Democratization in Morocco Term paper

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INTRODUCTION & HISTORICAL BACKGROUND about democratization in Morocco

The 1950s and 1960s was a period that was known as the period of revolutions and independence. The 1970s was the period of international debt crisis. The 1980s constituted a period of international crises and regional terrorism. The 1990s, however, is often seen as a period of democratization, especially as many countries that were traditionally seen as undemocratic, are moving towards democracy, slowly perhaps, but with solid grounds and significant momentum. This also applies to Morocco, a country that has historically been a monarchy where no forms of democracy or democratic institutions were possible (Shor, 1955). Although still a monarchy, Morocco has been undergoing a slow process of democratization, a process which can be noticed in its political, economic, social and cultural institutions and establishments.

Between the mid-17th century and the early twentieth century, Morocco was an independent monarchy under the rule of the Alawi dynasty. This independence ended in 1912 when the country was colonized by the French and the Spanish. Colonial rule, however lasted for only forty four years, until the country finally regained its independence in 1956 (Abercrombie, 1971). The traditional ruler of Morocco, the King, is the executive of the country while at the same time, he is the moral guide or Amir Al-muminin, or leader of the faith. The post-independence period was characterized by struggle to face the economic challenges of poverty, in addition to facing the political and military struggles which arose from the dispute with Mauritania and Algeria over the Western Sahara region (Zwingle, 1996).


On the political level, democratization has been a very slow process. The monarchy has always been the strongest establishment in the country, and the opposition, although frequently seeking a more active role in the Moroccan politics, has never challenged the monarch. This is because the rules of the game have been accepted and approved by all the political players in the country, recognizing the monarch to be the temporal and moral leader of the state and the people (Country Profile, 1997).

The country has had since 1972 a chamber of Representatives, but the role of this parliament is very insignificant, and its influence does not go beyond serving as a consultant to the King. Despite its limited influence over the political life in the country, this unicameral parliament is still governed by biased laws and regulations of election. Only two thirds of the parliament members are elected by the public, whereas a third are elected by the professional associations, local government officials and other establishments, all which are controlled by the center-right that shows a strong loyalty to the King. This maintains a strong hold for the King and his supporters over the parliament, hence giving little room for any democratic opposition to rise (Economic & Social Development Report, October 1981).

Moreover, even if such opposition rises inside the parliament, the King still enjoyed the power to dissolve the parliament and rule by decree. All legalized opposition parties are allowed to criticize the government (but not the King or the monarchy), but within strict limits. Besides, there are red zones that the opposition may not touch upon such as the issue of the Western Sahara and Morocco’s Islamic status. This leaves the opposition with very little space to move within, and retains most of the power in the hands of the monarch and his loyal government (Economic and Social Development Report, October 1981).

In 1996, democratic changes began to take place, mainly under rising pressures from the opposition, and due to the increasing economic problems in the country, especially poverty and unemployment. A referendum was held and several constitutional reforms were introduced. Among these was replacing the unicameral parliament with a bicameral system. The House of Representative, or the lower house had its members elected by the public while the upper house, known as the Chamber of Advisors was to be chosen by electoral college (Country Profile, 1997).

It is important to point out that this referendum is the fifth of its kind, but it has introduced more political changes than any other reformation. More reforms on the political and governmental level included reducing the size of the huge bureaucracy in the country through devolving the regional and local provincial governments. Moreover, another democratic change was in the way in which the government was chosen. Traditionally, the King chose both the prime minister and the entire cabinet, but following a previous referendum in 1993, the King only chose the prime minister who then had to choose his cabinet members. Nevertheless, the government had to enjoy the King’s approval before it could resume its functions (Country Profile, 1997).

A major political difference over the democratization movement in the country has been noticed since 1993 when the constitutional reforms decreed that governments in the future should “reflect the balance of forces in parliament.” Since the opposition had begun to enjoy much stronger influence inside the parliament, opposition parties claimed that they should also dominate the government. However, this was not so, and opposition parties were only given minor and ineffective positions in the government, retaining the powerful and executive positions in the hands of the loyalists (Country Profile, 1997).

For example, Driss Basri has held the position of minister of interior for years. He has been responsible for most of the persecutions against the opposition. Opposition parties insist that they will not participate in any national government until Basri is removed from office, a condition which the King has refused entirely so far (Country Profile, 1997).

