Forbes: Morocco Is A Positive Example Of Democratization Efforts

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As the year is drawing to an end, the state of democracy and human rights across the globe appears bleak. To give just a few examples, Russia, China, and Iran are actively working to limit the spread of democracy not only in their own countries, but regionally and internationally. Egypt, one of the most influential countries in the Arab world, has witnessed a major democratic backslide.

Yet reflecting on the year’s end, there are positive stories. One of them is Morocco.

Last month I visited Marrakesh to attend the World Human Rights Forum, which Morocco hosted this year. The forum’s focus is human rights worldwide. Yet it is Morocco itself that deserves attention when it comes to this subject. This is a story rarely told.

While certainly far from perfect, Morocco has quietly been on a positive trajectory for well over a decade now. “In the 13 years since the last visit to this country by a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Morocco has clearly made great strides towards the better promotion and protection of human rights,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on May 29, 2014 at a press conference in Rabat. “Morocco is undergoing an important transition and in setting high standards through its Constitution and laws,” he said, adding that “there is political will at the highest levels to continue efforts to set a firm human rights foundation for Moroccan society.”

How many countries can say that they carried out peace and reconciliation efforts without a forced regime change? Morocco, for one, can. In January 2004, King Mohammed VI established an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to address repressions that occurred in Morocco between 1956 and 1999, to provide compensation. It was the first such initiative in the region. And it spearheaded further reform.

Since them, Morocco had taken additional steps to reconcile with its repressive past, including the passage of a Family Law (Moudawana) that expanded women’s rights—raising the legal marriage age for girls from 15 to 18 and giving women, among other things, equal right to property in divorce. Compared to the rest of the Arab world, this is quite progressive.

Morocco has opened itself to the world, allowing international human rights organizations to regularly visit and report on the country. International observers have generally given Morocco’s elections a clean bill of health in the last decade. A real and largely peaceful debate takes place in the country with regard to reforms. Women hold leadership roles in government and business. To give one example, in 2009, a 33-year-old woman won mayoral elections in Marrakesh.

In 2011, King Mohammed VI announced broad constitutional reforms, which resulted in the passage of a new constitution for the Kingdom. The constitution enshrines several key changed in Morocco’s political system, including strengthening separation of powers and providing Moroccan citizens with greater leadership roles at local and regional government levels. Among other things, the constitution also established the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) and gave it power to investigate human rights abuses.
In authoritarian countries laws are often window dressing that do little to alleviate abuse. In Morocco, however, these are real changes. The Moroccan government had taken action upon CNDH recommendations and upon peaceful protests organized by Moroccan civil society. Perhaps the most notable example of this has been the recent repeal of a controversial law that allowed rapists to avoid punishment for their crime by marrying their victims. In February 2014, Fadoua Bakhadda, executive director of Association Marocaine de Planification Familiale, member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, wrote, “The amendment to the rape law is not just a victory for us in Morocco but for women throughout the region.”

The 2011 constitution also addresses minorities in Morocco. Not only does it enshrine the country’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” This too is not empty words, as Jews regularly visit Morocco as tourists. Approximately 45,000 Israeli tourists visit the Kingdom annually according to one Moroccan Jewish leader’s estimates.

Another recent example of reform came in March 2014, when Morocco’s Council of Ministers embarked on extensive reform of the military justice system. This includes ending use of military tribunal to try civilians.

Civil society is vibrant in Morocco, unafraid to openly hold demonstrations and raise concerns, while press has evolved to be relatively free. Walking the streets of Marrakesh I observed no fear—fear you can feel and see in people’s faces walking the streets of repressive regimes.

Much remains to be done in Morocco, but the country’s steady positive trajectory matters. In a region rife with systematic abuse, authoritarianism, and instability, Morocco’s accomplishments are impressive. Western policymakers would do well to pay more attention to Morocco as an example of successful democratization and moderation efforts in the Arab world, and as a reliable partner for the West.


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