Saturday, February 19, 2011

Arab Uprising: Whose Turn Is It Now?

The reverberations of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts, which toppled two of the longest-ruling Arab dictators, continue to be felt throughout the Middle East. In Yemen, Iran, Bahrain and Libya, demonstrations are calling for political and economic reforms. Bahraini protesters have been brutally suppressed by security forces, killing two protesters, and even firing on funeral processions in the first two days of the protests. In Libya and with a complete media blackout, the police has been clashing with protesters for days and reportedly using foreign mercenaries to repress the rioters killing a reported 80 people in three days (The footage here is from Benghazi).


Morocco has a date with planned demonstrations on February 20th, amid recent reports that the youth movement behind it has withdrawn from the protest over disagreements with the Islamists of Justice and Charity. There are also divisions among some organizers of the protesters as three original founders of the movement called for the cancellation of the demonstrations because of what they perceived as foreign interference with the movement. Nonetheless, several human rights and activist organizations have joined the Feb 20 movement. Even the king's cousin Hicham has come out in support of the planned protests. the protest organizers are calling for sweeping constitutional changes, reducing the scope of monarchical powers, dissolving the parliament and sacking he government (see some of their slogans in Arabic).

Morocco has to be concerned about the events in the Arab world and of course it does share some of the socio-economic woes of many in the region, in terms of unemployment, poverty and the rising cost of basic commodities. However, Morocco's case may prove different from the mass-protests and uprisings that toppled dictators in Egypt in Tunisia. This does not mean we won’t see protests and demonstrations in the kingdom, but those, I suspect will be smaller in scale than what we saw in Tunisia and Egypt.

First of all, the nature and style of government in Morocco is different that in the Arab republican states, where political legitimacy is lacking. The Moroccan monarchy is largely popular and entrenched in the socio-cultural foundations of the country., so much so that in Morocco we can actually talk about two layers of political authority that help set the monarchy as regime and political order above the political fray, and one that is capable of deflecting all criticism towards the state government led by the prime minister. This is not surprising then that the small protests we’ve seen so far in Morocco, notably in Fes, Tangier have largely been demanding for the king to sack his government and away from any calls of regime change.



Another factor is that maybe M6’s early reforms proved key in deflecting some of the anger we see in the Arab world today. As he established one of the first truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the atrocities of years of lead and compensate victims of those years of state violence. The king also to introduce some small scale political reforms inviting vast array of political parties to partake in relatively open elections, and empowering a relatively viable civil society, which brought about significant policy changes to some social issues: women issues and Amazigh. However, there have been recent setbacks especially in the spaces allotted to the press, with the incarceration and economic asphyxiation of major independent newspapers and magazines. This is where the challenge for the country lies ahead. Allowing a modicum for freedom of expression outside state intimidation, retaliation and undergoing constitutional changes to reduce the scope of political powers of the monarchy.



February 2011 may go down in history as the most tumultuous month in the annals of Arab political history. These are truly historical times for the Middle East, and when the dust settles, we may come to see the region in a radically different new prism.

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