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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Explosion in the Red City of Marrakech

An explosion rocked the red city of Marrakech earlier today. The blast occurred around 11:30am local time at Argana Café right at the heart of the bustling and colorful Jama'a el Fna Square. The café and its famed terrace serve as a popular hangout spot for tourists and locals. The early tally of casualties reveals 14 dead and some 20 injured (see latest photos here or here). This is the second terrorist attack in Marrakech after the 1994 Atlas Asni hotel assault. For the first time in its long history, the fabled Jama'a el Fna Square is sad and empty tonight. Instead of the nightly festival of soothsayers, storytellers, mobile restaurants, singers and dancers, the square is a zone for investigative squads.

It is early to lay blame on any particular entity and I don't want to revel in conspiracy theories or premature analysis. Many have pointed the finger at militant Islamists, Algeria and the Polisario, but none of that is constructive at this point and is simply too early to ascertain. One thing is known so far is that the blast was a criminal act that sought to wreak chaos and fear in the hearts of tourists and Moroccans alike. In a city and country dependent on the tourism industry, this definitely deals a major blow to the Moroccan economy.

Today's tragic event transpires amidst a defining time for Morocco. Over the last couple of months, protesters have taken to the streets demanding greater political and socio-economic reforms. The king seemingly open to meaningful reforms promised constitutional revisions. There has been a general atmosphere of openness and proclivity towards dialogue. The Marrakech bombing couldn't have come at a worse time. This could potentially derail or delay the pace of reforms. One can certainly hope the blast would be an impetus to launch far reaching and systemic reforms in the face of whatever entity that seeks to tarnish the current national dialogue about the future trajectory of the kingdom.

My heart goes out to those affected by this tragic act of cowardice. Tonight I have my home city of Marrakech in my prayers and thoughts.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Large Protests in Morocco

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of several cities and towns in Morocco. Protesters were calling for an eradication of despotism and corruption. Despite royal efforts to contain the angst in the streets through proposed commission for constitutional reforms. Peaceful protesters specifically called for the abolition of said commission and for real, not cosmetic reforms of yesteryear.

So far, political parties and civil society organizations have offered their own versions of proposed reforms to the constitution. Their proposals largely reflect the wide ranging demands for complete overhaul of the constitution including the (in)famous article 19 of the constitution that sets the king as the purveyor of both spiritual and temporal powers. This article does not give effective powers to the king, but endows him with a symbolic status above all political forces in the kingdom, as "Amir al-Mu'minin (commander of the faithful), the supreme representative of the nation and the symbol of unity..the guarantor the perpetuation and continuity of the State."

Real reforms will have to focus on the principles of separation of powers and popular sovereignty. Setting those only as the backbone for a massive campaign to bring about accountability and transparency in the public sphere. This means dismantling the existing kleptocratic and nepotistic structure of government. The regime knows that whatever the constitutional revisions are in June will have to be vast in scope and radically different from earlier constitutional reforms. Moroccan society is growing anxious and bolder as they directly address their monarch with demands direly needed in a country placed to be a model for constitutional monarchism.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Unrest Continues in the Region

As the Middle East continues to witness new waves of protests. Last week, Tunisians took to the streets to voice out dissatisfaction with the pace of change two months after the ouster of Ben 'Ali. Yemenis continue to display the same steadfast resolve against the thuggish regime of Saleh, who has unleashed the full might of his security forces killing scores of peaceful protesters. However, today he agreed to enter into talks with the opposition in Saudi Arabia. This might be a bit too late given Saleh's early intransigence that proved deadly for his own people.

Syria finally erupted as well with massive protests in the agricultural towns of Dar'a, Sanamin and the port city of Latakia. Sporadic protests also took place in Damascus. There in Syria as in Yemen, the regime responded with tremendous show of violence killing dozens of protesters. The events spurred the regime's attempt to address the protesters' demands fell as flat as the speech delivered by an aloof smug Bashar al-Asad. Blaming everyone but his repressive regime, Bashar talked about a foreign conspiracy behind the riots and lashed out on foreign media for what he viewed as systematic and deliberate lies against his regime.

Al-Assad's speech drew the ire of many Syrian activists. However, some argue that the speech accomplished its goal of rallying people around the security of the state of al-Assad especially after thousands of Syrian came out in support of the regime after the speech. This line of argumentation suggests Syrians are presented with two choices: security or mutli-ethnic civil strife, with the Syrians evidently opting for the former. This sounds myopic and reductionist since such argument is solely based on state-orchestrated demonstrations.

After a couple of weeks of sustained air strikes and a barrage of US Tomahawk missiles, Libya still oscillate between the ebb of pro-Gaddafi forces retreat and flow of rebel frustrated push towards the west in a hopeful attempt to topple Gaddafi. Both sides have shown fissures as the rebels continue to be mired in complete disorganization, while Gaddafi's inner circle lost some key officials to defection. Last week the all powerful former intelligence chief and foreign minister Moussa Koussa flew to London, where he resigned all of his formal posts in the Libyan state. Even Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam came out with an outlandish plan to devolve power away from his megalomaniacal father, promising democratic reforms, but with only one caveat: all of that will be performed under Saif al-Islam. The conflict in Libya is destined to a stalemate unless there are more notable breaks within the inner circle of Gaddafi, who is increasingly isolated.

The deciding factor could well be provided by the international community, whose military, logistical and financial support is key in toppling the regime of Gaddafi in Tripoli. However such support raises great concern in the US, where shades of the past in Afghanistan haunts US foreign policy makers. Many raise the issue of Jihadi Libyans among the rebels that could benefit from US weaponry and later on use it against US interests. Others in the US want a strict adherence to the wide-ranging mandate in the UNSC resolution 1973 authorizing the safeguard of Libyan civilians, short of a military intervention on the ground. Lost in this debate is a clear goal for the international intervention. Granted it has saved thousands of lives, but anything other than effective military aid for the rebels will fall short of toppling Gaddafi thus turning the conflict in Libya into a stalemate.