Morocco watches nervously as Egypt erupts

Summons Spain envoy over army moves report


Morocco is watching nervously as other North African countries erupt in revolt, with warnings even from within the royal family that it will probably not be spared.

Morocco has not been touched, yet, by the violent protests that have ended the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, threaten Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and have shaken Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

"But we mustn't be deceived, almost every authoritarian systems will be affected by this wave of protest, Morocco will probably be no exception," a cousin of King Mohammed VI warned in an interview published Monday.

"It remains to be seen whether the revolt is just social or also political, and if the political parties act under the influence of the recent events," Prince Moulay Hicham told the Spanish daily El Pais.

The 46-year-old, third in line to the throne, is nicknamed the "red prince" because of his criticism of the monarchical system in Morocco.

He said the political liberalization launched in the 1990s after Mohammed succeeded his authoritarian father Hassan II had virtually come to an end, and reviving it while still avoiding radical pressures would be "a major challenge."

The events in Egypt dominate the Moroccan press but the government has so far made no comment. However it gave proof Monday that the regional situation has it worried with its swift reply to a report that it had redeployed troops.

It remains to be seen whether the revolt is just social or also political, and if the political parties act under the influence of the recent events

Prince Moulay Hicham

Morocco summoned Spain's ambassador to protest Spanish media reports that its troops had been redeployed in case of protests like those in nearby Tunisia, a government spokesman said Sunday.

"The government of the Kingdom of Morocco issued a categorical denial to these false statements...," said Communications Minister and government spokesman Khalid Naciri.

He underlined the government's "indignation" at the reports put out by state television channel Canal 24 and other Spanish news media.

The reports that Moroccan troops normally based in the south had been moved towards Casablanca and the capital Rabat, both on the country's northern coastline, were "unfounded allegations", he insisted.

Morocco's foreign affairs and interior ministers spoke on Sunday with their Spanish counterparts to express "Morocco's indignation and to draw Spanish authorities' attention to the perils linked to such repetitive media distortions", Naciri told reporters.

Pro-government newspapers have also reacted strongly to suggestions that unrest might spread across Morocco's borders, in particular to an interview with dissident journalist Aboubakr Jamai carried by France's Nouvel Observateur.

Jamai predicted that "If Morocco goes up, the disparities in wealth are such that the rebellion will be much bloodier than in Tunisia."

The weekly Le Temps led charges that Jamai and the foreign press did not know what they were talking about.

Businessmen questioned by AFP tended to agree, saying that the hereditary monarchy in Morocco had more respect than the authoritarian presidencies of Ben Ali and Mubarak who had kept themselves in power through a firm grip on the electoral process.