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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Awaiting International Intervention...

As the world awaits the first manifestations of the no-fly zone over Libya, Gaddafi forces continue its bombardment campaign on Misrata and Benghazi despite his declaration of a ceasefire. Videos showed utter destruction in the western part of Benghazi. Angst is growing amongst rebel leaders on what they perceive as the delay in deploying the no-fly zone. Meanwhile, Gaddafi is engaged in a last ditch effort to position his forces as close to Benghazi as possible, maybe in anticipation of a stalemated conflict in Libya.

In fact, short of substantial international military support beyond the no-fly zone decision, rebels couldn't probably topple Gaddafi in Tripoli. A lack of greater international involvement, short of ground invasion, could see Libya split into two parallel de facto region of influence. The Paris summit underway could go farther into providing much needed logistical and military support for the rebels. The summit also features Arab participation of Morocco, Jordan, UAE and Qatar part of what appears to be a gathering of an impressive international coalition against Gaddafi. In the coming hours, we should expect air strikes against select pro-Gaddafi targets. Such action is direly needed in order to destroy the air and ground capabilities of Gaddafi's forces. The latest reports suggest that Gaddafi is gathering civilians as a human shield around potential sites for international air strikes.

The coming days could decisively determine the future of the conflict in Libya. Hopefully the writing on the wall is clear for some in Gaddafi's entourage, and there is some substantial defection in his inner circle. However, that is highly unlikely as that circle is tightly knit and comprises his own sons with their military forces and members of his tribe. Gaddafi has shown utter contempt and disregard for the Libyan people, shelling at will in an attempt to punish those that dared to defy his dictatorial rule. Let's hope the international intervention swiftly bring about a successful conclusion to the turmoil in Libya, one that see Gaddafi's regime crumble.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mohammed VI Promises Reforms in Morocco

Morocco's king Mohammed VI pledged constitutional reforms in today's speech (full text). This is the first time the king has openly invoked talks of political reforms since the Moroccan "day of rage" on February 20th. The speech (watch here) addressed the regionalization process that was launched last year under the Advisory Commission on Regionalization. In his speech, king Mohammed promised political reforms: "We have decided to undertake a comprehensive constitutional reform." He also stated his "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms... taking place". The king provides some detailed specifics for the proposed constitutional changes including:
1. Enshrine in the Constitution the rich, variegated yet unified character of the Moroccan identity, including the Amazigh component as a core element and common asset belonging to all Moroccans;
2. Consolidate the rule of law and the institution-based State; expand the scope of collective and individual freedoms and guarantee their practice; promote all types of human rights - political, economic, social and cultural rights as well as those relating to development and the environment - especially by inscribing, in the Constitution, the Justice and Reconciliation Commission’s well-founded recommendations as well as Morocco’s international commitments in this domain.
3. Elevate the judiciary to the status of an independent power and reinforce the prerogatives of the Constitutional Council to enhance the primacy of the Constitution, of the rule of law and of equality before the law;
4. Strengthen the principle of separation of powers, with the relating checks and balances, and promote the democratization, revamping and rationalization of institutions through the following:
* A parliament emerging from free, fair elections, and in which the House of Representatives plays the prominent role; expand the scope of legislative action and provide parliament with new powers that enable it to discharge its representative, legislative and regulatory mission;
* An elected government which reflects the will of the people, through the ballot box, and which enjoys the confidence of the majority of the House of Representatives;
* Confirming the appointment of the Prime Minister from the political party which wins the most seats in parliamentary election, as attested by election results;
* Consolidating the status of the Prime Minister as the head of an effective executive branch, who is fully responsible for government, civil service and the implementation of the government’s agenda;
* Enshrining, in the Constitution, the Governing Council as an institution and specifying its prerogatives;
5. Shore up constitutional mechanisms for providing guidance to citizens, by invigorating the role of political parties within the framework of an effective pluralistic system, and by bolstering the standing of parliamentary opposition as well as the role of civil society;
6. Reinforce mechanisms for boosting moral integrity in public life, and establish a link between the exercise of power and the holding of public office with oversight and accountability;
7. Enshrine in the Constitution the institutions concerned with good governance, human rights and protection of liberties.

The king promisingly calls for more separation of power, but glaringly stops short of mentioning how the monarchy is going to fare in relation to these reforms. In the past, the kingdom underwent top-down constitutional reforms that only strengthened the monarchical control over the political system, drowned the party system with more political parties loyal to the palace and introduced mechanisms used for electoral engineering. However, this time, the discourse is full of strong language for reforms in king's speech calling for "comprehensive political, economic, social and cultural reforms."

Despite favorable reactions from the Islamist Party of Justice and Development and premature adulation from political scientist Mohammed Darif, constitutional reforms have to rise to the expectations of millions of Moroccans demanding a reduction in the scope of monarchical political prerogatives and discretionary powers in the political system. A system of checks and balances has to include the monarchy in it not as an arbiter above the political fray, but a component of a government that is subject to the processes of horizontal accountability. Similarly, concentration of power in the hands of a small political elite and Fassi families close to the palace has to be dismantled to provide representation and political participation across a broad spectrum of qualified Moroccans.

The events unfolding in the MENA region over the past two months have showcased that the Arab societies are no longer satisfied with cosmetic changes of yesteryear. Arab regimes have to devolve power back to their people and retreat from the political system in manners that satisfy fair, free and competitive elections, supremacy of the rule of law and vast individual liberties. The speech may well be a courageous first step undertaken by the king to provide meaningful reforms, but more is definitely needed. To be successful, the reforms have to involve a wide array of civil, political organizations and groups in a full and autonomous consultative way. Anything short of that will not meet what the king himself aims to set as a national dialogue on the future trajectory of the kingdom.