I recently attended a talk by Mohammed Daadaoui titled “It’s Good To Be The King, or Is It? The ‘Refo-lutionary’ Promise of the PJD Islamists, Street Protests and Regime Control in Morocco.” As you have probably gathered from the title, the lecture focused on the Moroccan monarchy and the challenges it faces.
Daadaoui described the Moroccan monarchy as a lynchpin monarchy, which plays a limited role in governmental institutions and tolerates some decree of social pluralism, such as an elected head of government. However, no party will ever have a majority as a plurality party is engineered, and there is a shadow government headed by royal advisors. The king has a great deal of symbolic power, as the guarantor of social order and the commander of the faithful, and all Moroccans swear an annual oath of loyalty to him.
The Arab Spring was, of course, challenging to the stability of the monarchy. The February 20th protest movement led to cosmetic constitutional reforms, which gained some support but may have weakened the monarchy by its entrance into the political fray. Additional challenges include the rise of the PJD and the Rif protests.
The PJD, Parti de la justice et du développement, led by Benkirane, is an increasingly successful Islamist party that has been successful in encouraging voter turnout through its discourse of honesty and morality. While it is prevented from gaining a majority through the bloc system of the parliament, the PJD seeks incremental social changes within the system. Benkirane is known for his humble abode and his habit of giving speeches in Darija, the Arabic vernacular of Morocco. However, he began to be seen as an adversary of the king and was fired by him. While this was apparently a sign of strength, it may also serve to demystify the monarchy.
The Rif region of Morocco has a long history of conflict with the monarchy. It was a separate republic under Spanish colonization, and its 1958 rebellion was met with violent repression by the father of the current king. The current protests, which are at least somewhat more tolerated, address injustice due to corruption and the lack of national support for the socioeconomic development of the region. The king has been silent on the matter, but used his throne-day speech to critique the political class. This was followed by the sacking of several ministers, which was refered to as a زلزال سياسي , or political earthquake.
Daadaoui summarized the situation with the term “The King’s Dilemna,” which he defined as the monarchy’s need to shore up their position within the political fray while maintaining symbolic support above it. My classes in Morocco focused on other aspects of Moroccan society, probably because criticizing the monarchy is illegal, so I was very interested to learn more about Moroccan government. Some of the ideas were familiar to me, such as the shadow government, the oath of loyalty, and the Rif protests, but others, such as the rise of the PJD, were completely new.