Morocco - Leadership

When suddenly called upon to assume his father's office as King Mohamed VI, he did not seem to have enough experience to lead Morocco. Lacking the appeal and political skills of his father, who governed the country for 38 years with a mixture of authoritarianism and relative parliamentary politics, Mohamed sought to consolidate his power. At the same time he hoped to impose a new political style characterized by some political openness in the context of a constitutional monarchy. However, he has maintained control of the instruments used by his father (e.g., the army, the security services, and patronage) to ensure the preeminence of the monarchy. Mohamed has gradually pursued a liberal agenda in Morocco where his legitimacy is based on traditional and religious sources. As the twenty-second ruler from the Alaoui dynasty, he claims descent from the prophet Mohammed. Because of this religious ancestry, he inherited the title of amir al-muminnin (the commander of the faithful). But Mohamed has not rested on the laurels of tradition. His liberal approach to government has earned him a reputation as a prime example of the new reformist generation of Arab monarchs.

What may have helped him in his endeavor toward reform is the fact that, before his death, his father paved the way for a smooth succession by enacting major political reforms and by placing the "tolerated" opposition in power. Hassan II, alternated between policies of repression and intimidation on one hand and relatively stable parliamentary politics on the other. As his political position gradually improved, he eased restrictions on political life, released hundreds of political prisoners, lifted press censorship, and allowed local and parliamentary elections to proceed. A very slow process of political opening finally led to municipal elections in 1992 and 1997, parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1997, and a constitutional amendment in 1996 related to the structure and election of Parliament. These actions resulted from domestic pressures, but also—and perhaps primarily—from international pressure for political liberalization as a precondition for continued economic assistance and for a special relationship with the EU. With regard to the Islamic opposition, moderate groups became slowly tolerated, and the crackdown on radical ones increased, partly in response to the violent Islamic rebellion in neighboring Algeria.

Even though they did not alter Morocco's power structure, the parliamentary elections of 1997 allowed the emergence of an informal center bloc and the appointment of opposition leader, Abderrahman Youssoufi, as prime minister. In spite of the relative gains of the Koutla parties, most parliamentary seats have remained in the hands of promonarchy parties. The parliamentary reform and the control of government by the former opposition constitutes a major step in bringing about much needed political changes, such as allowing more participation from below and making office holders more accountable. In his 2001 speech at the opening of parliamentary sessions, Mohamed called upon his government to continue work toward drafting a new electoral code to govern the polls, which would establish the firm legal guarantee of free and fair elections. By the September 2002 elections, changes, including the promise of prison sentences for vote-buying and the replacement of color-coded voting papers with party logos on the ballets, had been implemented. To guarantee that at least 10% of those elected were female, 30 of the 325 seats were selected from national lists consisting only of women.

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