With riots and demonstrations still unfolding in some countries in the arab world , it appears that the Arab Spring has morphed into Grim Winter. Thousand Syrians have been killed by an Assad regime willing to apply murderous policies against dissidents. Even the post-conflict situation in Libya – heralded as the emergence of an open government – remains uncertain.
How these roiling conditions in the Middle East return to a form of equilibrium is unknown. But one nation in the region anticipating the percolation of discontent, has attempted to charge in front of reform. On July 1 2011 Morocco voted for constitutional change proposed by its King Mohammed VI. These amendments guarantee the full equality of women and the rights of minorities, including Jews. Moreover, these reforms criminalized torture, established the independence of the judiciary and invested executive authority in the head of a party that wins the most seats in parliament.
By any Arab standard this is remarkable even if these reforms are not widely recognized. For some, these reforms violate sharia; for others, they invite liberal and, consequently unwelcome, developments. But the King recognizes the need to distribute authority, notwithstanding the fact he remains in charge of the religious establishment and military affairs.
The State Department officials have recognized in many occasions the importance of those reforms and the recent statement made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton qualifying Morocco as a model in the Arab world. The November 25 2011 legislative elections in which opposition parties participated prompted formal affirmation from the Obama administration. Europeans have been enthusiastic about developments in Morocco which they see as momentum for a genuine democracy.
What the elections augur for the future may be unclear. What is not unclear is that Morocco has set its sights on being a model for regional reform different from Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya. Until these unprecedented Moroccan reforms, the only political model in the region was represented by Tehran and its theological despotism.
Now, arguably for the first time in decades, there is an alternative to ideological repression in the Arab community. Morocco is not yet an exemplar of Jeffersonian liberalism, but it is on a path paved with democratic principles. Making the Berber language an official language of the nation along with Arabic is a symbolic gesture of extraordinary magnitude. It is recognition of universally agreed upon rights, including most significantly the rights of minorities.
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 other Arab states?
There remain many unanswered questions, but on one matter there is not an open question: The reforms initiated by King Mohammed should be greeted with gratitude and respect. At long last there is another model for the Arab future, one that Americans and Europeans should embrace wholeheartedly. It is true that there are still challenges ahead of the democracy path n Morocco but the most important is that Moroccans (civil society, political parties and most important youth) have made their irreversible choice to continue their peaceful struggle towards full democracy. Democracy, therefore in this part of the Arab region, is no more a myth. It is a reality.