The Moroccan French weekly Tel Quel, recently censured by the state for its attempt to publish a public opinion survey on king Mohammed VI, devoted its centerfold to an article on the Dahir. A dahir (royal decree) is a royal discretionary act in regulatory, administrative and legislative domains, and one of the manifestations of the unbridled institutional powers of the Moroccan sovereign. During the process of modern state formation, the constitution replaced the old system of consultation with a new representative body. However, the legislative body is a rubber stamp institution not characterized by democratic practices such as those present in western style polities. The dahir, on the other hand, persisted as one of the main features of Morocco's political system.
The use of dahir in Morocco is different than the discretionary powers that extra-presidential systems possess in Latin America. The dahir emanates from the monarch’s religious authority and is treated by the legislature and the cabinet as a sacred text. In keeping with Islamic traditions, the parliament and the local assemblies are consultative branches of the royal power.
This was made apparent after Hassan II’s accession to power, when he addressed the parliament in 1963: “I shall bestow upon you part of the powers that have been with the ruling family for twelve centuries…I have made the Constitution by my very hands, and it has not given the deputies any powers, only obligations.” This authoritarian feature is characterized by the absolute power of the monarch, who can at his will, dissolve the parliament. It is noteworthy here that the monarchy has never considered its perennial status as authoritarian. On the contrary, it has maintained its Islamic-democratic nature, since any constitutional pronouncements are subject to plebiscitary powers of the jam’a (community). However, in the absence of free competitive elections, strong legislature and political participation, the consultative process is far from its Islamic ideal and has since the independence been used to legitimize royal absolutism.
Consultation is also buttressed through royal discretionary power of dahir, which constitutes the single most important source of legislation in Morocco. All royal decisions are taken under the guise of dahir. These are above the political system and all constitutional texts. In fact, the constitution itself was promulgated according to the 1963 dahir, which effectively enabled the king to exercise his dominance over all political aspects of the Moroccan system.
Dahirs have the force and appearance of laws, always begin with a religious greeting and are signed under the title of commander of the faithful. This is done to invoke the religious stature of royal decrees, which are not subject to annulment or appeal. Dahirs were codified into an “official bulletin” in the years after 1969 with the publication of the finance law. The continuity of this institutional decision-making practice is invoked in all royal appointments and is given the formal status similar to that of ancient sharifian letters and correspondence. The dahir is a sacred act of sovereignty, immune to all judicial processes and inviolable.