Why Morocco needs to stay exceptional


This Tuesday, July 30, Morocco celebrates twenty years of the reign of Mohammed VI.

His father Hassan II had a turbulent reign, narrowly escaping several conspiracies and assassination attempts. He was a cultured, self-confident, joyful, cruel, instinctively ruling despot, admired for his “baraka” throughout the Arab world.

Following the death of Hassan II, few people gave the monarchical system a high chance of survival. It was said that Mohammed VI, as discreet as his father was an exhibitionist, would soon be swallowed up by the first Oufkir to come. This brilliant officer had been an aide-de-camp to Mohammed V, then Minister of Defence to Hassan II, before plotting against his king in 1972.

To everyone’s surprise, the monarchy did survive in Morocco. It is functioning; and the prosperity of this kingdom of 35 million inhabitants has continued to grow.

What a difference from the other Maghreb countries! Algeria cannot choose between military dictatorship and civil democracy, with a population increasingly damaged by the incredible waste of wealth for which the FLN has been responsible since independence.

Libya is in chaos, the victim of a civil war between the militias of Tripolitania and those from Cyrenaica.

Tunisia is going through a unique but confusing democratic experience, where it is far from having recovered the industrial and tourist dynamism it had under the Ben Ali regime before the “Arab spring” of 2011.

In fact, Morocco is the only Maghreb country where international investors feel both safe and warmly welcomed. In June 2019, Peugeot opened a plant in Kenitra with a production capacity of 90,000 vehicles per year. PSA has only followed its competitor Renault-Nissan, whose Tangier site produces some 340,000 vehicles per year.

Islamist extremism is still ravaging Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and the entire Sahel region. But it seems to be relatively well blocked at Morocco’s borders. Is it because the King is called “Commander of the Believers”? One thing is certain: having the Alawi dynasty rooted in Moroccan culture is a factor in its stability.

Coming from the Hedjaz, named in the 13th century by Berber pilgrims from Tafilalet (south-east of present-day Morocco and gateway to the Sahara and black Africa), the Alawite sheriffs are so-called that because they are direct descendants of Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law.

In the 17th century, when Morocco was the prey of divisions, it was an Alawite sheriff, Prince Moulay Rachid, who succeeded in unifying the Moroccan territory and giving it a strong central power.

After noting that the Arabization of primary and secondary education had been a disaster, the Moroccan government had the courage to decide four years ago to reintroduce French. Today, Morocco sends its most brilliant students to study in the top French schools.

Morocco’s strength is that it has no resentment towards the former French protector (from 1912 to 1956), largely thanks to the intelligence of Lyautey, the first resident general of the French protectorate. In 1941, Mohammed V won the respect of the free French by defending his Jewish subjects, whom the Vichy regime was trying to persecute. The Sultan was made a Companion of the Liberation by General de Gaulle.

Maintaining excellent relations with France was not the only successful strategic move by Mohammed VI. In 2011, the King was able to cushion the wave of Arab springs perfectly by promulgating a more democratic constitution, where powers are clearly separated between the government and the palace (which retains control over defence, foreign policy and justice).

Previously, Mohammed VI had had the intelligence to launch a bold investment policy in Black Africa. Morocco’s reintegration into the organization of African Unity was not merely symbolic: it embodies the reality on the ground.

The preservation of Moroccan exceptionalism is now not only in Europe’s interest but also Africa’s.

Does that mean that the Kingdom is perfect? Of course not. Inequalities remain glaring and national education is not progressing fast enough. Without progress in secular, free and compulsory education, it is illusory to believe that we will open society to modernity.

The main question is whether the King, who is said to be tired and sick, still has enough energy to continue to reform his kingdom. The problem with monarchies is that in the long run, they always rely on only one man…

This article was first published in Le Figaro.

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