August 19, 2007
Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part I
Few people outside Morocco - and indeed inside Morocco as well - will have noticed that the elections to the House of Representatives (majliss annouab - chambre des représentants) is due in a few weeks time. They could be excused: as Ahmed Benchemsi, publisher of the independent weeklies Nichane and Tel Quel, wrote in an editorial which has led to his prosecution for crime of lèse-majesté, everyone in Morocco knows that the important decisions on the fate of the country have not been, are not, and will not be, for the elected representatives of the people to make.
A cursory glance at the Moroccan Constitution will convince the sceptics. Article 19 is probably the most widely known provision of the Moroccan Constitution, and has been referred to as "the constitution within the constitution" and it has also been given, by some commentators, a supra-constitutional status, and it should therefore be quoted in full:
"Article 19: The King, "Amir Al-Muminin"(Commander of the Faithful), shall be the Supreme Representative of the Nation and the Symbol of the unity thereof. He shall be the guarantor of the perpetuation and the continuity of the State. As Defender of the Faith, He shall ensure the respect for the Constitution. He shall be the Protector of the rights and liberties of the citizens, social groups and organisations. The King shall be the guarantor of the independence of the Nation and the territorial integrity of the Kingdom within all its rightfull boundaries."
It is especially the mention of the King's function as "amir al muminin" ("commander of the faithful") which has served to underpin his claims to absolute primacy within the Moroccan political system. This notion, with a dubious religious basis, at least when it comes to the implications attached to it in current Moroccan practice, has been interpreted as allowing the King to supersede all other institutions, the ideological foundation of the Moroccan monarchy being Islam. Of course, this is very theoretical: the practice and the law in Morocco is very far from maliki orthodoxy, which is effective, to some extent, only in family law and much less so in other areas of law. Nationalism as well as the instrumentalisation of ethnic and/or tribal identities, coupled with modern-time claims to modernity and democracy, also play a role in the ideological set-up of the monarchy. But claiming an islamic foundation to the absolute primacy of the King has been a very effective tool in a country, although heavily westernised as compared to other Arab countries, where Islam still is the primary source of legitimacy for an overwhelming majority of the people. This hasn't prevented the monarchy to be criticised from an Islamic point of view, most recently by Nadia Yassine, the influential daughter and spokeswoman of Morocco's foremost islamist dissident, Abdeslam Yassine, head of the sufi fundamentalist (and barely tolerated) movement Al adl wal ihsan.
But this implicit claim to absolute primacy within Morocco's constitutional system is also underpinned by numerous explicit provisions of the Constitution: the King's person is held as "sacred and inviolable" (article 23 of the Constitution), he appoints the Prime Minister and dismisses the Government at will (article 24), he presides over Cabinet meetings (article 25), he promulgates the laws (article 26), dissolves one or both Houses of Parliament at will, after mere consultation of other constitutional bodies (articles 27, 71 and 73), he may deliver addresses to the Nation or to Parliament at will with no debate being allowed (article 28), he may declare a state of emergency on his own (articles 29 and 35), he is Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Armed Forces (article 30) (1), he appoints civil servants (article 30), he signs and ratifies treaties (article 31), he may establish parliamentary fact-finding committes (article 42), he may declare martial law for 30 days (article 49), the Government is answerable to him (article 60), he may request a second reading of a draft bill or a proposed law, which may not be refused (articles 67 and 68) he may put any draft bill, law proposal to a popular referendum (article 69), he exercises Parliament's legislative powers between the dissolution and the election of a new Parliament (article 72), he appoints half of the members of the Constitutional Council and appoints its president (article 79), he alone appoints judges, whose names are submitted to him by the Supreme Council of Magistracy which he presides (article 84), and finally he has a monopoly on changes to the Constitution - Parliament may ask for a revision but only the King has the power to submit a revision proposal to the necessary popular referendum (article 105).
One is left to wonder, along with Benchemsi, what powers are left over to the Prime Minister and Parliament.
To be continued.
(1) For good measure, since the last official coup d'Etat attempt of 1972, the Ministry of Defence has been scrapped, being replaced with an Administration of National Defence, merely in charge with salaries and social security of the troops, the Military Headquarters, under direct royal superivision, being in charge of the military aspects of national defence.
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Where's Obiter Dicta?
I was wondering that, too. Great post, btw, can't wait for part two.
Posted by: alle at August 20, 2007 04:27 PM
Obiter dicta has kicked the bucket, joined the choir invisible, wrung down the curtain, etc...
More prosaically, the webhost, blog.ma, who never had any technical support nor any contact person, has apparently ceased its activities or failed to pay its Internet dues. I am therefore not the only blogger to have lost all the contents of my blog without any forewarning - we are apparently a few hundred in that same situation. However, since the webhost has always been unreachable, and since our blogs were hosted for free, I cannot think of a practical way to send those responsible the customary bloody horsehead...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 20, 2007 07:12 PM
how about giving Ibn Kafka his own (French) journal here?
I disagree with Ibn Kafka's communist take on life, but his redeeming qualities are rare enough to make it worth having him owning a place over here... I'm sure there are plenty of his fans in withdrawal symptom out there.