Unlike many other monarchies in the Arab world, the Moroccan monarchy has allowed the formation of opposition parties, even to the extent of permitting them to declare their independent policies and to run in the elections against loyalist parties. The center parties, namely the Rassembelement National des Independants (RNI), the Mouvement National Populaire (MNP) and the Parti National Democratique (PND) are considered to be the King’s most prominent loyalists. The right wings parties are also strongly loyal to the wing and they have commonly shared governments with the center parties. The right parties include the Union Constitutionelle (UC) and the (MP) or the Mouvement Populaire (Country Profile, 1997).

On the other hand, the opposition includes six parties, the most powerful of which are the Union Socialiste des forces popularies (USFP) and the Confederation Democratique du Travail (CDT) which is a trade union that affiliates with the USFP. Both parties are moderately left-wing but their combined representation is higher than any other in the parliament. In spite of this, they have declined to participate in forming a government due to the loyalists favored position in any government to be formed (Country Profile, 1997).

The opposition’s inability to achieve any effective participation in the government has led to situation of frustration in the country, especially among the unemployed and the youth. Accordingly, radical Islamic movements have flourished during the 1990s, threatening the political stability in the country. Although the radical Islamic parties, Al-Adl wal-Ihssan (Justice and Charity) and Al-Islah wal-Tajdid (Unification and Reform), have not been allowed to participate in the elections, there is a tendency towards allowing the opposition parties to enjoy more participation in the government in order to curb the growing influence of the radical Islamic dissidents (Country Profile, 1997).


In the past two decades, Morocco has undergone a major industrial movement. However, the country’s main economic sector remains agriculture. More than 40% of the labor force in Morocco works in the agricultural sector. The service sector comes next, with almost 35% of the workforce employed in this service industries such as banking, tourism and others. On the other hand, less than 25% of the labor force works in industry, but the industrial sector has been growing extensively in recent years, especially with growing foreign interest and investment in Morocco’s phosphate mining industries, which represent the major source of foreign currency in the country (Country Profile, 1997).

Morocco, however, has suffered heavily from a huge bureaucracy that requires heavy public expenditures. Besides, the public sector controlled almost most of the industrial companies in the country, without efficient returns. As a result of growing economic pressures, especially due to the consecutive droughts which had severe negative impact on the agriculture-dependent economy, the government decided to launch a wide plan of privatization. This step was seen to be as a major movement towards economic democratization (Country Profile, 1997).

The program by far is considered to be one of the most advanced in the region. It was first approved in 1989 by the parliament. The scheme was to have 112 state owned companies sold to private investors by the end of 1996. However the program did not start until the mid-1990s. Besides, it was modified several times, with a number of companies removed from the list, and other sectors that were not included previously were also added.  The completion of the program was also postponed from 1996 to 1998. However, this program was also to include companies in sectors which were not noted in the earlier plan, including power generation, oil refining, national airline, and even telecommunications (Country Profile, 1997).

The major obstacles to the program did not come from the public or from the opposition. Rather, it came from the bureaucracy. State employees working in the companies that were planned for privatization feared that they were going to lose their jobs and become unemployed. Accordingly, resistance to privatization emerged, bringing more pressures on the government. In spite of resistance, the government was able to privatize 49 companies by the end of 1996.

The privatization for each company was divided into three phases. In phase one, the government would place 25 to 50% of the company’s share on sale to a strategic foreign investor who could bring in funds and expertise. A second sale of a smaller share would be placed to local investors in the Casablanca Foreign Exchange. And finally, a third sale of a smaller share would be declared to attract international institutional investors and private investors. In the end, the government would only retain a small share of the company’s capital (Country Profile, 1997).

Privatization, however, did not go without problems. All of a sudden, and as international investors started to show interest in the program, the government realized that its judicial and legal systems were inappropriate to deal with a huge plan of privatization. The country’s legal system in particular was not clear or reliable. Reforms were immediately launched, but these reforms would require more time and wider changes in the system, some of which may clash with the political system in the country. Accordingly, an economic challenge which the political system would have to face in the coming years is how to cope with wider reforms in a country that was trying to preserve its political stability without much democracy (Country Profile, 1997).

