August 17, 2009
Some old controversies: Morocco & Models, and Bloggy overreaction and preciousness
Rooting around I ran across this arty Morocco makes peace with its past. - By Anne Applebaum - Slate Magazine via Global Voices Online » Morocco: An Alternative to Iran? and the Poor Alternatives - Morocco Board News Service. Intrigued I thought I'd take a look at the arty from July on Morocco. Oddly, I found it not bad, not anywhere as much as implied by the fulminating against it.
Welcome to the kingdom of Morocco, a place that, in light of the last two weeks' events in Iran, merits a few minutes of reflection. Unlike Turkey, Morocco is not a secular state: The king claims direct descent from the prophet Mohammed. Nor does Morocco aspire to be European [NB Lounsbury: not any longer, although Hassan II had an amusing demarche to tweak the Fr. in this respect] Though French is still the language of business and higher education, the country is linguistically and culturally part of the Arabic-speaking world. But unlike most of its Arab neighbors, the country has over the last decade undergone a slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders—the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman—and a set of family laws that strives to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.Emphasis added: Constitutional Monarchy? Mmmmmm. Maybe. [edited to correct some systems errors]
The result is not what anyone would call a liberal democratic paradise. One human rights activist painted for me a byzantine portrait of electoral corruption involving "mediators" who "organize" votes on behalf of candidates. Others point out that if the demonstrators I saw at the parliament had been Islamic radicals or Western Saharan guerrilla leaders, rather than trade unionists, the police might not have been quite so blasé. Though women have legal rights, cultural restraints remain. A tiny fraction of the population reads newspapers, even fewer have Internet access, and somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of the country is illiterate in any case. As a result, election turnout is very low. Political posters feature symbols, not words.
Is this a model for others? The Moroccans think so, and they have quietly "shared their experiences" with African and Middle Eastern neighbors. Belmir told me an informal group had been working on setting up a truth commission in Togo; others hint at Jordan, though of course that's unofficial. They all hasten to point out that their formula—slow transformation under the aegis of a (so far) popular king—doesn't apply everywhere. One thinks wistfully of the shah of Iran and of what might have been.
This line attracted much heated comment, although in my reading it struck me the intention of it was not to look at the Shah of 1979, but earlier and think of a different path. A legitimate observation in my mind, a Shah less divorced from reality, etc, could have done things differently. For a short article that is not an academic treatise and is intended to be read by a general audience, Applebaum's arty is not bad, of course one can nitpick, but the overall point stands.
But instead it gets call, among other things "preposterous" or "ridiculous: here Poor Alternatives - Morocco Board News Service, characterisations which strike me as rather precious when the author writes as if Iranian elections have a great jump on Moroccan elections:
Applebaum’s piece is problematic for a number of reasons aside from the obvious (which is to say that, while shooting protesters and clamping down on free speech are fundamentally wrong, the elections themselves are still contested).Indeed, the elections are contested, by pre-approved slates set by clerical councils, and the Red Lines are drawn around the Iranian Revolution and the Vilayet e Fiqh rather than the Emir el mouminine. Vast differences? Iran of the 21st Century is not the Iran of 1998. And I find it difficult to grasp the rather precious rant about headscarves (never mind the quote is wrong: "Though there is clearly a fashion for long, flowing head scarves and blue jeans, many women would not look out of place in New York or Paris." what was actually written.
From the opening paragraph, in which she invokes the all-too-common cliché of non-headscarf wearing Muslims “[not looking] out of place in New York or Paris” to her claims of Morocco entering a new era of democracy, Applebaum demonstrates her total ignorance of the Maghreb and the Arab world on the whole.Primo, while one can get rather too precious about the appearance of women in the general press, the absolute reality is that for most readership of said press, that is one key and obvious item high on their minds. It is a driving stereotype. To not address it, in particular in the case of Morocco where in the big cities it is quite correct to observe that one could easily transplant the population to a Western city and they'd blend right in - and do actually, headscarves or not. That is not the case of say.... the native population of Dubai (leave aside the expats), without said Emiratiyate changing clothes (which they do).
There is a rational line between commenting on the head scarf and mix-and-match of "Islamic" branded dress and "Western" branded dress. I rather thought, if one did not entirely misread Applebaum, that she was making the correct point.
