Contrary to what former protests across the Middle East and North Africa might imply, Morocco and Jordan monarchs still enjoy an extraordinary degree of legitimacy in the eyes of their people. Undoubtedly both Moroccans and Jordanians want to see changes within their ruling governments, not complete regime change. This in turn affords those rulers an opportunity to embark on a path of far-reaching political reform without losing their thrones—all the while gaining acclaim at home and abroad.
King Mohammed and King Abdullah have taken serious steps to appease their citizens and introduced wide reforms that give their people a voice in governance. Political measures have been qualified by foreign media as ostensibly bold in both countries. With a few partial exceptions, where the Moroccan monarch has moved his country toward the representative governments that protesters have demanded.
Since their ascension to their thrones, King Mohammed and King Abdullah have set up a model of a new Arab monarch. Their messages were clear and that it is less dangerous for the monarchs to act now and introduce serious political and economic reforms than to wait until the demands are overwhelming and could indeed spiral into an uncontrolled process of change. Their legitimacy would have been at stake and they would have likely faced more severe challenges if they did not act soon.
The need to adapt to a changing environment is now more necessary than ever. The 2011 popular Arab uprisings that spread throughout the region have affected every single country in the region, if not in the short term then several years down the line. For instance, citizens of nominal republics such as Sudan will not continue to tolerate their dictators while they witness history being made by their Egyptian neighbors. The eight Arab monarchies, even those who have scored highly on human development reports will similarly have to face new realities that are taking shape both within their borders and in the region.
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.
In Morocco, King Mohammed VI’s promised reforms that included allowing prime ministers (or rather the President of the government) to dissolve the parliament and chose their own cabinet – These are giant steps when compared to the modest political reforms of his peers in the Gulf who sometimes failed to put an end to protests. Jordan’s King Abdullah has had to replace the Prime Minister again in answer to ongoing protests calling for quick reforms. At a recent interview, Abdullah estimated that it would take two to three years until voters can elect their prime minister. If so, it would be a first for an Arab monarchy.
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.