Africa expert J. Peter Pham takes a broad look at Morocco’s history and leadership, and how they have helped create “an oasis of stability”:
RABAT—Sitting, as the preamble of its 2011 reform constitution proclaims, at the crossroads where the Arab Islamic world converges with Europe and Africa—all of which are in various stages of ferment and even crisis—Morocco stands out as something of an oasis of stability.
Unlike other rulers in the region, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has weathered the turbulence of recent years well. Today, in the 16th year since his accession, he enjoys widespread popularity at home, as I witnessed firsthand this past Friday when thousands of elected officials, community leaders, and ordinary Moroccans from across the North African country converged on the capital for the annual renewal of their loyalty to the monarch. (The King, in turn, reaffirmed his commitment to defending the rights of citizens, as well as the independence, territorial integrity, and welfare of the kingdom.) The enthusiasm on display was not surprising given the middle path Mohammed VI has managed to chart, steering the country clear of both revolutionary tumult and violent repression, while simultaneously avoiding the trap of religious extremism. As many of their neighbors continue to come to terms with the so-called Arab Spring, Moroccans have adopted a new constitution and elected a new government, one led for the first time in the country’s history by a (moderate) Islamist party; another election is schedule for September and is already shaping up to be highly competitive contest between a number of parties, both Islamist and secular-leaning.
Part of the explanation for this Moroccan “exceptionalism” is that, unlike most of the Arab Middle East, where the nation-state is a colonial artifice created out of the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire, Morocco has a political history that stretches back more than 12 centuries. The Alaouite Dynasty, which traces its lineage from the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and the Caliph Ali—thus justifying the reigning monarch’s claim to be Amir al-Mu’minin (“Commander of the Faithful”)—has occupied the throne since 1666, the year of the Great Fire of London. The 15th Sultan in that lineage, Mohammed III was, in 1777, the first foreign sovereign to recognize the independence of the United States (the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries, America’s oldest diplomatic accord still in force, is an extraordinary document bearing the signatures of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson). Thus the current King enjoys a historical legitimacy that is unmatched anywhere in the region…[FULL STORY]