Kristen Kouttab, MAC
August 3, 2017
To observers of a country undergoing democratic reform, it may seem curious when the person most invested in shifting power away from the monarchy is the monarch.
And yet, that is exactly what we are witnessing in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI delivered a strikingly unusual speech last Saturday on the occasion of Throne Day, marking the 18th anniversary of his reign.
In the post-Cold War era, there has been consensus in the international community on the importance of democratic reform. Governments in the Middle East and North Africa have often been – legitimately – criticized for introducing token elements of democracy in a bid to stay in power without effecting any real change. Some of those countries, including Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, were eventually engulfed in upheaval during the Arab Spring, as citizens finally said, “enough is enough.”
Morocco has taken a different path under King Mohammed VI, who has been championing democratization ever since he assumed the throne in 1999. Over the past two decades, Morocco has introduced serious reforms intended to dilute the concentration of power away from the monarchy and toward representative institutions. The country has passed laws and introduced initiatives to improve human rights and encourage citizen engagement with government and civil society. The King’s support has been central to these advancements.
Recently, however, movement forward in Morocco has been slow, and progress on social and economic development has been challenging. With several months of ongoing demonstrations in the north, the King was widely anticipated to address these persistent issues in his Throne Day speech last Saturday. He did, and he went even further than expected. This time, it was the King’s turn to say, “Enough is enough!” Literally.
Saturday’s speech was remarkable in that the King not only bluntly acknowledged criticisms of the democratization process in Morocco, but also embraced them. “All in all,” he said, “our development policy choices remain sound. The problem lies with mentalities that have not evolved, as well as with the inability to implement projects and to innovate.” He demanded swift implementation of development projects and regional initiatives, and he harshly criticized the failure of the public sector to actually serve the public.
He also expressed disdain for self-serving bureaucrats and politicians whose unaccountability and incompetence have been damaging the Moroccan people’s trust in democratic institutions. “When results are positive,” he said, “political parties, politicians and officials vie for the spotlight to derive benefits from the achievements made… However, when matters do not turn out the way they should, they hide behind the Royal Palace [and] as a result, citizens complain to the King about government services or officials…”
I imagine it must be tiring to be widely considered Morocco’s only responsible – and responsive – public servant.
It is true that the democratization process in Morocco has not been flawless, but it should be more than clear that the King and the country are absolutely committed to moving that process forward. Saturday’s speech seemed to indicate a new chapter in Morocco’s democratization: a shift to maturing the institutions and processes already in place and making them function properly through a new focus on good governance.
The King used his speech to firmly outline his expectations for such governance going forward but also promised to continue safeguarding the interests of the country and the rights, freedoms, and interests of the people. “I will not accept any backtracking on democratic achievements,” he said, “nor will I tolerate any obstruction.”
Democracy is more than just a purple thumb. It is a complex system of performance-related government activities and public servants working for the benefit of the country and the people. Morocco’s King has an unmistakable long-term vision for the country and is actively committed to real democratic reform. The Moroccan people are lucky to have him.
Kristen Kouttab is the Deputy Communications Director at the Moroccan American Center