Moving along the reaction to Applebaum's
“…unlike most of its Arab neighbors, the country has over the last decade undergone a slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders—the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman—and a set of family laws that strives to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.”
Anyone with an iota of knowledge on Moroccan politics can see the flaws in this paragraph; from the recent elections, in which the newly created Modernity and Authenticity Party, or P.A.M. (dubbed the “King’s Party”), closely linked to the royal palace, managed to sweep 22,158 seats to the three journalists arrested and fined for insulting the tyrannical leader of Libya, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Morocco is not a prime example of democracy, nor a model for Iranian reform.
Mmmm. Actually I have an iota of knowledge of Moroccan politics (indeed I rather suspect an iota bit more than the particular author) and while the traditional to constitutional monarchy raises an eyebrow, the remainder seems quite reasonable, in particular if you're looking for real benchmarks, not something pie in the sky from youthful activitists. Real parties is ambiguous, there are real parties, although only PJD would really qualify, perhaps allowing Istiqlal if it ever could shed its gerontocratic leadership. But as compared to much of the MENA region, real parties. PAM of course is .... well I think no one is quite sure what it is. It might be the King's new Palace Party, although with the Marrakech election getting bounced, I think that is to be read cautiously. In any case, the PAM performance was not, as far as I read, terribly attributatable to massive electoral fraud, but low turnout and a rather poor and Makhzenien political culture in the populace (i.e. democratic roots run not deep).
Taken as a whole, it doesn't look necessarily bad as a model - a realistic model actually achievable outside the enthusiasms of activists - for evolutionary change. In some ways as Iran looked about a decade ago, but no longer. As such, hotly denying without any particular argument and some mere hand waived half-facts is hardly an indictment of Applebaum's otherwise fine piece drawing attention (and that was really the intention one should think) to a peaceful evolution in the MENA / Arabo-Perso Islamic world rather too often characterised by Gerontocratic dictatorship of near zero legitimacy (See: Well just about every MENA country ex-Oman and Lebanon, Gulf monarchies being line straddlers there). In short, get a fucking grip.
In fact, Morocco’s own human rights record is deeply flawed. Despite substantial changes from the “Years of Lead,” Morocco continues to oppress Saharawi citizens (be their true nationality Moroccan or Saharawi, it should be relatively undisputed that they are not treated well by the state), suppress Amazigh activists by outlawing their language in schools and requiring their children be given Arab names even abroad, and persecute converts to other religions. Furthermore, Morocco almost certainly harbors CIA rendition sites, as has been testified by former Guantanamo inmates, and almost always turns the other cheek to Israeli and United States imperialism.
Applebaum also brazenly suggests that perhaps, had the Iranian revolution not occurred, perhaps Iran could have followed a similar path to Morocco, saying, “One thinks wistfully of the shah of Iran and of what might have been.” It’s as if she forgets, or is completely unaware, of the human rights violations and general atmosphere of oppression under Pahlavi.
Well, two paragraphs of unadultarated activist Everything & the Kitchen Sink whinging on. Not quite sure how this refutes the idea put forth by Applebaum's article of a modest evolutionary alternative, Applebaum herself having written:
The result is not what anyone would call a liberal democratic paradise. One human rights activist painted for me a byzantine portrait of electoral corruption involving "mediators" who "organize" votes on behalf of candidates. Others point out that if the demonstrators I saw at the parliament had been Islamic radicals or Western Saharan guerrilla leaders, rather than trade unionists, the police might not have been quite so blasé.I would dispute, mind you, the idea that non-political Sahraouine from the Western Saharan proviinces are oppressed as such. Really more or less the contrary, given the Moroccan state lavishes on the Sahara truly idiotic amounts of subsidies and has ended up with Wester Saharan provinces having better baseline literacy rates, etc. Not magnificant, but statistically significant. Given the hole Morocco has to dig itself out of after Hassan II worked on essentially exclusively crushing threats to the unitary state (and to the Monarchy - not necessarily a bad thing when one looks at the results of the populist military revolutionary coups of the 1970s elsewhere in MENA, which is to say fairly dismal).
