August 22, 2007
Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part II
In my previous post on the subject, I underlined the considerable constitutional preeminence afforded to the King of Morocco. But as if this wasn't enough, the judicial and institutional practice has gone even further in entrenching the absolute character of the Moroccan monarchy.
Funnily enough, the Courts have bent over backwards to free the King from any legal restraint which might have served to circumscribe his powers. Even more ironically, this was mostly done through two judgments given at a time when the Moroccan judiciary was still working in French and when French judges still sat on the bench (the Arabisation and Moroccanisation of the judiciary occurred in 1965): first, through a judgment in 1960, the Rabat Court of appeals forbade the Moroccan Communist party on the sole basis of a radio speech given by then King Mohammed V in which communism, as a materialistic ideology, was deemed incompatible with Islam. Considering that Morocco was a Muslim state and that the King was amir-al-muminin, Commander of the Faithful, the Court of Appeal prohibited the Moroccan Communist party on the basis of this radio speech, despite the lack of clear statutory provisions allowing such a move (1). In another judgment the same year - the Ronda case - the Supreme court found that dahirs, or Royal decrees, could not be subject to judicial review. This unhappy finding was further entrenched in 1970, when the Supreme court found, in the Société propriété agricole Mohamed Abdelaziz case, that no Royal act, whatever its form, could be submitted to court scrutiny, thus adding to the personal immunity granted to the King by the Constitution. Of course, no provision in the Constitution provided or provides for Royal decisions or acts to be exempt from judicial scrutiny.
These shameful court findings of course nullify any constraints on Royal power set in the Constitution or in other legal provisions. They allow the King to act on his whim, with no countervailing constitutional or legal restraint. The King of Morocco thus rules "by the grace of God".
The institutional practice since Independence confirms this. Except for the prime ministership of the left-wing Abdallah Ibrahim between 1958-60 (there was no Parliament and no Constitution at the time though), and the short-lived parliementary experience of 1963-65 (the elections of 1963 were probably the most truthful ever held in Morocco, and that Parliament was probably the most autonomous vis-à-vis the King), the Prime minister and Parliament have been subservient instruments of the King, and their usefulness has mainly been to shield the King from the flak of critics of governmental policies. The practice of designating some ministerial departments as being "ministères de souveraineté", i.e.departments touching on subjects whose substance places them under the wings of the King, "Supreme Representative of the Nation" and "the guarantor of the independence of the Nation and the territorial integrity of the Kingdom" according to article 19 of Morocco's Constitution, has further weakened the authority of the Prime minister, who has, in practice, no or little say on the activities of the ministries of foreign affairs, of the interior and of habous and islamic affairs . The very strategic "secrétariat général du gouvernement", whose head has rank of minister, and which is in charge of the legislative process, also belongs to the "ministères de souveraineté". To top all this, the numerous public foundations, some of them very well endowed (as for example the "Fondation Hassan II pour les Marocains résidant à l'étranger", presided by Lalla Meriem, one of the King's three sisters, or the "Fondation Mohamed V pour la solidarité", presided by the King himself, or the "Fondation Mohammed VI de promotion des oeuvres sociales de l'éducation-formation", as well as the "Fondation Mohammed VI pour la protection de l'environnement") and all under the direct supervision of the King, tend to eat away further at the administrative prerogatives of Government as well as the budgetary prerogatives of Parliament.
