Running around Rabat this week, speaking to a hugely diverse group of Moroccans, I’ve been struck by the odd, unlikely sense that there are absolutely no differences of political opinion left in the country. Not with regard to what’s wrong with the system here, nor about what must be done to fix it.
Here are excerpts from two leaders I’ve met:
“We want a modern country… We start from the principle of respecting Morocco’s right to diversity. We respect other people’s choices, even if they are different from ours. As believers, that’s a principal tenet for us. Diversity is our wealth.”
That’s Mohammed Salmi: Director of Human Rights at an organization called Justice and Charity. Justice and Charity is Morocco’s largest Islamic association. It has complained for years of government harassment. It has not been allowed to form its own political party.
“We want new a new Constitution, a democratic constitution. We demand the dissolution of the government and the current Parliament. People feel that it has brought nothing for them on the level of democracy, transparency and dignity.”
And that’s Mohammed Oboukidi, of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), Morocco’s largest human rights NGO.
On the surface, these two men sound like they could be from the same political party. But Salmi’s Justice and Charity has a clear pro-Islam agenda, AMDH is non-religious and apolitical.
Usually the two organizations present more divergent views. What’s brought them closer together are the revolutions sweeping or threatening to sweep North Africa and parts of the Middle East.
As the Arab world demands greater democracy – and appears to be winning it in the streets – activists and politicians from across Morocco’s ideological spectrum are scrambling to establish their democratic credentials. The sense is that greater democracy is coming – whether it be through popular revolt or swift reforms from the royal palace – and no one wants to be left behind.
Though pressed, Justice and Charity’s Salmi didn’t want to discuss his group’s vision for an Islamic Republic. “What comes later is just the details,” he told me. But Justice and Charity doesn’t recognize the authority of the Moroccan throne. And this is where things get tricky, because the vast majority of Moroccans do accept the king’s legitimacy.
They may feel frustrated with his slow march toward openness, but during protests over the last several days they’ve avoided criticizing the “Commander of the Faithful” directly. There is also an element of fear in the people’s reluctance. Morocco’s security forces keep royal critics on a very short leash. But people may be afraid of more than jail time. If they push the king too hard, they might just derail their best chance for peaceful reform.
The same FaceBook activists who got the so-called February 20th Movement off the ground have given the king until March 20th to put some sort of action plan on the table.
Only when this period of uncertainty is over and democratic reforms are well underway are we likely to see strong political differences reemerge. That is, when free and fair elections are scheduled and candidates begin campaigning. Then, we might even see debate over where the King fits in the new system.