ISSN 2330-717X

Moroccan Southern Provinces: Time For Advanced Regionalization – OpEd

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After the historic Royal speech of March 9, 2011, Morocco has now reached the ground floor in the second phase of the process of establishing an advanced regionalization system. The first phase started with the announcement of His Majesty the King, on July 30, 2010, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his reign, the establishment of a Consultative Commission tasked with this issue.

To King Mohammed VI, this is not a “mere technical or administrative management,” but rather “a resolute option for the renovation and modernization of state structures, and the consolidation of the integrated development.” It does not reduce “to a simple redistribution of powers between the center and the regions.” Similarly, this regionalization “is a major turning point in the forms of territorial governance” and that, as a prelude to a “new dynamic radical institutional reform,” said the King.

The proposed regionalization in Morocco, is a revolution compared to all previous conceptions of decentralization. This is a new architecture that breaks with the past, both in its conception, its goals, expectations, as its objectives. This is one step in a continuing process of democratization of the political and social life.

The logic of this approach can be explained by the choice of the path of regionalization for many years, for territorial entrench democracy in Morocco and to avoid also the creation of a large disparity between the all regions of the Kingdom, including the Southern Provinces.

On the democratic essence, this regionalization goal will strengthen the role of the region in Morocco, which implies major changes in the distribution of powers between central and local actors. It is the transfer of powers from the center to the periphery and will multiply decision centers and bring them closer to people. In this sense, the principles of decision-making autonomy and financial autonomy will be an important step forward in the path of consecration effective powers in the region.

Moreover, regarding the Sahara issue, regionalization is also the Moroccan perception of a solution to the dispute. Indeed, the advanced regionalization in Morocco provided in the constitutional reform is a “transitional stage” to the Sahara autonomy. Implementation of advanced regionalization in Morocco is the complement of the Moroccan offer combined dynamic and sustainable Sahara conflict.

To achieve the goals of regionalization, the plan to extend the powers of the presidents of regional councils will have executive powers. They will no longer depend on governors and walis. They will be awarded the total management of budgets and municipal assemblies will be accountable to the people and the law. In this vein, the constitutional recognition of the autonomy of management and administrative autonomy, contribute to enshrine the principle of separation of powers and their distribution between the central and local governments.

This regionalization project relates in particular to the southern provinces of the Kingdom that will benefit from rights and privileges in the context of “good governance for equitable redistribution, not only functions, but also the means between the center and regions. “

The solution that Morocco now proposes—autonomy within Morocco—is not a device to circumvent the UN-sponsored resolution; it is, in my opinion, merely the modern version of the old bay’a principle that bonded the Sahrawis with the rest of the country. Because the sultan and his army couldn’t be everywhere at once, substantial autonomy was the de facto solution to government in pre-colonial times. As long as people paid taxes and recognized the sultan in their prayers, they were left to manage their affairs as they saw fit.

History has recorded many instances in which French and Spanish colonial administrators attest to Morocco’s right to lands that have since been expropriated. After independence, Morocco ceded most of them, including Tindouf (which has, ironically, become the headquarters of the Polisario movement), to Algeria. Yet that was not enough for Morocco’s detractors. They want more. Spain even invaded a rock in the Mediterranean in 2002 to prove the point.

Few countries can match Morocco’s record in seeking a peaceful solution to a problem that should not have existed in the first place. But the Sahara is simply hard to give up. The Sahrawis, like the Amazighs, or Arabs, are part of a mosaic of cultures and traditions that have always been united under the leadership and prestige of the sultan. Morocco has been a multicultural society from its very inception, but it has never surrendered to colonialism, whether it appeared in the form of a gun or wrapped itself in legal language designed to deceive and erase historical realities. For history is, above all, memory, and the memory of Moroccans is stronger than a few lines drawn in the sand by pumped up colonialists.

To insist that the Sahara is Moroccan is, contrary to many so-called liberal and leftist claims, to correct an historical injustice and roll back the legacy of colonialism. Self-determination is a beautiful US-inspired concept whose goal was to give a voice to non-Western people slaving under European colonialism; it wasn’t meant to liberate such countries into fragmented, mutilated entities. To do so would be to add more trouble to a region that needs peace and development.

The Southern provinces development model, prepared in October 2013, represents a framework that will enable the further promotion of development and investment efforts in the region, by adopting a vision of more participatory and inclusive initiatives based on responsible governance.

Morocco has expressed its willingness to reach a solution that preserves its sovereignty and the unity of its national territories, while respecting the cultural specificity and allow the residents of the Sahara the control over the management of their developmental, economic, political, social and cultural affairs, within the national fabric, which makes it interact positively with the first “James Baker” project.

Morocco then proposed the Expanded Autonomy Initiative in April 2007, to grant the southern provinces of the Kingdom their autonomy as a political solution to the conflict, leading to the granting of the Sahara inhabitants wider powers in the management of their affairs, within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty; a stand confirmed by the Security Council’s recent decision which considered Morocco’s proposal serious and credible.

Furthermore, on April 21, 2008, after a series of direct negotiations rounds, between 2007 and 2008, the former envoy of Secretary-General of the United Nations, Peter van Walsum, stated before the Security Council, that “the independence of Western Sahara is not a realistic option”, calling on the 15 member states in the Council to recommend the continuation of the negotiations, taking into account, both the political reality and international legality.

The high turnout recorded in the Sahara provinces in the recent September local and regional elections translates the attachment of these provinces inhabitants to their country and makes of the officials they elected their true representatives. The remarks were made by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI while he was chairing over the opening of the fall parliamentary session.

“I was indeed proud to note that, in the last elections, there was a high voter turnout in our Southern provinces,” said the King who deemed this high turnout as a “further democratic proof that the sons and daughters of the Sahara are deeply committed to their country’s territorial integrity and political system, and that they are keen to be effectively involved in the nation’s institutions.”

King Mohammed VI own words hint at the scope and the importance he gives to this great project. Moroccans now from Tangier to Lagwira, are looking forward to the upcoming royal speech that the King is expected to deliver in Laayoune on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the historic Green March that helped the country peacefully retrieve its southern provinces from Spain under the Madrid accords signed in 1975 by Morocco, Spain and Mauritania.

Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani is a Moroccan political observer and consultant, who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a member of Washington Press Club.

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