But the Monarchy has been caught between its unflinching desire to fully dominate the political scene - this is called the "monarchie exécutive" model here in Morocco - and its dependence on its Western partners and sponsors. If the USA isn't a difficult partner in that respect, in spite of some recent public criticism, especially on the authorities' handling of the republican declarations of Nadia Yassine, France and Spain are another kettle of fish. While the US press couldn't care less about Morocco, despite some articles here and there, the French and Spanish press, and especially the dailies Le Monde, Libération, Le Figaro, El Pais and El Mundo, spurred on by the sizeable Moroccan migrant communities there, tend to cover the less flattering episodes of Moroccan politics or, more recently, of Moroccan media policy. Reports by foreign think tanks or academics, some relatively critical such as Marina Ottoway's and Meredith Riley's "Morocco - from top-down reform to democratic transition?", Haim Malka's and Jon Alterman's "Arab reform and foreign aid - lessons from Morocco" and Andrew Smith's and Fadoua Loudiy's "Testing the Red Lines: On the Liberalization of Speech in Morocco" (2), also play a role in defining Morocco's reputation abroad. The French and Spanish governments cannot therefore disregard reports about human rights violations in Morocco in the same way that the White House can.
This has had direct implications for the King, especially as regards his policing of the independent press. High profile newspaper editors such as Boubker Jamaï and Ahmed Benchemsi haven't been imprisoned - the Makhzen chose instead, through the subservient courts, to impose exorbitant punitive damages on Jamaï in a trumped-up libel case and to inflict a suspended prison sentence on two of Benchemsi's most prominent reporters, Driss Ksikes (who has since left journalism) and Sanae Al Aji. The hulabaloo surrounding the handling of the case Ali Lmrabet is instructive. He was imprisoned, released after a campaign by Reporters sans frontières, and then condemned again, but this time not to imprisonment - the outcry abroad would have been too cumbersome for comfort - but rather prohibited from exercising any journalistic activities for a ten year (!) period. It later transpired that the authorities had been advised, by a French PR consultant, to go for civil actions for libel rather than for criminal actions. This advice has been heeded by the authorities, who only condemn and imprison journalists writing for the Arab-speaking press, confident as they rightly are that they will have trouble garnering the same amount of support from European NGOs than their colleagues from the francophone press (3).
The King's margin of manoeuvre is thus limited by foreign policy considerations, heightened by the need to keep Morocco's Western sponsors on the right side of the Sahara dispute. In this context, the elections have to be credible enough to allow the King to show reasonably good enough democratic credentials to his foreign constituency, much more important to him than his domestic one.
To be continued.
(1) The French judges adjudicating the case were probably also under the influence of the reds under the beds mentality largely present in the minds of colonial civil servants, even though Communists were only a minor part of the nationalist movement - they were even held under suspicion by the nationalists since a large part of their membership was European (so-called pieds noirs).
(2) That article is unfortunately not available for free. If you want an electronic copy, please e-mail me.
(3) Benchemsi runs a bilingual press - Tel Quel (in French) and Nichane (in Moroccan Arabic, darija) - as does Ali Amar, Boubker Jamaï's successor, with Le journal hebdomadaire (in French) and Assahifa (in Arabic). A journalist of the arabophone weekly Al Watan al an has recently been condemned to a prison sentence, without much outside reaction.
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Again, great job. I wonder about the al-Watan case, though... maybe you're right about Westerners caring less about the Arabophone press, but that case concerned a security leak. It seems likely they were unjustly condemned, and that even if not, the penalty was way too harsh. And RSF and the other press freedom watchdogs were "shocked and appalled" as usual.
However, the attacks against Tel-Quel, Nichane and Le Journal were overtly political in a way that this one was not. Democracies do not (or should not) jail reporters for complaining about the political situation or voicing opinions, but all nations have some sort of laws against reporting on sensitive police matters. So the al-Watan question isn't as clear-cut, and I can understand if foreign observers hesitated on that one -- not because of the language.
(Although, again, I don't doubt that you're correct on the larger point. I just think there may be better examples.)
Posted by: alle at August 22, 2007 12:21 AM
I have to agree with Alle on the al Watan item specifically, that's a shaky area even in Anglo Saxon jurisdictions.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 22, 2007 03:46 AM
Excellent. You don't mention the Kuwaiti pressure on Morocco in the Nichane case though - thoughts?
As for Al Watan, I admittedly haven't followed that case as well, but I would tend to agree with both of you that it is a sensitive issue.