It will take a bit of time, maybe this weekend?
(Matthew will kill me if I don't do the Infidel review first)
Posted by: eerie at August 21, 2007 12:39 AM
Ah, now I understand. I thought you had been ditched. Well, I like the idea of welcoming a bit of Obiter Dicta here, has my support.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 21, 2007 08:26 AM
Thanks for the offer, it would be a honor, although you have to admit that for a Communist, I am a bit on the renegade/revisionist side...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 21, 2007 08:55 AM
Eh mate the advantage of having ultra-liberqle hosts and friends is we believe strongly in unorthodoxy. Hakada, marhaben bik akhaouia.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 21, 2007 01:05 PM
Well, Moroccan communists are renowned for their unorthodoxy - Ali Yata was probably the lone communist party leader to publicly hold royalist convictions...
As someone said at the time of mai 68, "je suis marxiste tendance Groucho"... although I personally prefer Chico, with his Italian accent...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 21, 2007 01:37 PM
Though it's clear he isn't a neocon, I never noticed that Ibn Kafka was a Communist. If it's true, Ibn Kafka, maybe you should work on your ideological underpinnings a bit harder...?
To sum up what you said in this article, I like to say that the King is Beckham, Zidane and Ronaldinho, as well as the referees, FIFA executives and the owner of the team....
What this has to do with Islam is beyond me. Doesn't Islam insist there is no authority but God?
Posted by: eatbees at August 21, 2007 06:54 PM
Come to think of it, I've got a question I hope you'll address in your follow-up posts. Are any of the political parties running in this year's elections advocating repeal or revision of this infamous Article 19? Has any political figure besides the Yesines dared to call for that openly?
Posted by: eatbees at August 21, 2007 07:01 PM
To sum up what you said in this article, I like to say that the King is Beckham, Zidane and Ronaldinho, as well as the referees, FIFA executives and the owner of the team....
If anyone is Beckham, it has got to be that media-savvy prince Moulay Hicham who went off to the States. But who is Posh?
Are any of the political parties running in this year's elections advocating repeal or revision of this infamous Article 19?
How about the tiny far-left group al-Nahj al-Dimuqrati (ex-Ila al-Amam)? They're contrarian in every other aspect, pro-Polisario and much else, so why not republican too.
Posted by: alle at August 21, 2007 07:55 PM
"(Matthew will kill me if I don't do the Infidel review first)"
Hitmen are being interviewed as we write....
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 21, 2007 09:42 PM
eatbees: I usually those quiz tests that are offered before elections, where you answer a dozen of questions and are therefater branded a liberal, conservative, socialist or whatever. The last time I did that before the Swedish elections I was given the answer "there's no party corresponding to the answers you gave. The one least distant from your set of opinions are X, Y and Z" (I don't actually remember them, except that one was on the right and two on the left. But I'm happy to be labelled a commie by such a neo-con stooge of imperialism, jacobinisme, zionism and colonialism as Shaheen. ;-)
eatbees: the PSU and the PADS are on record as asking for exactly that kind of revision of the constitution.
alle: well, Nahj, despite controlling the AMDH, the largest human rights organisation in Morocco, is so extreme in its views that it's hardly on the political map - but true, they are also in favor of constitutional reform (if reform is in their vocabulary, which I doubt)...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 22, 2007 12:58 PM
The last time I did that before the Swedish elections I was given the answer "there's no party corresponding to the answers you gave.
Funny, that's how I felt right before the elections...
Posted by: alle at August 22, 2007 01:48 PM
the PSU and the PADS are on record as asking for exactly that kind of revision of the constitution.
I see these two groups have joined together to form a united front in this year's elections. In a recent reader poll on larbi.org, they collectively registered about 20%. My guess is this number is higher than their support among the general population. So among which social groups and in which parts of Morocco do these parties find their strength? Have they been able to leverage their desire for constitutional reform to attract support in any meaningful way? Or is this an issue, as many would argue, that interests mainly "a small Casablanca elite," with the average Moroccan concerned more immediately with food, housing and jobs?
Have similar calls for constitutional reform been made by elements within the PJD? I don't suppose there's any chance of a majority of parliamentarians, from both left and right, being able to come together around an agenda of expanding their own power at the expense of the King. Especially not with Fouad Ali Himma leading the next government....
Finally, about political loyalties, I recommend the test at politicalcompass.org, which uses two axes, authoritarian-libertarian as well as the traditional economic left-right. I fall in the same quadrant as Gandhi and Nelson Mandela (collective libertarian), while pretty much all the world's political leaders fall in the opposite quadrant (authoritarian free market), with Bush about as far towards authoritarian as any "mainstream" leader can get. I feel happy to be so far from Bush, but I'm discouraged that there are no politicians to represent my views, perhaps because people like me don't believe in a State enough to want to lead one....
Posted by: eatbees at August 22, 2007 03:12 PM
alle: still, I closed my eyes and voted - in vain, alas - to keep the bourgeois coalition where it belongs - in the opposition...
eatbees: 20%? They'd be happy to get that in a campus cafeteria. A more realistic figure would be around 5% at best - the OADP, the largest component of the PSU, which is a coalition of left wing parties and splinter groups, had 2-3% in 2002 if I'm not mistaken. Since I'll vote for them, I certainly hope they'll get more than that - the best Moroccan economist, Najib Akesbi, is on their ranks.
