Morocco elections aren't a model for the Arab Spring as West claims
Contrary to the West's view, Morocco's parliamentary elections this weekend didn't signal a bold step toward democracy. They showed just how far the country has to go to achieve real reforms – and how much more power the king must give up.
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Parties played old political games. A pre-electoral alliance of eight ideologically diverse parties, from Islamists to conservatives, is better understood as a vehicle for political ambition than of ideologically driven, vibrant political parties. The counter-alliance prompted many to see the parties as dividing spoils before elections, with little regard for the voters. They were engaged primarily in a quest to be close to the center of power, not a struggle for change.Skip to next paragraph
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Citizens were largely disengaged. When the campaign season opened Nov. 12 there was little sign of the upcoming polls. Earlier this month, as I walked Rabat’s brightly decorated streets, crowded with people celebrating the end of Eid, only headlines unveiling party platforms and political intrigues hinted at impending elections.
Campaigns did gather some momentum as the election approached, but not because people believed they would change Morocco’s political future. Rather, many hoped to take advantage of the electoral season to draw candidates’ attention (and resources) to local problems. Others hoped to benefit more directly – and often financially – from mobilizing the “electoral market.”
Few believe the new parliament will solve the many problems plaguing nearly 35 million Moroccans, where 1 in 3 young, urban males are unemployed and poverty is widespread.
THE MONITOR'S VIEW: Arab Spring's crisis of moral leadership
A large part of the struggle over Morocco’s democratic future is not taking place within the elections, but outside them. A broad-ranging opposition coalition, from small leftist parties to the Feb. 20 movement, which arose at the beginning of regional Arab uprisings, and the popular, outlawed Islamist Al Adl Wa Al Ihssane group, called for a boycott. They hoped to use elections to call for real change.
And although voter turnout remained strong, their movement had an effect.
Campaign pamphlets and speeches frontlined calls for dignity, social justice, and fighting corruption, all brought to the fore in last spring’s demonstrations. Demonstrators, while small in number, made surprisingly strident calls for a change in regime, often drawing greater attention than the election rallies.
Perhaps most important, the parties reminded observers that the changes that followed last spring appeared more dramatic to the King’s Western allies than they did to most Moroccans.
Morocco’s problems remain unsolved, fueling widespread discontent and continued demand for reform. In the new Arab world, sluggish, half-hearted reforms of the last two decades no longer appease the people, in Morocco or elsewhere. Friday’s elections, and a parliament led by the moderate Islamist PJD party, may be a step forward in democratic reform. But, to make this hope a reality, the king still needs to take significant steps toward relinquishing power.