A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Morocco, an Alternative to Iran

A flattering portrait of Morocco in today's Washington Post. Anne Applebaum sets the kingdom as a model for "slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders -- the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman -- and a set of family laws that strive to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights." As I opined elsewhere, it would be a stretch claiming that Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, as the monarch still holds vast executive, legislative and discretionary powers.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Positive Step in Mauritania

The United Nations and the African Union have hailed the Mauritanian decree setting up a transitional government ahead of the presidential elections next month. This step comes at the heels of the Framework Agreement, concluded between the three major Mauritanian political poles, in Dakar on 2 June 2009.and signed in Nouackchott on 4 June. Analysts view the transitional government as a prelude towards setting up a democratically elected government in Mauritania.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Why is it that the Arabs don't revolt?

Rami G. Khouri tackles this fascinating question. The Maghreb, like the rest of the Arab world, suffers from this social quiescence. However, his argument that factors of nation and state legitimacy, efficacy and credibility highlight the difference between Arab quiescence and Iranian revolts is not sufficient, as there are various micro level factors such as the nature of the political systems that govern each of the Arab countries and the great extent of political management style that is exercised within those states. More analysis is needed with case by case differentiation.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Secret talks between Morocco and POLISARIO?

Moroccan Daily al-Massae reports that Spain, Qatar and Libya are to host secret talks between Morocco and the POLISARIO front. While this is not confirmed, this could be an interesting development given the current attemtps by UN mediator Christopher Ross to start a new round of negotiations between the parties involved. Ross just finished his visit to Algiers where he met Bouteflika. He is scheduled in Rabat tomorrow Saturday.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First woman mayor in Morocco

Just some breaking news from Marrakech: The first woman city mayor in Morocco has been voted in the red city's city council meeting today. Fatema Zahra al-Mansouri, a 33 year-old lawyer from the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, will assume the new responsibilities for the next six years, replacing Omar Jazouli who has been at the helm in Marrakech for 12 years. al-Arabiya reports what Sheikh Biyadellah, SG of PAM said: "reflects the image of a modern Morocco."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Response to Obama's Cairo Speech

I was asked by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington D.C. to contribute a short response to Obama's Cairo speech to be compiled with other comments from scholars and experts on the Middle East and North Africa. These comments will be forwarded to Mr. Obama. The following is the text of my response:

Mr. Obama's speech to the Muslim world hit most of the major notes he was supposed to address. His eloquent speech is not a general policy formulation towards the Muslim world, but extended a much needed olive branch to the Muslim world after eight years of marginalization and short-term political goals. Having said that, Mr. Obama's has to show us his concrete plans for revamping the Arab-Israeli peace process and more importantly to demonstrate a true commitment to political reforms.

A change in tone is not sufficient to reverse years of irresponsible US foreign policy in the Middle East and towards the Muslim world. No longer can the US turn a blind eye as the Muslim world sinks deeper and deeper into political and economic decay. In his speech, Mr. Obama never promoted the building of democratic institutions and devoted little space for democracy promotion. He generally noted that the governments “should reflect the will of the people” and that citizens should “have a say” in how they are governed. His administration has shown an awkward pragmatism in its foreign policy by sacrificing human rights and political reforms for the sake of regional and global stability. This was particularly clear in Mr. Obama's grand gesture towards Iran during the celebration of Nayrouz. A gesture that Iran has largely shunned amidst continuing abuses of human rights. The choice of Egypt itself, ruled since 1981 by an aging dictator in the process of grooming his son for power, is indicative of this blind pragmatism.

Mr. Obama's speech is definitely a departure from the Bush discourse and is applauded for signaling a sea of change in U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Now is the opportune time to engage the Arab Muslim world in a meaningful commitment to the rule of law and fair transparent elections. Mr. Obama needs to further press for good governance, rule of law and accountability in order to increase the scope of individual and group liberties.

It would be a grave mistake if the US abandons those ideals which have taken a back seat to political and strategic calculations in the making of U.S. foreign policy past or present. The past has taught us that continued political oppression was key in fanning the flames of those bent on setting Islam on a collision course with the rest of humanity. Mr. Obama you have the Muslim world in the palm of your hands but only for a short time, I hope you can seize on this immense capital but daunting responsibility.

More on Morocco's Local Elections

I continue to hear horror stories of electoral fraud and irregularities. The electoral process in Morocco is rife with violations related mainly to the use of unregulated money. Some candidates went door to door armed with Qurans and wads of cash. After the target resident swears an oath of allegiance to a particular candidate on the Quran, they receive up to 250 Dirhams/20 dollars. I also hear that this has been done by almost all political parties as it has become a common feature of campaigning in the country.

All the party list winners are currently engaged in intensified negotiations for the leadership of city and county councils. For the most part, parties have to navigate through compromises with PAM elected politicians in order to determine the make-up of those councils. These negotiations often involve acts of ideological transhumance. No party is firmly committed to an ideological vision: In Agadir dominated by the USFP, for instance, there is increasing chatter of a possible coalition with the Islamist PJD. In Marrakech, it seems that the dominant mayor of the city, al-Jazouli of the Constitutional Union Party, is facing a daunting challenge from PAM's Adnan Ben Abdallah for the majority of the 91-member council. There is also a battle for mayor of the capital of the Kingdom Rabat. The current mayor al-Bahraoui of the Popular Movement party is facing a potentially damaging coalition between the PJD and PAM. Thus, it seems that all roads to local governance go by PAM, further consecrating its status as a dominant force in the new political landscape of Morocco.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

PAM victory in Morocco!

It's official: The new palace Party of Authenticity and Modernity, as expected, has won most of the seats in the Moroccan local elections. The Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) won 6,015 seats, giving it 21.7 percent of the vote, ahead of the governing Istiqlal (Independence) party with 5,292 seats and 19.1 percent. The Ministry of the Interior has reported thousands of irregularities. The Ministry of the Interior has reported a 52 percent voter turnout; markedly higher than the 37 percent turnout in the last legislatives of 2007. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development won a meager 1,513 seats and 5.5 percent of the vote.This is expected as the PJD didn't contest in a lot of the rural areas, and focused on the major urban centers where it has traditionally enjoyed large support from professionals, university professors and students. The elections succeeded in achieving regime goals of avoiding voter apathy of 2007 and further marginalizing the Islamists. The victory of PAM signals a shift in the political elite in Morocco, and analysts predict larger gains for the party, currently in opposition, in the next legislative elections of 2012 and potentially ruling the government.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Communal Elections in Morocco.

Early results of the 2009 communal elections point to a victory of the four main parties of Istiqlal, Constitutional Union, RNI, USFP and the newcomer PAM. The Ministry of the Interior reports a 51 percent voter turnout, which is an improvement from the meager 37 percent of the legislative elections of 2007. However, it is slightly less than the 55 percent turnout of the last communal elections in 2003. Various Moroccan newspapers report incidents related to electoral irregularities. Several fights erupted when members of several parties continued campaigning the very same day of the elections. Others paid and drove voters to election booths. I will be posting election results as they become available.