This concern was commented on by the World Bank in a thorough and warning report. The report warned the Moroccan government that its reform plans could threaten social stability. The World Bank was in particular referring to the wide changes taking place at the economic level with all these reforms, while at the same time social and political disparities remained wide and unreformed. Moreover, poverty was also a major problem which the government had to deal with while trying to reform its system.


Democratization is not an easy process. No ruler decides to give up power spontaneously without being forced to do so, directly or indirectly. No government is ready to give up its control and to share power with others unless there are compelling conditions.

In many countries today, democratization is a process that is taking place due to a number of pressures. This also applies to Morocco. The post-Cold War is a period that has been characterized by movement towards globalization. Globalization as a trend in the world today, requires vast and various changes that would enable countries to cope. Even the US and Europe are undergoing massive changes in their economic, legal and political systems in order to cope with globalization. For example, Europe is forming the European Monetary Union before the turn of the century in order to face the world as a united political and economic integrated entity. Similarly, the US is changing and modernizing its rules, especially those related to monopoly and trusts in order to strengthen its businesses such that they can play a major role in the global economy.

Both the US and Europe have both the resources and the experience that enable them to change successfully and smoothly to cope with globalization, but underdeveloped countries do not. A country such as Morocco is very limited in resources. Here, the term resources relates not only to natural mineral deposits, but also to social and human resources, industrial resources, and many others. Underdeveloped countries are aware that failing to catch up with the developments taking place in the world today will only impose more pressures and problems on them in the future.

Traditionally, most underdeveloped countries have suffered heavily on the issue of democracy. Morocco has been no exception. Yet, many of these countries have started very wide-scale plans of reform and democratization. Countries as these include Vietnam, Thailand, South Africa, and even Iran. The change, originally spurring out of globalization, seems to be global, and Morocco seems to be no exception.

The most important single reason which forces the Moroccan state to democratize the system is the rising pressure of the economic underdevelopment in the country. The GDP growth in Morocco has always been hostage to the rainfalls, and this is due to the fact that agriculture is the most important agricultural sector. Not only does agriculture influence the GDP but also the spending power of almost half the population. Frequent droughts have resulted in disastrous impacts on the Moroccan economy, the most recent of which were the 1992, the 1993 and the 1995 droughts which resulted in negative GDP growth rates of –4.0%, -1.0% and  –7.6% respectively. This serious fluctuation in the GDP and economic growth have been most embarrassing to the economic development programs that the government has been planning (Country Profile, 1997).

Obviously, the reliance of the Moroccan economy on agriculture is an old problem that was not created by the state. Yet, it is the responsibility of the state to initiate industrialization to shift the core of the economy from the rainfall-dependent agriculture to more independent industrialism. At the same time, shifting the entire economy the way the government is intending requires a massive change in the economic and legal structures and relations of the country.

Such changes and reforms would require massive involvement of the private sector in the economy, thus, reducing the role of the state at the same time, particularly as the state becomes a burden on the national economy through its heavy expenditures. But on the other hand, it becomes illogical that the state reduces its size and responsibilities while at the same time maintaining the same powers. It would thus be controlling the interests of private investors and owners without itself holding any risks or responsibilities. Accordingly, for a successful involvement of the private sector in economic development, it is important that the private sector be involved in the decision making process.

Involving the private sector in the decision-making sector can be achieved in several ways. First of all, representatives of economic interest groups would be elected to the parliament and eventually to the government executive bodies in order to perform the necessary changes in public policy that pertain to reforming the economy. Secondly, political parties, economic syndicates and labor unions are also represented in the state and government in order to smoothen economic reform and in order to make this reform more efficient. Furthermore, interest groups would be given more ability to reform the state itself, hence reducing its bureaucracy and administrative body, and eventually cutting its unnecessary costs and expenses.

These are all changes that require a very important prerequisite: democracy. Without democracy, any of these changes is impossible to happen at a full scale. It is through democracy that the process of election and selection of the representatives of the economic powers and interests in the economy takes place. In the case of Morocco, this is not the case. The whole cabinet with its prime minister were traditionally appointed by the King, and more than 30% of the unicameral parliament were also selected by the King’s loyal officials and public servants. Naturally, this prevented any possibility of economic mobilization since capital and economic interests were not represented in the decision making positions. Even when the government tried to conduct policies that related to these interest groups and capital owners, these policies were not necessarily representative or satisfactory, especially with the economic structures and systems that existed (The Impact of Liberalization, 1988).