The bit about Berber activists being oppressed because Berber (which version of Berber does our precious author propose?) is not taught in schools is.... quite queer. It's actually Islamist and Quasi Pan Arabism that opposes Berber language teaching, not the Monarchy. That is, there is popular opposition, for deep cultural reasons. It may come as a surprise to people like York, but in politics, there are no magic wands, not even for Kings. Arabic, and in particular Formal / Classical Arabic is heavily sacralised, and its use as a medium of instruction isn't something easily changed. I would suspect that in general the King and most of the Technocracy doesn't give a flying fuck about teaching Berber or not. This entirely aside from the issue of it being a painful hurdle - insofar as one would have to come up with standardised texts in at least three core dialects, AND get those texts "approved" by the Activists - who are typicaly wooley headed academics without an ounce of realism in their heads. And doubtless the Activists would insist on the idiotic use of the Neo Tifinagh Alphabet (imposing then 3 alphabets on the poor students) because Activists are generally precious, unrealistic do-gooder gits (never mind historicaly Chleuh [aka Tachelhite] the main regional Berber language with a solid written history had sensibly adopted from c. 16th century (at least) forward Arabic script, in fact said late medieval through modern era texts would make a damned fine standard). How the Moroccan's fairly liberal attitude towards Berber is "oppression" actually genuinely escapes me. The names issue of course is a problem; but a fairly generic one. As far as I can tell, it is a problem of the Adminstration taking an article banning un-Islamic names (and aimed at people using European names, in fact really an artefact of the immediate or early post-colonial period) and applying it cretinously. Not Berber names as such, but European ones. Now, logically, only W. European names should be banned (I can see some reason for that, not a good one, but at least logical). Hmmm, surprise there, the Government being cretinously incompetent. And people wonder why I am such the liberal, against state intervention and regulation?
As for converts.... well welcome to MENA my dear. Not one bloody country in all MENA allows conversion out of Islam. Ain't gonna happen while the populations of MENA feel - rightly or wrongly (i'd lean to a heavily caveated right) - under pressure from Xian Western Soc.. Calling out the Moroccans on that in the context of critiquing Applebaum in this area is profoundly stupid.
As for CIA rendition sites..... And this is a critique of Morocco relative to its neighbours in what fashion? Every one of them not hostile to the US apparently played that game. In short, irrelevant to Applebaum. The same to the really incoherent bit about "turning the cheek" to "Israeli and US imperialism." I have no idea what the bloody fuck that means, other than perhaps York preciously thinks Morocco's regime should waste its precious political capital on a Quixotic - dare I say Syrianesque - self isolation from the US over the Palestinian question, thousans of kilometres to the East? Leaving aside that is moronic advice (although typical grab bag activist twaddle), what the bloody fuck it has to do with Morocco as a evolutionary political model for MENA relative to domestic freedoms bloody well escapes me.
So far - and this arty is pretty typical I think of the "criticism" of Applebaum, we're mostly in territory of "I don't like the Applebaum arty because it did not touch on me pet issues in the way I would like" - not really items looking at the aim of such an article (the wider general audience, and in a short form). I'll leave aside the Pahlavi comment - I read that as clearly imagining a different evolution of that regime, not a whistfullness for the actual regime. However it is ambiguous and probably deserves a poke as it should have been a bit clearer.
In any case, I found this ending really silly:
Lastly, Applebaum’s assertion that “the Arab world lacks the political will to change” reeks of Obamania. Doubtless there are a number of Arab countries in which rigged elections, oppression of citizenry, and lack of freedoms are rampant, but the meme that democracy and capitalism are the only way (not to mention the United States’ hypocritical views toward democratic elections in the Middle East) is getting old. Change, if it is to happen, needs to come from within, and will not occur thanks to Western journalists, nor Twitter users changingtheir icons green, nor United States imperialism
Obamamania? Good bloody fucking lord, lack of a will to change is what just about every fucking commentator, American, French or whatnot comments on re MENA over the past fucking decade. Get a bloody grip. Leaving aside the use of the word "meme" - a horrible word that is horribly overused and abused as a concept - I suppose I can grant a point to the implied point of change coming from within (if I ignore the absurd whinging on about US imperialism, as if US imperialism was truly relevant to Morocco).
Of course, our activist author is wrong, capitalism and democracy are in fact the only ways to go for a successful long term development, what's not clear is how to get there.