I happen to have a lot of non political relatives and friends, and no one's ever brought up article 19...
Yes, the PJD is an interesting matter. The centrist leadership around Saadeddine Othmani, Lahcen Daoudi & Abdallah Benkirane has not favored putting the constitution on the list of priorities, thinking - correctly - that the average voter is more interested in jobs, corruption, health, education and the rest. Mustapha Ramid, leader of the more radical wing of the PJD, apparently very popular among the militants, is very outspoken indeed, and is closer to the PSU/PADS line on article 19. My bet is on the Othmani line to prevail, if the PJD comes first, as it rightly should if the elections are anything close to being honest. If the PJD is outmanoeuvered, it could become more radical.
As regards the prospects for constitutional reform of article 19, they are non-existent. Members of parliament may ask for a reform of the Constitution, but it has to be ratified by a referendum, and any referendum must be initiated by the King, who has a monopoly on that instrument.
I'll try the political compass test, and I'll let you know...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 22, 2007 07:33 PM
I never noticed that Ibn Kafka was a Communist
Said tongue in cheek... Wooley-headed tree-hugging pot-smoking hamster-loving kumbaya-hippy lefty is more like it.
But I'm happy to be labelled a commie by such a neo-con stooge of imperialism, jacobinisme, zionism and colonialism as Shaheen
Now that caricature isn't remotely resembling...
ibn kafka -- still, I closed my eyes and voted - in vain, alas - to keep the bourgeois coalition where it belongs - in the opposition...
Ah, that just goes to prove that not even the most committed idealist can stop the dialectical progress of social history -- Marxism always wins, even when it loses. But hold on, maybe I'm terribly late to something here, or misunderstand: you hold Swedish citizenship? Do you live around here too?
On Morocco, PJD: how big would they win, assuming a fair election? If I remember correctly, there was a poll from the International Republican Institute (?) some time ago that gave them good figures, but well below 50%. Have there been any other reliable polls?
Not on Morocco: the political compass test gave me a 3-something for economics, and a minus 8 or so for personal freedoms. So, slightly right-of-center in economics, all-out liberal on social issues. That's pretty accurate. Some weird questions, though, and hard to answer out of the US context. (Do rich people pay to much taxes? Well, maybe, but in which country?)
Posted by: alle at August 22, 2007 09:18 PM
IRI, yes, that was the outfit sponsored by US Gov. Got declared persona non grata, I understand.
Re that political compass, it despite pretensions remains very US centered.
As for any political party touching the constitution, they'd be insane. Where is the upside? Who is going to back them.
Bread and butter issues are the domestic concerns, security the outsiders (US, EU). Lose, lose.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 23, 2007 04:11 AM
Shaheen: the best caricatures are the outrageous ones... I knew you'd like the reference to jacobinisme...
alle: I'm Swedish, but live in the plubopaysdumonde...
As for the PJD, I'd sau around 40-50% would seem a fair figure, according to the different poll figures I've read.
Lounsbury: IRI wasn't declared persona non grata, the Moroccan authorities wouldn't dare declare any American legal or natural person persona non grata. Even evangelists are allowed to roam around freely, provided they hold the right passport. I totally agree with your conclusion btw. No party will win the election on constitutional reform alone, unfortunately.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 23, 2007 08:51 AM
ik -- Oh, cool. I didn't realize that. Då måste jag förstås fråga, which party DID you vote for in the end?
On Morocco/PJD, 40-50% okay. But what are the chances they will be allowed to get that good a score? Maybe that's being discussed in Part III? Hope so.
Posted by: alle at August 23, 2007 11:57 AM
Eh mate, my understanding is the American staff was told to pack off. Might have been an exaggeration, but I know that the chica who was running the thing had to leave. Met her once or twice at the English club, then suddenly... Of course I am not in town often enough to nail these things down.
In any case, constitutional reform is a loser and I don't see the point. More trouble than its worth, as it would only provoke a lash-out by the Makhzeni types. Better to work on incremental gains.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 23, 2007 11:59 AM
Alle: Fp? Stureplanscentern? Fy f...! Nej, jag röstade på Mp, för andra riksdagsvalet i rad. Har dock röstat på M och Fp tidigare, men det är preskriberat.
As for the PJD, I really think that the Palace is in a quandary: it cannot afford to have too strong a PJD, but if its results are not good enough the whole electoral process will be seen as fraudulous. I think that they'll let the PJD scrape through as the largest, barely - if they have any common sense in them, which is a big if...
Lounsbury: then you're more knowledgeable about it than I am. I also agree with your advice - this is exactly how parliamentarism won the day in Sweden, but I acknowledge the slight differences between the political situation in these two countries...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 23, 2007 02:05 PM
article 6 de la constitution: "l'Islam est la religion de l'Etat qui garantit le LIBRE EXERCICE DE TOUS LES CULTES"
Posted by: moon at August 30, 2007 07:50 AM
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 30, 2007 02:17 PM