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By Mohammad I. Aslam


The Montréal Review, August 2011


When falling for short term gains to impede long-term retributions happen to be the way forward.




They say when you make the rules, you know how to break them -- and break them intelligently to great acclaim. King Mohammed VI of Morocco is no exception. Like every one of his absolute ruling contemporaries in the Arab world, he is faced with the threat of revolutionary fever hell-bent on dethroning him from his self-appointed taqweer (Arabic for reverence or adoration).

And so a new constitution was passed in early July to the tune of 98.5%. But as always, the devil is in the details. If there's anyone who believes in the credibility of the King's selected interior ministry -- his first constitutional referendum in 12 years of rule had a turnout of almost 73%.  The 400-year-old monarchy, the longest surviving in the Arab world, was finally obliged to acquiesce executive powers to a prime minister. That is, with the exception of being granted the sovereign titles of the head of the state, military and of course the Islamic faith.

His traditional allies in France, the European Union and USA could not but praise his 'clear commitment to democracy'. But for many sectors of the Moroccan population, his promise of reforms was too little too late. High unemployment, an ever-increasing level of poverty, decades of institutional corruption and the virtual throttling of democratic expression -- showed no signs of a promising change despite the new enactments.

Despite the rhetoric of a new democratic era, the ground reality is that the King's powers are little unchanged. He will continue to appoint, reshuffle and dismiss ministers at whim for a start. The new executive or 'chief of government' (CoG) as he will be commonly known, certainly has the right to make nominations for ministers and alternatively recommendations for their dismissal, but the final say rests with the King who will make the ultimate decision upon consulting with his court.

But when the high council of magistrates is something the King himself will continue to preside over, is it not logical to advise the King to perhaps just consult with himself?

The new 'chief of government' despite everything, will still be bound hand and foot to the King's Palace. The new text will render the person of the King as 'inviolable' but no longer 'sacred', perhaps an attempt to make him remain beloved in popular psyche. In short, it's a far cry from Morocco's new youth movements demand for a constitutional monarchy -- a demand which with every absolute monarch falls on deaf ears. It's simple: Absolute power has the same effect as enormous wealth, it can lead its possessor to hide, but yet yearn, to control the world around them.

Scratching beneath the surface, there's more to the King's constitutional referendum than changing rules and pushing boundaries for the sake of his people's economic and democratic wishes. That is something which far from washes into the crevice of his own designs; his real aim is to try and impede the onslaught of potential retribution for years of torture, detention and murder. Paranoia is the most political of mental illnesses.

It began with the ouster of Tunisia's Ben Ali. The fuse of upheaval in the region was finally set, he may have stood clear of the explosion but he knew he would sooner rather than later be compelled to pick up the pieces. Like a jilted lover, he grew a beard and toured parts of his country in an attempt to project himself as his peoples desiring leader who is wise, all knowing and in full control. He was careful unlike some of his contemporaries, not to employ vitriolic demagoguery. Democratic aspirations were not crimes, and he was not a King who wished to sit crowned in his grave.

But the type of police-state that exists in this backwater of a country, in which he is the ultimate authority, is a sadistic one in every sense of the word. Tales of torture chambers, the spilling of guts, the plucking of finger nails, the yanking of people's teeth, the attaching of jumper cables to the nipples of prisoners and the drilling of holes in human bodies, has made even human rights analysts sick to the pit of their stomachs. After all, not only were the King's security services complicit in American-led extraordinary rendition of international terror suspects, but human rights organisations have documented the detention of thousands of political prisoners, the unknown whereabouts of many others and killing in custody of numerous individuals.

The King is balancing on a precarious equilibrium, his reforms are unlikely to buy him indefinite time. The eviscerating of his army, the resort to lies and cover-ups, the spitting out of former cronies like sugar-cane chaff and the failure to show any remorse or sigh of resignation for years of absolute rule, may one day culminate in his people throwing him down a hole with the dirt thrown on top of him.


Mohammad I. Aslam is a Ph.D candidate in Political Violence at the Department of Middle-East & Mediterranean Studies, King's College London.


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