Foreign Policy Blogs

Ahead of the Arab Spring ‘Curve’ in Morocco

Ahead of the Arab Spring 'Curve' in MoroccoMorocco is often left out of the Arab Spring discussion by policymakers and the media, largely because the demonstrations in Morocco took place peacefully, there was no regime change and the reform process proceeded relatively swiftly and transparently. It is also due to the fact that Morocco wasn’t caught blind-sided by the push for change; rather Moroccans seized the Arab Spring opportunity to speed up reforms and initiatives already in the works. Morocco’s King, its political leaders and civil society realized before the wave of protests across the region that democratic progress and openness is inextricably linked with socio-economic development and empowerment—the root aspiration of Arab Spring demonstrators and activists.

In fact, months before the Arab Spring began, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI stressed that economic empowerment for the young people across the region must be a priority—one that shouldn’t be frustrated by the Western Sahara conflict that’s festered since before they were born. In a 2010 speech, he said,

“Our goal is to fulfill the aspirations of young generations who want to see the energies of the Moroccan and the Algerian peoples devoted to tackling the true challenges of development and complementarity, instead of being wasted on the complexities of a dispute from a long-gone era.

This past week, Congress agreed that empowering youth by promoting regional prosperity and resolving the Cold War-era quarrel is the best response to the Arab Spring. In Congress’ report language for the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act (Omnibus) (click here for the report language  and here for the Act), which was signed on Friday by President Obama and funds many federal agencies including the State Department, a provision was included that urged “the Department of State to prioritize a negotiated settlement” to the Western Sahara conflict. The settlement called for by longstanding US policy for resolving the Western Sahara conflict—supported and reiterated by Congress and the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations— is a solution negotiated between Morocco and the Polisario Front based on autonomy for the disputed territory under Moroccan sovereignty. In 2009, Secretary Clinton reaffirmed that US support for a solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty “originated in the Clinton Administration. It was reaffirmed in the Bush Administration and it remains the policy of the United States in the Obama Administration. […] And I don’t want anyone in the region or elsewhere to have any doubt about our policy, which remains the same.”  Earlier this year, she called Morocco’s proposed autonomy plan “serious, realistic and credible, a potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.”

This recent action by Congress is extremely significant because the US has now taken its support a giant leap forward by permitting the use of US aid program monies in the Western Sahara, which is currently administered by Morocco. In the report language, Congress clarifies that “funds provided in title III of this Act for Morocco may be used in regions and territories administered by Morocco.” (Currently, Morocco operates its own programs in the territory, such as the National Human Development Initiative  which has benefited millions of Moroccans throughout the entire country, including in the Western Sahara.)

Now, US policy supports not only the political resolution of the Western Sahara conflict, but directly funds programs aimed at promoting socio-economic development—called for by millions in the region during the Arab Spring. Congress has sent a powerful message that addressing economic development and empowerment is not just a talking point, but an actual budget line-item.

Congress also asked the Secretary of State to submit a report describing the steps Morocco is taking to address and improve human rights, which will provide Morocco an opportunity to demonstrate its progress in this area. Not only did the recent Constitutional reforms enshrine protection and promotion of human rights as a national principle, but the newly elected leaders of Parliament have publically stated that it is a priority of their new government.

While Morocco was definitely ahead of the Arab Spring curve, it is still a ‘learning’ curve. Undoubtedly there will be missteps among the progresses ahead as Morocco seeks to consolidate lasting and strong democratic reforms. (But would it be real reform if it came too easily?)

One thing is for certain—at a time when US policy and reaction to the Arab Spring seems unclear/uninformed/uncreative/un[fill-in-the-blank], it’s encouraging to see the US doing it right in Morocco’s case and putting its money and its mouth behind supporting reform efforts that will not only benefit Moroccans, but will inevitably flow outward to support the aspirations of hundreds of millions in the Middle East and North Africa.



Calvin Dark

Calvin Dark is an international policy and strategic communications professional based in Washington, DC. For more than 10 years, he has advised US and international bodies and organizations, primarily focusing on political, economic and cultural relations with Latin America, Western Europe and the Middle East and North Africa. Calvin is also a social media enthusiast trying to connect the world one tweet, post and #hashtag at a time.

Calvin was a Fulbright Scholar to Morocco where he conducted research on civil society’s role in increasing transparency and public confidence in Morocco’s government institutions and services. Calvin received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and French from Duke University and has studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Paris, France. He speaks French, Spanish, Arabic and English (North Carolina’s special dialect.)

Calvin is also passionate about Southern storytelling and oral histories and is the author of Tales From My Dark Side [], a collection of stories about the Darks, a central North Carolina family and their unique ways of reconciling the complex notions of race, community and family.

Anything else? Oh yea, he loves to spin and is a spin instructor.

Contact Calvin at [email protected]