King Hassan II, being the highest authority in the country, commanding all power in his hands was aware of the changes. Ever since he came to power following the death of his father in 1961 was aware that democratization was an inevitable process to reduce political and economic pressures in the country. The first movement towards democratization started in 1963 when Royal Charter was implemented, thus establishing a constitutional monarchy. This was achieved through the first referendum on the constitution of December 1962 (Zartman, 1964).

Although the change was not enough, since it still kept all power and authority in the hands of the King, it released political pressuring demands calling for democracy, while at the same time, giving way to reforming the system. The first general elections were held in 1963, representing the first democratic participation of the people in decision making. Reforms, however, were never sufficient, and the country was not able to get out of its static and chronic problems of unrest. The reason was that the King also held control of the parliament (Zartman, 1964).

Political immobility of the system forced the King to dissolve the parliament in 1965 and to establish himself as Prime Minister for two years. This was a temporary step backwards, but it was necessary for the King for two reasons. First of all, it enabled him to involve directly in reorganizing the state which he had inherited only a few years ago. And secondly, it also bought him time. In the future, whenever pressures for democracy rose again, he would immediately call for free elections as he did before (Economic and Social Development Report, 1981).

In 1971 and 1972, several attempts were made on the King’s life, and radical groups were persecuted as a result of their involvement. Although these attempts were mainly related to the King’s political stands with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially that he was considered to be lenient, they reflected the underlying pressures for political change in the country. Aware of this, the King immediately responded by initiating the process of democratization once again. However, like the previous time, democratization was only apparent but it was not deeply rooted in the economic and political structures of the system. It was not until the 1990s that democratization began to take a more intensive nature.

Morocco’s involvement in the Western Saharan conflict has also contributed to democratization. In the mid-1980s, Morocco was in a state of isolation due to its position in this conflict, especially in 1984 when Morocco dropped its membership in the Organization of African Unity after the organization agreed to provide a seat for the Polisario delegation. In the Western Sahara, Morocco has been fighting a long and draining war against the Polisario which was backed up by Algeria. Mauritania, every since its withdrawal from the conflict in 1979 has also supported the Polisario from time to time. The expenses, costs and burdens of the war have drained the Moroccan economy and military. Morocco continues to fight in the region over the phosphate rich mines and other resources that could support the Moroccan economy in the future (Country Profile, 1997).

Continuous involvement of Morocco in the war, in addition to the continuous economic problems have furnished the ground for Islamic radical groups to initiate their political groups and activities. Despite the fact that Morocco is an Islamic state, and even though the King holds the Islamic title of Leader of the Faith, radical Islamic groups are not on accord with the state for two reasons. First of all, these groups accuse the monarchy of being anti-Islamic in its structure, especially the one-man rule. Secondly, it considers the system to be corrupt and representative of interest groups of the bureaucrats, hence preventing social equality and development (Country Profile, 1997).

Long before the bloodshed stared in Algeria, Islamic parties were prohibited and prevented from forming any political groups or involving in any political activities. Rather than reducing the impact of these groups, political inhibition has increased their numbers and popular bases, especially under the growing economic difficulties. Moreover, many of the more than a million and a half Moroccan expatriates living in Western Europe tend to affiliate with radical Islamic groups and prohibited parties in the country. Cash flows from Europe to the fundamentalist groups have empowered them significantly, enabling them to establish and expand social welfare programs that have even begun to compete against those of the state. Fearing developments on this level that could be as destructive as taking place in Egypt or even Algeria, democratization was an inevitable step, and so was economic reformation (Country Profile, 1997).

The socio-economic combination, however, remains the main propelling force leading to democratization in the country. It is true that Morocco was able to achieve a dramatic decrease in its poverty levels, pulling the poverty levels from 22% in 1985 to 11% in 1991, yet United Nations reports show that this decrease has only been relative, especially that it only occurred on the absolute poverty line. This means that although the number of families living below the conditions of hunger has reduced dramatically, the number of families living positions of poverty has not (Country Profile, 1997).

Moreover, unemployment in 1995 reached 23%, creating severe social tensions and attracting the youth to radical movements and opposition parties calling for change and more reforms. In 1996, the labor unions for example, announced a major strike to support their claims for wage increases and better working conditions. In the face of these movements, the state stood almost helpless (Country Profile, 1997).

