Today, in Washington, DC there was a really interesting roundtable, “What’s Next for Morocco? Assessing opportunities and challenges after the elections.” The experts on the panel were academics, think tank leaders and former US diplomats. (Click here for a full description of the event, the participants and the video.)
I say “interesting” because the panel asked the question that no one outside Morocco seems to be asking …Ok, what’s next? There was constitutional reform, a referendum, parliamentary elections, the King has appointed a prime minister from the wining party and now the parties are in discussions to form a governing coalition. So, what’s the next Act in this centuries-old chef d’oeuvre?
Well, the panel seemed to conclude that the political parties now have a hefty task of stepping up to the plate to assume the representative leadership role that the Moroccan people placed upon them. (Dr. Anouar Boukhars used the phrase that the political parties, particularly the Islamist Party of Justice and Development who won the most seats “will have to meet the challenge of incumbency”, which I thought was SO on point.) So, what does this mean for the PJD and the governing coalition? (i.e. does the strong showing of Islamists in the elections means that Moroccans are tending towards a religious/conservative shift?) No. As the panel and several in the audience pointed out, Moroccans wanted a new face for their representatives who could address their socioeconomic needs and desire for a greater political voice…not to roll-back the social clock a few decades. After all, even the PJD was clear during its campaign that while Islam is a “reference” for their ideology, their platform lays out how they intend to provide Justice and Development through economic and democratic reforms…not a reform of Friday prayers.
Another interesting—almost dramatic—point during the roundtable was when a member of the audience challenged a notion that was repeatedly emphasized by both the panel and other members of the audience…Morocco’s reform process in the larger context of the ‘Arab Spring’. He asked, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Why do we keep referring to Morocco as part of the ‘Arab Spring’?! Morocco’s not Arab, Morocco’s not North African, Morocco is Morocco!! It’s just different!” (I could almost feel le sang of the Moroccans around me heat up when they were told they were not Arab.)
While I don’t agree with what he said, I understand his point because it’s clearly seen in the US and international media. No one is talking about Morocco because 1) the demonstrations and reform process have been largely peaceful and 2) people are not quite sure where Morocco fits. Morocco is so unique, politically (unlike other countries in the region, there was no regime change during the constitutional reform process), economically (an FTA with the US and a to-die-for trade status with the EU!), socially (many of its reforms, particular for women and minorities are unlike any other Muslim/Arab country) and ethnically (I do agree with the “passionate” audience member who did emphasize the deep Amazigh, “Berber”, roots of so many Moroccans). BUT, to say that Morocco is SO unlike its neighbors that it’s uniqueness makes it immune to the unrest and dramatic change happening in the region is just, well, naïve. AND, to say that Morocco is such an outlier that its experience can’t be an example in the region is a waste of a perfectly good…example in the region.
One thing that that everyone seemed to conclude at the roundtable was that, while there may be some difficult scenes ahead, there’s little chance that the array of political actors in Morocco will be exiting stage left anytime soon.