Morocco

Morocco. A country you most likely haven’t heard about in the news recently. In February of 2011, protests broke out in the capital, Rabat, demanding political reform and restrictions on the powers of the king. Morocco passed a reformed constitution, in a landslide vote, in July of 2011, becoming the first Arab Spring nation to pass a new or amended constitution. Although the constitution passed with over 98 percent of the vote, with over 72 percent turnout, the young people who started the February 20 movement called for continued protests and deeper reforms. In November of 2011, parliamentary elections were won by the Justice and Development Party (PDJ), a moderate Islamist group, and in January of 2012, a new coalition parliament headed by PDJ leader Abdelilah Benkirane was sworn in. Since then, Morocco has experienced more protests, some saying the revolution has not gone far enough or that the transition to democracy is not complete. But few, if any, are calling for the ouster of King Mohammed VI. This is a large part of why Morocco’s Arab Spring revolution has been more successful than those in other counties. A little while ago, I was talking with a Jordanian friend about the revolutions happening in the Arab world. When I asked him why he thought some countries, like Egypt, were struggling to put democratic structures into place even after relatively quick and bloodless revolutions, he told me, “A revolution without a leader is not a revolution. The things happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Syria…this isn’t like what Che did for Cuba.” He was right. The lack of leadership among the revolutionaries, the lack of a leader, or at least organized group leading the opposition movement, can be the downfall of an otherwise great revolution. Ousting a dictator is simple in comparison to setting up an effective democratic government. The real challenge comes when a state moves forward from its dictatorial past and starts anew. Without strong, centralized leadership, supported by the people, this transition can be almost impossible. Morocco still has lots of work to do to become the democracy its people aspire to live in. Questions about religious and political liberties, further curbing the power of the king and sovereignty and humanitarian issues in Western Sahara abound. However, Morocco has made greater, more tangible, democratic strides than most of the other countries that underwent Arab Spring revolutions. The Moroccan model doesn’t work for every country. Clearly, the Syrian people could not have let Assad stay in power and hoped to make democratic progress. This is true of many other Arab states that wish to democratize. But Morocco has shown, as we have seen throughout history, the key to a lasting and successful revolution is transitional leadership.

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