King Mohammed VI in Morocco has presented his much anticipated Constitutional reform and asked Moroccans to vote “yes.” He stated: “I shall vote “Yes” because I am convinced that the draft Constitution’s
democratic essence will provide a strong impetus for the final settlement of the just cause of the Moroccan Sahara, on the basis of our Autonomy Initiative. It will also enhance Morocco’s regional leadership as a State with a truly distinctive, unity-based democratic approach.” Since then, partisans of the yes as well as
those calling for a no vote or a boycott have taken to the streets to express their choices.
Clearly, the context in which this constitution was created was heavily charged with emotions, political and ideological differences, leaving little room to an unbiased appreciation of what the new constitution entails. Nevertheless, let’s imagine for a second that this Constitution was drafted neither as a reaction to the democratic protests of the Feb20 youth movement, nor as an attempt by the King to quell the climate of popular discontent. Let’s take this project at face value, or better yet, let’s imagine that we are behind John Rawl’s veil of ignorance, in an original position sheltered from any bias, where this time: none knows that there were protests, and none has been repressed, or killed, or imprisoned, or tortured, etc, and where this constitution was not a gift catered by a Commission appointed by the King.
Putting aside any prior knowledge of the conditions and context where this Constitution was drafted, and using a side by side comparison with the 1996 Constitution, a few things transpire. We have skimmed through the draft constitution (which has 180 articles instead of 108 in the previous version) and discovered at least a few differences worth illustrating:
For the first time, the constitution lays the foundations for a modern state that puts a great emphasis on public liberties and rights, cultural diversity, equality between men and women, tolerance, cohabitation, and equal opportunity.
The new constitutional project starts with a modern Preamble and a Title one that outshine the ones in the 1996 constitution. The new Preamble reveals commitments that were not spelled out in the old constitution, such as:
- Emphasis on pluralism, participation and good governance; social solidarity where all enjoy security, freedom, equal opportunity, respect of dignity and social justice.
- Reference to elements of national identity : Arab-Islamic, Amazigh and Saharian-Hassani
- The Islamic reference is tied to the values of openness, moderation, tolerance and dialogue between cultures and civilizations
- The Preamble stresses the protection and promotion of human rights, humanitarian law and recognizes their indivisibility and universality
- For the first time, the constitution makes a specific reference to the fight against discrimination based on color, belief, culture, social and regional origin, language, handicap, or other personal circumstance
- Another important addition: international conventions ratified by Morocco supersede national legislation. Thus, national legislation must be “harmonized.”
- This time around the preamble is a full part of the Constitution.
The general provisions in Title one follow the same modernizing line by spelling out that Morocco is now ‘a constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and social monarchy based on the separation, balance and collaboration of powers, as well as citizens participation, and the principles of good governance, and a correlation between responsibility and accountability.’ New provisions setting the new Morocco apart from the old one have been added:
- Article 2 in the new Constitution adds that suffrage shall be free, transparent, and fair
- Article 5 makes Amazigh an official language nex to Arabic and recognizes cultural specificities such as Hassani, which are to be protected
- Article 7 of the new Constitution prohibits the constitution of political parties based on religion, language, ethnicity, or regionalism or any other discriminatory basis. It also stresses that political parties cannot have as an objective to harm the Islamic religion, the monarchy or constitutional principles
- Article 11 criminalizes election fraud, and imposes neutrality in elections
- Article 16 provides Moroccans abroad with representation in parliament
Title two, which in the old constitution covered the King’s status and prerogatives, is now about public liberties and rights. Aspects of modernism include:
- Article 19 states that men and women enjoy equal civil, political, economic, cultural rights. And that the State works toward parity between men and women. In the old constitution, this equality was only political.
- Article 23 is fantastic: arbitrary or secret detention expose their perpetrators to the most serious punishments. In addition, people will be read their rights and suspects given the right to remain silent.
- Instead of all citizens (read as male in French and Arabic), there is now a reference to citizens “males and female” ( Citoyennes et citoyens).
Of course, these dispositions while translating real change (on paper), are still far from being perfect, and much can be added to achieve real social justice. But, the fact is, taken as “principles” they reveal a substantial progress from the 1996 constitution.
However, when we focus on the issue of separation of power, the new constitution in its Title III largely fails to materialize what article 1 promises: “a parliamentary monarchy based on the separation, balance and collaboration of powers, as well as citizens participation, and the principles of good governance, and a correlation between responsibility and accountability.”
While the preamble, Title I and Title II emphasize greater individual liberties, Title III offers the same if not more power to the king. Here are a few examples of why that is the case:
- Article 47: The King appoints the head of the government (from the majority), and upon proposal of the head of government, he appoints government members. The King can put an end to the mandate of one or more members of the government (after consultation with head of government). In fact, he is the only one who can put an end to the mandate of any member of his government. The head of the government can only propose.
- Article 51: the King can dissolve both parliament chambers
- Article 52: the King’s address to the parliament cannot be debated
- Article 53: the King is in charge of military appointments
- Article 55: He appoints Ambassadors
- Article 56: he presides over the High Judiciary Council.
There is also a new mention that reemphasizes, the King’s inviolability (in addition to new article 46), and the sanctity of Islam in parliament. Parliament members are now explicitly forbidden from making derogatory comments on Islam, the regime type, or the king. Such transgression would be punished by law.
Now, Have at it!
All are free to put these provisions in their political, regional and social context! And while you are doing that, here are some questions repeatedly debated about this reform:
– Does the process through which the constitutional project took place reflect a benevolent dictatorship where all have to trust that the King has good intentions, and accept his political powers?
– Is the 10 days debate period enough to appreciate such an intricate constitutional effort ( 48 pages/180 articles in legal jargon)?
– Are the reasons behind the Feb20 opposition to the Mennouni Commission legitimate?
– Should the King have allowed Moroccans the right and freedom to decide on a yes or no vote rather than call upon them to choose yes?
– Now that the Feb20 have expressed their opposition to the project, have they agreed whether they will vote no or abstain?
– With the King asking to vote yes, and the Feb20 movement opposing the draft, is there now a direct clash between the King and the Feb20 youth movement?
– Were the human rights, social justice, and rule of law provisions detailed in the 1996 Constitution implemented?
– How can Moroccans trust that these aren’t just promises and cosmetic changes?
– In light of the political and social reality of Morocco, should Moroccans trust that the modernizing aspects of this Constitution will be implemented?
– Finally, as limited as these reforms are, the youth take full credit for spearheading the whole effort. Shouldn’t there be an immediate way to positively engage them?