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I read this article a few weeks back and thought it was ... not so good. I think you're being way too kind to Applebaum. Your reading of the article is sensible enough, and this other critique of it may have been totally off base (haven't read it), but I don't think your benign reading of the article is what she intended to write. From what I've seen of A. A. before, she's exactly the kind of person who will go nuts over hijab-free women with lipstick, who thinks March 14 in Lebanon were secular pro-US democrats, who has (probably) been swooning over Ayaan Hirsi Ali, etc.
For example, what the fuck was she smoking when she wrote this?
Posted by: alle at August 17, 2009 02:26 PM
Well, reading something in isolation can be dangerous.
That puts my generous reading of the Shah reference in question but the quote re hidjab wearing girls in jeans is what it is (among 'what it is' is accurate).
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 17, 2009 02:35 PM
Someone is so in love with Lmakhzan that they live in Britain :)
a generous lover that king of yours.
Posted by: Chaqi at August 17, 2009 06:16 PM
While it's futile for me to get into an argument with you (someone who yes, does know more about Moroccan politics specifically than I), I will say two things: I've been reading Applebaum's precious comments on MENA for years, and she is indeed the type of person whose panties get wet over the sight of hijab-free Muslims; on the whole, I'm simply tired of the commentary of western women who've barely set foot in the region.
Second, my rant was just a rant on my own blog that happened to get picked up by the Morocco Board and printed there without my permission. It was certainly not intended to be as widespread an article as it ended up being (or I would have certainly done better fact-checking, as I've spotted some of my own errors since).
Posted by: Jillian C. York at August 17, 2009 09:30 PM
I think you're the one overreacting. Applebaum's pieces on MENA are execrable, and that one was particularly so. If you want to defend the way public affairs are conducted in Morocco, do so. But don't pretend that Jillian's mitigation was out of line.
I don't have time to deconstruct your jibber-jabber right now, but let it be known that Vilayet e Fiqh isn't hereditary. Now, suck it up and acknowledge you're ignoring fundamental differences.
Posted by: lixy at August 18, 2009 06:01 PM
Primo: "Second, my rant was just a rant on my own blog that happened to get picked up by the Morocco Board and printed there without my permission": Fine but why should I care? Public posting is a public post, I could care less about the source, I haven't even a clue as to what Morocco Board is.
Secundo, re Applebaum: well, as I don't follow the women, reading the piece in isolation didn't set off much in the way of alarm bells for me. Insofar as I am not insensitive to many of the same issues that concern you, I'd suggest you're reacting less to what was actually written and more to the author. Perhaps not an unreasonable position as such, authors do have histories... but nevertheless the actual words did not seem that bad to me.
Now as to the "Lixy" commentator: What the bloody fuck are you on about?
Primo: I pretend nothing, I found the comment commented on poor for the reasons laid out supra, one blog to another. Get a grip.
Secundo: What on earth does heredity have to do with Veleyat e Fiqh? And in particular with respect to what I wrote. A red line is a red motherfucking line. In Iran one can't (as was made bloodily evident of late with the most recent bout of unpleasantness) call into question the Khomienist regime nor the Veleyat e Fiqh. Opposition to the regime in Iran has to dance around pretending not to oppose said fundamental verites.
Given no fucking country is a bloody copy of another, it highlights the same bloody issues you git.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 19, 2009 07:59 AM
Fair enough, but the very reason I started the piece with a brief ranting about Applebaum herself was to indicate my great dislike for her. Point taken; next time I'll devote an entire paragraph to such vitriol, just so it's abundantly clear.
Posted by: Jillian C. York at August 19, 2009 10:13 AM
- Should Morocco be compared to MENA countries? While I think it's a stretch to want to compare it to Spain circa 1975, as some do, I think we can aspire to do better than merely compare well with elsewhere in the Arab world. Particularly elsewhere in North Africa: these are basketcase countries. Indeed, it might altogether to count improvements from a baseline in the history of the country. Since we are talking about M6, we might compare it to the situation on 30 July 1999 and compare the dynamic of positive change. Has the dynamic slowed down since the late 1990s? I think so. Has the actual situation gotten worse? A mixed bag: the rights situation has gotten worse (mostly because of the "Global War on Terror" and the lese-majeste trials) but did not revert to pre-1996; economic governance is no more transparent and worse in some respects due to the growing role of the royal holdings, women's rights have improved in theory though practice still needs to catch up; politics after some hope has stagnated with terrible developments such as the PAM, which ultimately will make it more difficult to mediate between the government and the population. Quality of governance, after continuing to improve between mid-1990s and mid-2000s with the arrival of more qualified people at the helm of institutions, is today so-so, especially because the king retains all the powers but takes none of the responsibility (and hard work). The constitutional/institutional balance remains unchanged: Morocco is still an absolute monarchy (and this mistake in Applebaum's piece is unforgivable: the king himself stressed this in his July 30 2007 speech). That would be my conclusion.
