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We interrupt annoying political noise for this message – Jean R. AbiNader

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, August 9, 2013) — In the ongoing and often well-deserved critiques of Arab governments over their inability to concretely and transparently move forward on issues of security, governance, and human development, there is little public space to recognize when change is coming and revolution is evolving in practical ways. Whether the commentary on countries in North Africa focuses on inaction, gridlock, militia threats, or one stand-off after another, the hope for progress that once pervaded the region has now been dampened as conflicts continue to fester.

Despite the overall gloomy prognostications, there are beacons of clarity that show that hopes can be realized if patience and discipline are applied to vision and consensus-building. One good example of this is King Mohammed VI of Morocco who, in recent speeches, has reasserted his determination to instill in the country’s leadership a firm recognition that they must accept responsibility for decision-making, admit errors and oversights, and move quickly to enact solutions.

Lest we forget, this is the King who initiated an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to bring to public scrutiny the human rights abuses in his father’s regime. And he continues to take significant incremental steps to bring Morocco in line with international standards for human and civil rights.

CESE – charting the future by learning from the past

The mid-term report of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE), which has been charged by the King to assess “effective access to basic human, economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the southern provinces,” should soon be released. By the end of this year, the Council is to complete a comprehensive assessment of the governance of the southern provinces, which include the Western Sahara, addressing five challenges: “boosting the economy; consolidating social cohesion and promoting culture; enhancing social inclusion and consolidating the fight against poverty; ensuring effective protection of the environment and sustainable territorial development; and defining responsible, inclusive governance.”

Once again King Mohammed is pushing a major intellectual and public undertaking to learn from the past so that Morocco’s strategies are firmly grounded in what Moroccans value. This is the same thinking that led him to launch the Human Development Report, which looked at the first 50 years of Morocco’s post-colonial development. On the basis of this report, he undertook the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH), which is the country’s cornerstone program to reduce poverty and promote sustainable economic development.

The CESE project has the same ground-breaking implications, since the King has made it clear this is the beginning of developing guidelines for his regionalization strategy to devolve political and economic decision-making power to locally elected officials. As a colleague recently remarked to me, “Morocco has done something unique in that it has instituted reforms from above rather successfully through gradual but serious steps.” To complement this approach, the King is now focusing on capacity-building at the local levels to prepare the country for regionalization, and the CESE is the point of the spear.

What the CESE is doing and saying

In its initial report in March 2013, the CESE provided extensive coverage of the more than 50 meetings it held in the south, hearing testimony from more than 1,000 stakeholders including “local elected officials, representatives of professional chambers, business leaders, trade union representatives, chiefs of external branch offices, and representatives of dozens of civil society organizations involved in human and social rights.”

In addition, extensive research on human development indicators was collected and analyzed to determine the performance of government programs in the southern regions. These meetings were supported by a CESE citizens’ web-based forum called Al Moubadara Lakoum to gather studies, recommendations, projects, analyses, and ideas about the “format of the new development model for the southern provinces.” In addition, CESE has called for proposals from researchers and doctoral students in fields related to this project.

To any objective observer, the report did not overlook or avoid criticism as well as praise of the government. Progress in health, education, and basic services was contrasted with deficient public administration, the predominance of security in treatment of political rights, and the ineffective engagement of civil society.

A key observation by the CESE team is that “among other shortcomings and limitations to address is a wake-up call for a change in the mindset, behaviors, and habits of policymakers and elites in charge of ensuring the development of the southern provinces.”

These are progressive outlooks built around a proposed new relationship for governance. There are strong statements on human rights, including specific references to seminal UN documents and the 2011 Constitution regarding the protection and pre-eminence of human and civil rights. In one salient statement, the report notes that “Underpinning the expectations in the south in terms of social well-being, the realization and exercise of freedoms, and transparent, responsible attitudes by government authorities and their representatives is an aspiration for the advent of a mature civil society which is recognized and empowered to run local affairs.”

In this regard, the CESE project has identified five basic issues “essential to release energies for the promotion of development and democracy in the southern regions.

  1. The steering of local public policies to promote, in order of priority, the creation of wealth and jobs, transparency, equity, and social justice in the management of public affairs;
  2. The refocusing of benefits derived from the region’s resources to meet the basic needs of citizens and provinces;
  3. The protection of the environment, making formal, measurable, and controlled commitments to promote sustainable development;
  4. Revisiting the commitment to valuing unique regional cultures and their influence on shaping national culture;
  5. Rekindling trust among the populations of the southern regions and fostering confident ties between the populations in these regions and public institutions.”

While the policy recommendations from the CESE project will be released in the final report at year’s end, its intentions are clear: to chart a path for Morocco’s regionalization based on a reformulated partnership among the people, the government, and the King. No small accomplishment in the midst of the prevailing political noise about the region that distracts and does not propose reasonable solutions.

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

Co-published with Fair Observer (www.fairobserver.com)

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