Morocco Enters a New Era

Mohammed VI
King Mohammed VI during his speech. Still shot courtesy of al Jazeera.

Morocco Enters a New Era
King Mohammed VI presents a new constitution in which the king loses his divinity and cedes powers to a president elected by a parliamentary majority
El País: Marruecos entra en una nueva era
Ignacio Cembrero reporting from Madrid June 17, 2011

Morocco will no longer be a quasi-absolute monarchy. Although it will no longer be as authoritarian in practice, it will not convert into a European-style parliamentary monarchy, either. It will take a middle road. In a speech tonight, King Mohammed VI, age 47, presented a new constitution which will curtail his powers and increase those of the cabinet and parliament.

Concretely, the king will have to select a prime minister, who will be called President of the government, from the party with the parliamentary majority. The president will name the other ministers, high functionaries, directors of public enterprises, and ambassadors, although for some of these he will need the backing of the sovereign.

The monarch will lose his “sacred” character and will only be “inviolable” like the Spanish chief of state [King Juan Carlos]. He will still hold the title Commander of Believers, that is to say, spiritual chief of Muslims. Religious affairs will continue to be solely his responsibility.

Although “Islam is the state religion,” Article 41 of the Constitution stipulates that the king “guarantees freedom of religious practice.” Morocco confirms freedom of religion but not “freedom of conscience”: that is to say, a Muslim cannot change his religion.

The monarch will also maintain authority over the armed forces and foreign policy. He will preside over the Council of Ministers, except when he delegates this task to the President, and a new Council of National Security.

The role of Parliament will be reinforced. It will be able to initiate constitutional reforms, promulgate amnesty, and create investigatory commissions. Those in some high offices, like the Comptroller and Auditor General, will have to appear in royal court once a year.

The preamble of the Magna Carta stresses, in addition to the Arabic character of Morocco, its Jewish and Andalusian roots. Part of its population emigrated from Andalusia to Morocco in the 15th Century after the Spanish Reconquista.

The Berber language which is spoken in three regions of the country, one of them Rif, will become an official language alongside Arabic. A more organic law will develop this constitutional regulation later.

Popular Pressure
The royal initiative is a response to youth protests which, following the examples of Tunisia and Egypt, began on February 20 and were the first street protests in the country.

On Friday, the Alawi king presided over an extraordinary Council of Ministers to approve the new Magna Carta which will be submitted to a referendum on July 1. Legislative elections are anticipated in the fall.

The document was produced by a commission named by the king and headed by constitutionalist Abdelatif Menuni. He submitted the text of the new Fundamental Law to the king on July 10 in Ujda.

The commission heard the opinions of the political parties and syndicates, but a group of leftists and youths representing the February 20 movement refused to give their opinions because they condemned the method of constitutional revision.

Calls to protest anew this Sunday circulated on Facebook on Friday along with critical comments about the constitutional project. “It’s far behind a parliamentary monarchy because the king conserves so much power,” wrote the intellectual Ahmed Benseddik, who participated in many street manifestations. “The majzén (court) is remaking itself with new clothes and lots of makeup.”

The parties will be provided ten days to campaign for or against the new constitution, which will substitute the one ratified in 1996.

For the first time, the Democratic Way, which boycotts elections and advocates a republic and self-determination for Western Sahara, will be able to access public television, in order to pronounce its view on the new constitution.

The Democratic Way is a small party that advocates Marxism-Leninism but is legal in the eyes of the Ministry of the Interior. It played an important role in the protests that swept Morocco at the end of February. None of its representatives have been invited to speak on television before.

The Secretary of the Interior, Saad Hasar, met with various press leaders on Tuesday to explain the new conditions for access to political parties and syndicates and to the four public television channels, the only channels in Morocco, during the campaign for the constitutional referendum, which will last ten days.

The parties with the most parliamentary representation will have 12 minutes to speak on each channel; the rest will have three minutes. No one will be excluded, it was emphasized, not even the Democratic Way. “This is something very new,” commented one of the attendees of the meeting.

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