- When does the M6-is-better-than-H2 free pass end? 10 years enough? Why are things that are probably more important than politics and rights, such as the overhaul of education (and I agree about the Berber language thing being a stupid distraction) and raising living standards for the poorest (those people who freeze to death in the High Atlas in the winter) start being given more prevalence? Lounsbury and I (I'm in Morocco 3 months a year, more or less) live in the nice coastal cities. What we see is much better than what I see (and I think Lounsbury has seen) in Egypt (where I live the rest of the year.) But the UNDP and UN Human Development indices probably show a truer picture of the global situation of the country, not just the globalized bits/"Maroc Utile".
Posted by: arabist at August 19, 2009 02:53 PM
Well, re comparatives to MENA... You know you have to compare peers to peers to get a sense of real evolution. Comparing Morocco to Spain has some utility, but needs context as well (e.g. impact of EU membership, etc).
On Applebaum and the Monarchy, I don't disagree per se, but she said "Traditional Monarchy" versus Constitutional.... well I suppose I can see an argument that M6 is less 'traditional.'
Weak one however.
I might quibble with some of your evals supra, and perhaps will in a separate post, but one thing I keep in mind is that no country manages flat out reforms unchecked for a decade. Flagging is inevitable. The real question in my mind is sustainability and potential "second wind." Or going backward...
Regarding the social advances, you're right, one can get fooled. Casa-Rabat axis is like say Italy or Greece in the 1960s relative to real economic development. That is, not that bad. 200 km inland and you're more in Sub Saharan Africa (good SSA, but...) standards.
It is not easy to change such things. The quick and easy items either have already been done, or are counterproductive. One thing I give the Moroccan government great credit for is investing in rational infrastructure in the past decade. Boring, useful, rational infrastructure. This sort of thing pays off, but slowly. It is, however, an absolute necessity.
Hmm, well, this is a rich comment, needs a post reply. But one obs, as you and I both have lived in the Great Mezbala, and that Rabat-Casa axis. For me the greatest indictment of the Egyptian regime is even in Cairo the regime can't deliver on basic organization in the core areas of the economic capital. Nevermind the bidonvilles / slums, I meant the damned bloody core.
Both the Maroc Utile and the Inland Morocco are real pictures, getting proper investment to allow Inland Morocco to become part of Maroc Utile is the Great Challenge. I am moderately optimistic about that. In a way that I am not, in the long term, about several neighbours.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 19, 2009 03:56 PM
The infrastructure projects were indeed great and very useful, and general law and order are positive points. I have no way to substantiate this, but one feels they were planned under H2 (by the G14 and other mid-90s reformist technocratic outfits). What are the great infrastructure projects post-highways and Tanger Med? Le Plan Vert? The tourism plan that never did quite work out? The considerable amounts of money the EU is putting into supporting certain trade-oriented light industries?
The argument is also sometimes made that core economic reforms were made under H2 and we're seeing the benefit now, including the late 80s / early 90s decision to issue passports more freely which arguably translates into the remittances boom of the 2000s.
I do worry about cost-of-living issues, and to what extent they may be related to unnatural monopolies because of weak economic governance. I am thinking of Maroc Telecom / Vivendi of course, but also certain quasi-monopolies created in the last decade. For instance the Akwa Group - rumor is that the energy wing of that may be sold off to the royals. Addoha of course. The whole edible oils fiasco. I'd be interested to learn more about Attijirya bank's loan burden. Sure, business is business anywhere, but in Morocco (despite still too much red tape) you have a promising entrepreneurial culture dampened by too much politics in business. That's troubling for the future.
Like you said, post-worthy and your insight into business life would be v. interesting.
Posted by: arabist at August 19, 2009 05:34 PM
Very good points. I need to do a post. However, we're bumping dangerously up against issues I have to be careful about.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 19, 2009 06:08 PM