King Mohammed VI is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and his family has ruled Morocco for close to 400 years. He is also constitutionally the Amir al Mu’minin, or Commander of the Faithful thereby combining religious and political authority. King Mohammed VI is lauded for his domestic reform policies and pioneering efforts in modernizing Morocco and countering terrorism. He tackles issues of poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion at home, and has improved foreign relations. King Mohammed VI is an influential leader for his control of the network of Muslims following the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, and as a leading monarch in Africa.
In Morocco, the monarchic regime had a strong legitimacy. Deeply rooted in the “Commander of the Faithful” status of the king, this legitimacy had been consolidated by the role played by the monarchy, first, in the fight for independence, and then in the semi-democratic system established after independence.
This semi-democratic system, then subsequently underwent substantial improvements beginning from the early 1990s, when the late Hassan II called for an “alternate government” to be formed by the opposition parties. The pace of these improvements accelerated with the advent of the Mohammad VI, who in particular encouraged the national reconciliation process which called for a radical reform of the judiciary, launched the “regionalization” process, and last, but not least, installed the “Economic, Social and Environmental Council” as a permanent frame for social dialogue and discourse.
All these improvements needed was to culminate in a profound reform of the constitution. It is the merit of the 20th of February movement, which finally precipitated and accelerated this reform process. Morocco has now certainly one of the most advanced constitution in the Arab world.
It clearly reflects the diversity of Moroccan society and culture, including recognition of ethnic Berbers and making their language with Arabic official state language. It explicitly mentions all universally agreed upon human rights. It particularly insists on women’s rights. It establishes a clear separation of powers.
But a constitution is merely still just a text when it is written. It needs to be enacted in the field. And this is where the role of political parties come in. It is in the end their responsibility to mobilize the people and to expand their participation.
In the final analysis, the reforms now extant in Morocco were just a beginning and it will take dedication, hard work, and greater involvement on the part of the parties and the country’s citizens, including 13-15 million young adults, before real democratization can be realized.
But a constitution and an election, while essential building blocks for democracy, are not in themselves dispositive.
What counts is where the leaders want to take this North African nation. Will it move inexorably to democracy? Or will it backslide with pressure from Islamist movements? That was the great irony of the Arab Spring. Its tragedy is that the Islamists, for whom Western-style elections are stepping stones to the eventual imposition of Islamic law, knew how to manipulate the democratic process far better than did their liberal rivals.
Setting up constitutional monarchy, Morocco has initiated a new governing style , that other Arab leaders could possibly follow suit and introduce key amendments to their respective constitutions that will guarantee real democracy, rule of law and freedom of expression. If these constitutional amendments have succeeded in countries like Morocco or Jordan for sure they can witness same success in other Arab monarchies.
The transformation of Arab monarchies into constitutional systems is a matter of when rather than if. The alternative may be less appealing to those in power today. Millions of young Arabs erupted on street calling for sweeping reforms. Some had to pay with their lives (or still are as is the case with the Syrians) others marched and demonstrated peacefully and luckily they had reform minded leaders in front of them. They answered quickly their demands and even went further of their people’s expectations.
Without urgent non-cosmetic reform the Arab monarchies will simply be kicking the reform ball forward. Modern Arab history has taught us of the ramifications of perpetual reform delays on monarchies. One year after King Mohammed bald decision to introduce key amendments to Morocco’ constitution, the Arab monarchies are in urgent need of such visionary leadership.
The 400 year-old Alaoutie dynasty traces its lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. It sees itself as a continuation of the Andalusian Golden Age of Islam, which was characterised by peaceful co-existence and intellectual and cultural exchange and development. King Mohammed VI exercises vast amounts of power and influence over Muslims in Morocco, throughout Africa, and the rest of the world. He leads one of the most stable constitutional monarchies in the region, which is also the center of a moderate, flourishing Muslim culture.