Posted by: Jillian at August 22, 2007 10:06 AM
On Al Watan, my personal opinion is that both the prosecution and the conviction were largely deserved. It has transpired that the journalist concerned, Mustapha Hormatollah, is a former member of the secret service - I don't know which exactly, but since he was really into the army it must have been the DGED - and among the confidential documents seized at his parents' farm (!) was a royal order from June detailing troop positions and level of armaments - I can see why Algiers or Tindouf would be interested, but I cannot see what legitimate purpose it would serve for the Moroccan public to have such detailed information published. You'd get a few years' imprisonment in Sweden for that kind of violation of the official secrets legislation... So eight months' imprisonment is rather on the lenient side. Another funny thing: Hormatollah had access to all the confidential information but wrote none of the articles, which were drafted by Al Watan's aditor, Ariri.
I therefore agree that the Al Watan case has to be distinguished from the Nichane/Tel Quel/Le Journal/Assahifa cases, which of an exclusively political nature.
Jill: true about the Kuwaiti pressure on the Nichane case. If memory serves, Nichane was served a prohibition order many days after it had published an article about jokes Moroccans tell each other, a few of them with religious overtones. It apparently fired the imagination of an islamist MP, thus prodding Jettou into seizing that issue of Nichane...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 22, 2007 12:46 PM
I am sort of surprised to see that L'Economiste seems to defend al-Watan in ways that are not usual for them at all. They barely mentioned the Nichane problems then and now, and almost never Le Journal. However, they have published already a number of articles on al-Watan, and are clearly in favor of the journalists. It surprises me because L'Economiste is very pro-governement, as well as pro "patronat". Any thoughts on that, Ibn Kafka? (BTW, great to be able to read you again and get my kafkaian fix).
Posted by: sanaa at August 22, 2007 03:48 PM
Now, now. La Nouvelle Trib. is the more reflexive bootlicking paper. l'Economiste is very ... institutional, but shows spine now and again (and of course it's pro-Patronat, bloody hell, it's a financial paper. I'm personally rather irritated by its weakness for wooley headed anti-liberal Left sympathies really).
Pity really, can't even rely on a business paper to be at least moderately liberal on a consistent basis. Of course I would suspect that the near complete illiteracy in business and economics on the part of journos they hire.
However, l'Economiste taking particular interest in al-Watan is surprising. Perhaps a sensation that the Makhzen is backsliding on a bit of press liberalism.....
I'm sure, however, that La Nouvelle Trib will tell everyone what a brilliant action.... well, whatever the official sources tells Yata to parrot.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 22, 2007 04:33 PM
Sanaa: one of the fishy things I read about the Al Watan affair was that there might have been a whiff of "guerre des services" behind it. One interesting thing is that général Belbachir, head of the 5eme bureau (sécurité militaire) was publicly heard by the investigating magistrate in charge. It could be that L'Economiste is close to the "service" taking the flak from its concurrents in this affair - but this is wild speculation on my part - they might as well have seen the light and become maximalist libertarians (repressed laughter).
Lounsbury: don't get me started about Fade Yalta and his Nouvelle Tribune! This man makes me long for Soviet-style psychiatrics - there, you see, I finally am a commie!
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 22, 2007 05:44 PM
I most certainly would not equate the miserable Nouv. Trib. with l'Economiste. I was merely trying to situate the latter in relation to the Makhzen, which explains my surprise regarding their position in the Watan affair. I would actually like them to be more pro-patronat, if it could make them less pro-ONA. I like l'Economiste, I think that in the context of the Moroccan they do have a pretty good ratio of information vs mere opinion.
Posted by: sanaa at August 22, 2007 07:17 PM
Sanaa: true, La Nouvelle Tribune shouldn't been compared with L'Economiste, which is a fairly good newspaper - the best francophone daily at any rate, although the competition (L'Opinion, Al Bayane, Libération, Le Matin du Sahara) isn't awe-inspiring...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 24, 2007 11:12 AM