It seems to me the Moroccan people have overwhelmingly democratically chosen an undemocratic constitution. According to Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui, over 70% of Moroccans went to polling stations and 98% of voters resoundingly approved the new charter as proposed by the king. The “nihilists,” as the acrimonious Khalid Naciri, Morocco’s Communication Minister and spokesman, is fond of calling advocates of the country’s reformist movement, doubted the results; they see the whole process as contrived and accused the government of organizing a charade; for weeks leading up to voting day, they had mounted a campaign calling for the boycott of the referendum. Government backers criticized such a strategy as undemocratic. But how can one participate in an election that is rigged in favor of the country’s king and his plutocratic entourage?
Some of my friends, subscribers to the theory of incrementalism, voted for the new constitution convinced that it is a necessary evolutional step to a democratic Morocco. However, they conceded to the fact that for the majority of Moroccans, the referendum was not on the passing of a new set of fundamental egalitarian laws, but on the king himself. The majority of “yes” voters did so in genuflection to the king rather than in approbation for the constitution. In essence, Morocco has today, as it did pre-referendum, a king who is the constitution. A change anyone with a modicum of common sense can’t believe in.
It is true that the new constitution offers more freedoms, but democracy is not simply about allowing people certain freedoms. The Moroccan government declared that the majority of Moroccans, by overwhelmingly voting “yes,” expressed a general will that bespeaks the common good. If I understand Rousseau’s The Social Contract, that, indeed, is democracy. Not so fast! In a country where political inscience is prevalent, I doubt collective rationality in identifying the common good. I am more inclined to consider how Machiavelli interprets “common good” in Discourses, namely, a shared will to avoid domination. German sociologist Max Weber defines “domination” as “the probability that a command with a specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons,” adding that “the existence of domination turns only on the actual presence of one person successfully issuing orders to others.” Ian Shapiro expounds that definition and states that ”domination can result from a person’s, or a group’s, shaping agendas, constraining options, and, in the limiting case, influencing people’s preferences and desires. Domination can also occur without the need for explicit commands when one person or group secures the compliance of another as a by-product of their control of resources that are essential for the second person or group, or, in the terminology I will deploy, is in a position to threaten their basic interests.” Considering the oligopolistic nature of Morocco’s politics, economy, religious affairs, and media, the “yes” vote was compelled in large segments of the society. What the plutocrats wanted had come to pass. They threw astounding sums of money into economic, political, and media programs that would constrict the public’s range of alternatives to a “yes” vote, to make Moroccans ready, willing, and even eager to blindly follow the lead of the king. There is no denying that the government was actively engaged to tilt the vote. It wooed the people by subsidizing commodities; it granted over nine million dollars to eight of the largest political parties to lead exhaustive mobilization campaigns targeting impoverished neighborhoods and rural areas. It deployed its officers to rally crowds promising benefits at times and using crude identity and chauvinistic politics to rouse populist support at others. Government controlled airwaves and television networks run marathons of programs painting the constitution in a positive light; between each program, Moroccans were exposed to commercials urging them to vote “yes.” In Mosques, Friday preachers and imams recited verbatim a communiqué of the Ministry of Hobous and Islamic Affairs praising the constitution and advising worshipers that to obey the command of the king – meaning to vote “yes” – is a religious duty; they adduced Koranic verses to back up their statements. Free “yes” concerts hosting popular Moroccan singers were organized. Paid detractors saturated Moroccan Internet forums with casuistry to prevent them from reaching a broader audience. “Yes” banners were flown in every street and glued to the side of every bus and on every wall. I don’t believe the votes were miscounted. The democratic electoral process – in principle, competing for the majority’s vote – was observed. But I am convinced the Moroccan citizen was the target of a well-planned and precisely executed psychological operation against which he was defenseless.
The skeptics, myself included, have no confidence that the application of the new constitution will herald a democratic epoch in Morocco’s history. Its articles pertaining to the monarchy put an insuperable crimp in its functionality. The factor of domination is still palpable in its articles. The levers of powers are still commandeered by the king; he still controls the military, the judiciary, and religious affairs; the prime minister will be vested with executive powers over the government and will be elected from the party leading the election, the king will still be supreme executor over all political institutions to include the prime minister’s office. If the king calls the tune, the political parties and their representatives in parliament, the judicial, the ministers, and the civil society will dance. Although the voted constitution gives him immeasurable executive control over the levers of governance, it fails to decree his incumbency to popular accountability as if alluding to his infallibility. He remains unchallenged to dictate policies and measures as he sees fit and a king that dictates in such a fashion is a dictator.
The document, I am convinced, was not designed to set the stage for a stable democratic polity, nor is it equipped to curtail abuse of power by putatively elected and non-elected officials – appointed by the king. It was rather cobbled together by an unelected committee at the behest of the king and the elite to diffuse long-simmering social discontent with an entrenched power structure that benefits from the status quo. I have mentioned in a previous article titled “Betting on the King” that the new strategy of Morocco’s plutocracy is to huddle within the king’s vast sphere of influence and be shielded from popular wrath by the emotional sway he holds over Moroccans. By virtue of their association with the Monarchy’s guild, elite colluding families, whose members make the bulk of high profile politicians and businessmen in Morocco today, enjoy an extraordinary status and will never be held to account for their lack of ethics and the criminal schemes in which they engage under the umbrella of their governmental authority. The new constitution will not change that reality.
A. T. B. © 2011