Last Updated: Tue May 22, 2012 17:36 pm (KSA) 14:36 pm (GMT)

Mustapha Ajbaili: Has Morocco’s gov’t hit a brick wall in reform mission?

Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has walked a tightrope for almost five months, trying to satisfy the public without upsetting the king. (Reuters)
Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has walked a tightrope for almost five months, trying to satisfy the public without upsetting the king. (Reuters)

Since assuming office nearly five months ago, Morocco’s moderate Islamist-led government has worked arduously to punch a hole in an old system resistant to reform. It has failed almost at every attempt, disappointed many of those who saw in them a glimmer of hope, and created enemies with various social forces, including largely the unemployed graduates.

The pessimists are gaining ground and the protest movement, once thought to be dead, rebounded last Sunday with sizeable rallies in several cities.

The much publicized “participatory governance” ─ a shared decision-making process between elected officials and the royal court ─ has turned into a euphemistic expression for a post-Arab Spring form of collective totalitarianism.

Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has walked a tightrope for almost five months, trying to satisfy the public without upsetting the king and the coterie of oligarchs running the political show from behind a curtain.

During the election campaign, Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (JPD) promised to mend the state budget by fighting corruption, inequality, and privileges.

Benkirane must have known well that he was up against a system set up in a way to ensure that no political party wins an outright majority and is thus unable to form a government by itself.

Benkirane found himself in a coalition with one of Morocco’s most corrupt and powerful political parties, the Istiqlal (Independence) party and the populist Islamist leader will see his coalition breaking apart the moment he begins to touch sensitive nerves of corruption.

We saw that recently when PJD Minister of Information Mustapha el-Khalfi came up with a proposal to reform the media sector. The proposed bill contained new audiovisual media guidelines devised to ensure the transparency, independence and competitiveness in the sector. Media hawks orbiting the establishment, best known locally as the Makhzen, hit back at the minister’s proposed plan and rejected it entirely.

Why?

Mediated explanations focused on the fact that the new guidelines sought to “Islamize” the Moroccan media and that the hawks were defending the values of modernity, openness and liberty.

However, such values are the least of their concerns. They are more concerned about money and about losing their privileges, because the new guidelines call for the transparency of audiovisual production contracts and that they be awarded on merit, not favoritism.

What happened next?

The hawks appeared to have won the skirmish. The minister was summoned to the palace and all we heard later was that his proposed bill was ordered to be shelved.

This is just a small example of the government’s failure to reform the system and while it is still early to make a definitive judgment about its performance, its tendency to surrender each time it provokes a fight is frustrating to the people.

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