Unemployment still threatens Morocco with much more instability if no active, deep and effective reforms are carried out in the system. One reason is that the majority of the unemployed tend to come from the younger generations. Secondly, the majority of the population tends to be young, which contributes to a 3% annual increase in the Moroccan workforce. This is creating more strains on the state (Country Profile, 1997).

The problem of unemployment is also taking a political dimension due to the structural nature of unemployment in the country. Statistics show that the majority of the unemployed tends to be young and educated. Thus, while unemployment is dropping among the uneducated and the unskilled, most of whom work in agricultural labor, the educated suffer heavily from unemployment. Reports show that unemployment among this latter category does not go below 25% at any given time, which is a serious source of social tensions and political unrest.

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Another problem which forces itself on Morocco is the hidden ethnic conflict in the country. Although an Arab country by definition, Morocco has a large Berber community which constitutes a third of the whole population. The Berbers have been underrepresented in the state, and even though they have two parties which are represented in the government, their overall share in the state remains small. Furthermore, they are not represented culturally, since their language, Amazigh, is not an official language. Recent developments in the country occurred in 1994 when the government announced that it would start broadcasting in Amazigh, in addition to Arabic, Spanish and French. Apparently, this is only the top of the ice-berg of the ethnic problem in the country. The state is aware that the Berber will not stop pressing for further developments in their status. Although it is unlikely that these groups will resort to violence, it is clear that democratization is a necessary process through which Berbers can be represented fairly in decision-making positions (Country Profile, 1997).

On the cultural level, democratization is still far behind the initiation level. The country is open to western, especially French and Spanish cultures. However, the TV, radio, newspapers and other means communication are all censored. However, censorship is mainly concentrated on foreign media, since the managers of local media know very well the limits at which they should stand. Criticism of the government remains within very narrow limits, and criticizing the King is prohibited. Moreover, foreign media, especially newspapers and magazines which criticize the system are usually banned from the country (Country Profile, 1997).

Morocco, despite the tortoise-style of its democratization, remains an authoritarian system. It is true that the state admits a multi-party system where free elections are held, but it is also true that the opposition is prevented from influencing or forming the government. This can only create and ferment pressures and unrest, especially accompanied with economic frustration.

It is noticed that Morocco is witnessing more democratization on the economic level, but not on the social, political and cultural levels. This is creating a state of unbalance that could result in a social explosion in the future. The fluctuation of the economy, mainly due to the dependence of the economy on agriculture is certainly playing a dramatic role in making democratization necessary (Country Profile, 1997).

The King’s strong hold on the state is also another major obstacle to democratization. After all, democratization aims at turning the king into a constitutional monarch who reigns but does not rule, even though no reference to such possibilities is ever made in public.

Sincere intentions are now apparent towards democratization, although there are no guarantees that this will not be only a temporary movement, or that it will not go beyond the economic level to include the socio-political situation in the country. One challenge faced by the Moroccan government is to maintain social stability and political calmness while at the same time governing the major economic changes in the country. A second challenge is to steer the change towards strategic goals such as coping with globalization and its international demands, especially on the economic, social and political levels. A third challenge that also pushes itself strongly is the rising influence of the Islamic radical groups that have flourished under political repression and economic dissatisfaction. Poverty and unemployment have been crucial in mobilizing radical Islamic movements. West European countries have been pressing Morocco to exert more control over these groups, many of which have moved their activities to western Europe. While the European group is pressing Morocco for more democratization and more economic reforms, Morocco claims that it needs a larger flow of western funds so that it can accomplish its reforms. Such a flow of investment, Morocco claims, will not only reduce the economic pressures that are furnishing grounds for Islamic groups, but it will also reduce the cannabis importation to Europe. Under a growing economy, the Moroccan reformists claim, these growers will have better opportunities and will eventually stop their trade. Although the Europeans and Morocco still have their differences over this issue, democratization in the country has started, and unlike the trend in the 1960s, it might not be reversible this time. The coming few years may still witness many more changes at the political, economic and social levels. Ironically, the state’s ability to handle democratization will rely on how effectively it will manage the economy, but at the same time, the faster economic reforms will be, the more democracy will be needed. Given these realities, the establishment in Morocco might be in its final stage of transformation towards a modernized state where the monarch has much less to do or say.




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