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Can fresh Morocco protests build momentum for reform?

Thousands of activists took to the streets Sunday, but many Moroccans are satisfied at the pace of change in the kingdom, especially after King Mohammed VI's Friday speech promising reforms.

By Betwa SharmaContributor / June 19, 2011

Pro-government demonstrators attack democracy activists protesting for constitutional reforms recently unveiled by the king as they pelted them with stones and eggs during a rally organized by the 20th February group, the Moroccan Arab Spring movement in Rabat, Morocco, Sunday.

Abdeljalil Bounhar/AP

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Fes, Morocco

Morocco's pro-democracy activists launched fresh protests Sunday, despite King Mohammed VI's Friday speech announcing a draft constitution that would limit the powers of his country’s centuries-old monarchy.

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“We are sticking to our demands,” says Elabadila Maaelaynine, who joined thousands of other protesters in Casablanca to reject the king’s proposals, which they say don't go nearly far enough.

Rival protesters supporting the king – some genuine, others reportedly pushed by local authorities to speak in his favor – also took to the streets, and the pro-democracy demonstrators had to change their location after they were “attacked” with bottles and sticks by pro-king demonstrators, says Mr. Maaelaynine.

Despite a groundswell of support for democratic reform, however, many Moroccans are satisfied at the pace of change in the kingdom and want to avoid the type of tumultuous "Arab Spring" revolutions they've seen in fellow North African countries, such as Tunisia and Egypt.

“Imagine if the king suddenly says that he is going away … there will be chaos,” says Mohammed Montasir, a journalist in the northern city of Fes, adding that Moroccans are not seeking a revolution but a “movement against privileges” of the ruling elite.

How much reform is enough?

For four months now, activists have campaigned for the king to transfer powers to elected representatives and reign only as a symbolic head.

In Friday's speech, he announced the constitutional reforms he had promised in March after the first bout of protests.

The most significant proposed change is the boost in the executive powers of the prime minister and the parliament. For instance, the prime minister would appoint and remove ministers as well as dissolve the lower house of parliament in consultation with the king.

The king, however, is not divorced from executive power. The king would choose the prime minister from the party that wins the elections and he could also dissolve the parliament in consultations with the prime minister and members of the new constitutional court, half of whom he would appoint.

The continued presence of the king in the executive branch ignores the key protester demand of separation of powers. He also remains the military and religious head of the country.

While the king is offering a constitutional monarchy, the demand is for a parliamentary monarchy like the United Kingdom. For the activists, the king’s reforms are piecemeal and if they compromise now then the momentum they have generated for comprehensive change will be lost.

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