By Siham Ali
As a wave of protests is sweeping North Africa, many Moroccans wonder if similar events will occur in the Kingdom.
The apprehension is palpable. A youth movement, “Liberty and Democracy Now”, used Facebook to send out calls for peaceful demonstrations across the country on February 20th.
It is time for an independent commission to carry out a comprehensive reform of the constitution, according to their statement. The group members also called for the dissolution of Parliament, creation of a transitional government until a new constitution is drafted and the release of political prisoners.
The demands also include socio-economic rights, such as the creation of an unemployment compensation fund.
The public is divided between those who want to bring about change to the political system through peaceful means and those who fear the repercussions of such actions.
“We have the freedom to demonstrate and multi-party democracy,” said student Fouad Zouahiri. “Of course, not everything is perfect. We need to open up a national dialogue to get over the obstacles.”
The political system in the Kingdom is more open that those in Tunisia and Egypt, Zouhairi argued.
“The government doesn’t really govern; Parliament doesn’t really exercise its powers,” countered Selham B. “We need a new regime with proper institutions. Constitutional reform is a necessity. First of all, we need to look again at the power exercised by the King.”
According to sociologist Ali Chaâbi, Morocco is unlikely to experience events akin to the Algeria unrest or the Tunisian revolution.
“Young Moroccans do not currently have a strong political conscience, like in Tunisia, nor a particularly strong attachment to the country,” he told Magharebia. “Those many people who want to immigrate are not prepared to make concessions to have the situation change.”
Among policy-makers, the reaction is positive. According to Communication Minister Khalid Naciri, the government views calls for protests calmly.
“Morocco is a country which has long been engaged in an irreversible process of democracy and opening up personal freedoms. If people want to express themselves freely, we have no problem with it, as long as it is done with full respect for the supreme and vital interests and established values of our country. We have no reason to think it could be any other way,” he said.
“We’re used to expressing ourselves and demonstrating. We have taken huge strides in the democratic process,” Justice and Development Party (PJD) member Lahcen Daoudi concurred.
Meanwhile, the MP admitted that “there’s a feeling of compassion for Tunisia and Egypt which could exaggerate some Moroccan people’s awareness of the problems they face”.
“We have to avoid the impression that Morocco is not moving or is slipping backwards, because that’s not the case,” he told Magharebia, all the while calling for accelerating reforms.
For her part, Popular Movement MP Fatima Moustaghfir said that there is a need to remain vigilant, because the contagion effect might spread, particularly in this era of Facebook communication. While admitting that Morocco faces problems as a developing country, she claimed that the Kingdom has enjoyed a great deal of freedom of expression in recent years, which sets it apart from other Arab states.