Analysis: Little reprieve for Moroccan king with reform plan

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2011 2:39 PM
Analysis: Little reprieve for Moroccan king with reform plan

By Souhail Karam

RABAT, June 21 (Reuters) - Morocco's King Mohammed, at the helm of the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty, has take a timid step toward a democratic transition with a constitutional reform plan he wants voters to approve in a July 1 referendum.

But by seeking to remain at the center of almost every strategic decision, the 47-year-old monarch faces closer scrutiny from Moroccans, who have so far mostly shunned the revolutionary spirit of the "Arab Spring" despite chronic social woes.

After some of the biggest protests in decades -- inspired in part by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt -- the king announced on Friday he would devolve some of his powers to parliament and the government but retain his hold on security, the army and religion.

"This is a constitution for a democratic transition, it does not herald the start of a democratic era," said Mohamed Darif, a political analyst and lecturer at King Hassan University.

"(It) will allow political parties to rebuild credibility and the voters to understand their responsibilities," he added.

Parliamentary elections have been held in Morocco for almost 50 years but the king and the secretive court elite, known as the Makhzen, have retained the upper hand over the ballot box by naming the government and setting key policies.

Helped by high illiteracy rates, an ingrained deference toward a dynasty that claims descent from prophet Mohammad, and control over the media, the palace has used either repression or divide-and-rule tactics to tame dissent since Morocco gained independence from France in 1956.

"The reform reinforces this historic bi-polarity in the Moroccan political system with prerogatives of the king and the government overlapping," a Western diplomat said of a division of powers many say lacks clarity.

WHO IS BOSS?

"It raises the question 'who will really make crucial and strategic decisions and who will bear the blame if they fail?'," the diplomat asked.

In a televised address on Friday, King Mohammed described the new constitution as "democratic" and said that he was "the trustworthy guide and supreme arbiter."

Lise Storm, senior lecturer in Middle East politics at Exeter University, said the king could have made the constitution more democratic.

"The constitution is not democratic. It's a step in the right direction but it does not go far enough," she said.

The new charter allows the king to name a prime minister -- but this time only from the party that wins most seats at parliamentary elections -- and to vet appointments of other ministers and suggest the termination of their mandates.

The reformed constitution explicitly grants the government executive powers, but it keeps the king at the helm of the army, religious authorities and the judiciary and still allows him to dissolve parliament, but not unilaterally as it is the case under the current constitution.

The king will continue to have a say over strategic appointments such as those of the powerful provincial governors -- interior ministry representatives at regional level -- the central bank or the phosphate monopoly and will name half the members of the constitutional court.