive issues such as the Amazigh language and state religion. The statement was published on the 6th of June 2011, in newspapers that are of importance to intellectual and political forces. It received a mixed response; some positive reactions as well as critical and angry responses, all of which embody the nature of political life in Morocco. The statement itself asserted that it is putting forward “supplementary and explanatory proposals only”, away from the political statements of the past that were issued vehemently in support or against a certain issue.
The ‘Democratic Statement’ focused on safeguarding the principles of citizenship, civilian authority, popular legitimacy and the distribution and separation of powers in order to ensure accountability and ensure the independence of the judiciary. On state and religion the statement read: “Islam is the religion of the society and people of Morocco, and the constitution guarantees freedom for citizens to practice their religious rites, just as it guarantees the right to religious Ijtihad [reasoning] and guarantees the religious rights of non-Muslims.” The statement added, “religious arbitral authority is vested in the King in his capacity as Commander of the Faithful.”
The ‘Democratic Statement’ took a firm position regarding the most controversial issues in Morocco, such as language and citizenship. It said, ‘Firstly, the constitutional clause regarding the official language differs from one state system to another, depending on the structure of the state, the society and the regime.’ ‘Secondly, in the centralized state or federation where there is a united nation, the clause focuses on one collective national language, just as in France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Russia and China.’ ‘Thirdly, in the country where there is a confederation or a provincial system, as in Switzerland, Belgium and Canada, the clause pertains to more than one official language.’ ‘Fourthly, any constitutional clause should note the following fact: Morocco is a country that is part of the greater Arab nation and it strives for its own unity and the unity of the Maghreb. Moroccan and Amizighi and Hassaniya [language of the Sahara] languages make up its national languages, and Arabic is the official language.’
Other important issues were also raised in the ‘Democratic Statement’, but this point in particular evoked a negative reaction to the extent that it was said in another statement that “the Amazigh Movement rejects the content of the statement made by those who seek to deny the Moroccan people the right to its Amazigh identity. We will confront, with all our power, all those who want to stand in the way of our legitimate rights.”
This dialogue – from the demonstrations and the King’s speech which welcomed new constitutional amendments, to the ‘Democratic Statement’ and the angry response to it – represents the Moroccan contribution to the popular Arab movement, which has travelled in various directions. In Morocco however it has headed towards renewal, consolidation and an open and strong dialogue.
The Moroccan dialogue involves the monarchy, the people and the intellectual elite, to the extent that one can say that Morocco is holding a deep debate with itself in order to push its historical experience forward.