How Morocco’s ‘democratic experiment’ went wrong


morocco-municipal-and-regional-electionsMorocco, held up as a model for reform in the wake of the Arab Spring, is slipping back into autocracy, according to the Christian Science Monitor:

Though a new constitution was passed in 2011, ongoing economic marginalization, a lack of transparency, and abuses by security forces have driven citizens to the streets for the first time in five years. Observers and rights activists say that the government has responded by stifling speech and press freedoms and using the long reach of its security services to prevent a new protest movement from gaining steam.

They have concluded that for Arab autocracies, it’s not enough to change the laws on paper without reforming the institutions which enact those laws – institutions that remain unaccountable, lacking in transparency, and used to enforce the monarch’s will.

“Morocco is frequently held up as a success, that the government did the right thing. A new constitution is huge, but it is a constitution on paper. The reforms are only as good as they are implemented,” says Sarah Yerkes, a Morocco expert and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

morocco vote“They were superficial and were there to show people that the king was doing something, and it worked for a while,” she says. “But it is clear that it was not enough.”

Recent protests highlight the limits of reform within what analyst Daniel Brumberg, writing for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy, called the trap of liberalized autocracy.

Without the reform of the state itself, experts say regimes such as Morocco can easily undermine their own democratic reforms and allow for extensive patronage networks and corruption that maintains support for the monarchy while limiting economic opportunities for its citizens, the CSM report adds.

“The nature of power has not been transformed. The monarchy retains tremendous power, more so than before the uprising,” says Abdeslam Maghraoui, Morocco expert professor of political science at Duke University. “You need to reform the political power, not just the constitution.”


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