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Not “American Way” but it’s working in Morocco – J. AbiNader

**”Just as we became a role model for others, Morocco may be shaping a path that bridges the twin goals of democracy and stability as effectively for its society.” –Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC**

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade & Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade & Investment Center

MATIC, by Jean R. AbiNader  (Washington, DC, March 7, 2013) — The US government has an almost knee-jerk reaction to democracy promotion – have an election. There doesn’t seem to be a reality check on this tendency regardless of the Administration, or the continent. We tend to endow elected officials with a mantle of respect if they are clever or manipulative enough to hold “mostly free and fair” elections.

Having watched this behavior for more than three decades in Washington, DC, I am beginning finally to understand the motivation – either it frees us up to give money to our “new” friends to help them open their markets to US business and other interests, or it allows us to walk away from declining regimes that are no longer useful or have no use for us.

I would like to find more altruistic motives, and while I strongly support the work of the National Endowment for Democracy and its affiliated organizations and the US Institute for Peace, I believe their herculean task of promoting reform and able governance is constrained by the realities of a superpower that has lost its edge in promoting freedom…it’s just too messy. So when I have the opportunity, as I did in a recent blog on Mali-repair, I argue against immediate post-conflict elections and for a more appropriate loya jirga/national dialogue approach that takes into consideration facts on the ground as well as shaping a joint strategy for political and economic development. Yes, we can end up with an Afghanistan, if we try to guide the process to our satisfaction, or another civil war or generation of political cannibalism as we are seeing in Iraq.

So it is with bemusement that I behold the political pundits and analysts who criticize Morocco for its deliberate pace in political reform. It is pretty amazing when these sometimes thoughtful people ignore the value of King Mohammed VI’s approach, which a decade or two ago would have been called capacity building. Yes, in our country that had to go through a civil war and 150 years of debate to enfranchise the majority of its population, we tend to ignore that the transitions countries face today are dramatically compressed in time and public access, leaving little room for building coalitions that transcend a zero-sum game with rivals.

This is where the King’s strategy may give us a salutary reminder – in societies that value consensus, public space for debate and deliberation is extremely valuable to regime legitimacy. Keeping open communications with those who disagree with you is vital to the democratic process, and the US has a role to play here. We can demonstrate our commitment by encouraging our friends to ensure that public space is open, supportive, inclusive, and timely in empowering freedoms that are the birthright of all Moroccans.

This all came to mind this past week when the National Human Rights Council (CNDH), established by the King with actual powers of holding public hearings on human rights issues, issued four reports. When these reports are made in public by a former regime prisoner Driss El Yazami, the president of CNDH, and presented to the King, it’s hard not to be impressed. While there are several takeaways from the reports, most news reports focused on:

  • Limitations on the use of military courts to specific military cases
  • Reforms in line with changes in the 2011 Constitution that guarantee an individual’s right to a fair trial, promote an independent judiciary, and enforce the protection of human rights
  • Steps to further strengthen the rule of law
  • Proposed reforms to the Constitutional Court including the right of parties to sue to challenge the constitutionality of a law

As important as these recommendations are, equally significant is that they now go to Parliament for debate and legislative action. This process strengthens and reinforces the reality of democracy at work in Morocco. These critical steps empower Moroccans to exercise greater control over their lives and their relationships with each other and their government.

When I look around at the other results of the Arab uprisings, it is clear that there are no easy solutions to the transitions that are underway. While we may be impatient with Morocco and want it to rush towards a fully democratic system, let’s step back and look at our history. We may recognize that just as we became a role model for others, Morocco may be shaping a path that bridges the twin goals of democracy and stability as effectively for its society.

 Jean R. AbiNader is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center.

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