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Marrocos: agitação e referendo

O referendo constitucional proposto pelo rei de Marrocos, peça-chave da mudança política deste país vizinho, é já no próximo dia 1 de Julho. Mas nos últimos dias movimentos de oposição apelam ao boicote… Análise da Stratfor.

Moroccan Protests and the Monarchy’s Response

June 25, 2011 | 1403 GM

ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images | Moroccan youths take part in a protest June 19 in Casablanca


Morocco’s opposition youth movement is calling on followers to boycott a July 1 constitutional referendum proposed by King Mohammed VI. The situation in Morocco differs markedly from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, as the bulk of the population appears to be more interested in maintaining the monarchy as the state’s primary unifying force than in demanding full regime change. That said, Morocco’s various opposition forces recognize the opportunity they have in calling for political reforms while the monarch is under pressure. The king appears to be equipped to handle growing political dissent, but his success is not certain.


The Moroccan Interior Ministry allegedly is giving grants of 8 million dirham ($972,053) to each of the country’s eight leading political parties to persuade Moroccan politicians to vote “yes” in a constitutional referendum scheduled for July 1, Al Sabah reported June 23. Meanwhile, Morocco’s opposition youth movement is urging its followers to boycott the referendum, proposed by King Mohammed VI. The battle over the referendum is a test of the king’s ability to manage growing political dissent in the country, as well as a test of the fledgling Moroccan opposition’s ability to attract more followers who want greater political reforms.

Protests began in Morocco on Feb. 20 as an emerging urban youth movement (now called the February 20 Movement) began pressuring the monarchy for greater political freedoms and mobilizing online in its efforts. King Mohammed gave his first speech in direct response to the unrest March 9 and promised “comprehensive constitutional reform,” with an emphasis on human rights and liberties. While awaiting the reforms, protesters organized weekly demonstrations to maintain pressure on the regime.

A constitutional commission appointed by the monarchy interacted with select civil society organizations to prepare a draft of constitutional changes, which was presented to the king June 9. He announced his approval of the changes in a speech June 17 and encouraged citizens to approve the changes as well. He then announced that the referendum for the constitutional changes would be held July 1. Claiming that the reforms are largely superficial, members of the February 20 Movement gathered in major cities (Casablanca, Rabat, Oujda, Meknes, Tangier and Marrakesh) June 19 for demonstrations.

Who Is the Moroccan Opposition?

The February 20 Movement is Morocco’s main opposition force. It represents educated youths who are unemployed, disillusioned by the government and seeking greater political representation. The opposition has mainly organized online and has relied on local contingents to garner support in as many as 52 towns and cities across Morocco each Sunday.

Much like the groups that led protests against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the February 20 Movement comprises mainly urban youth. However, there is a key distinction between the Egyptian and Moroccan opposition movements: In Egypt, protesters called for the regime to be ousted, but in Morocco, the protesters are trying to bargain with the regime for major reforms rather than overthrow it. Morocco’s protesters want the government to transition to a parliamentary democracy in which the king would reign but not rule.

Another key difference between the Moroccan protests and others in the region is that the protests have not yet grown significantly in size. One of the largest June 19 protests was in Casablanca, drawing an estimated 5,000-10,000 people — less than 1 percent of the city’s population of 3.1 million. Unlike the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which grew over time to approximately 300,000 at their peak, the Moroccan demonstrations have so far been relatively peaceful and organized. Most of the cities where protests have occurred have seen crowds of no more than a few hundred at a time, with protests drawing a few thousand people in the major cities.

A potential flashpoint was the death of protester Kamel Amari in the city of Safi on June 2 after Amari allegedly was beaten by security forces at a May 29 protest (reports about his death are conflicting, but the beating likely aggravated other health problems that led to his death). Like the death of Khaled Said in Egypt, this could have sparked larger protests. Indeed, protest organizers claimed their largest protest numbers in Casablanca — about 60,000 — during the following protest on June 5. Although the accuracy of the estimates of protest sizes is questionable, the numbers still suggest that the June 5 protest was most likely the largest since the movement began (all other estimates and videos do not show anything larger than crowds numbering in the low thousands). The size of the protests has stabilized since June 5. Furthermore, membership at the February 20 Movement’s Facebook page has not grown substantially; it was approximately 19,000 on Feb. 20 and had only increased to approximately 26,000 by June 19.

The second pillar of the Moroccan opposition is the major political parties, all of which want to prevent the monarch from monopolizing the political system but cooperate with the king to varying degrees. Most of the major parties consist of secular leftist groups and the residual bases of nationalist movements. The eight main parties are the moderate Islamist group known as the Party for Justice and Development (PJD), the Istiqlal Party, the Authenticity and Modernity Party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party, the Popular Movement Party, the Constitutional Union Party, the Progress and Socialism Party and the National Rally of Independents Party.

While the PJD operates within the political system, the Justice and Charity Organization — considered by many as the largest Islamist entity in Morocco — is politically banned but operates as a civil society organization. The monarchy maintains this balance to divide the memberships of rival Islamist groups and inhibit any one from becoming too powerful. The monarchy has used this technique with the opposition in the past, including with nationalist movements in the 1960s-1970s that challenged the monarchy’s authority by disrupting official activities through boycotts and appealing to supporters in the cities. Many individuals are involved simultaneously in the February 20 Movement and moderate Islamist groups such as the Justice and Charity Organization, which offers Islam as a social solution to bureaucratic corruption.

The King’s Response

King Mohammed understands he has a problem and is acting swiftly in handling the unrest. The monarchy draws most of its support from tribal loyalties and regional networks in rural areas where around 43 percent of the population resides and where demonstrations have not yet taken place. While maintaining this rural base through measures like debt amnesties for farmers, the king has tried to preempt the organization of a viable urban opposition by reaching out to the established political opposition to prevent these groups from joining in the street protests. The king’s reported move to give funds to the eight main political parties ahead of the referendum is part of this tactic.

However, the king is taking great care to maintain his overall authority regarding the opposition’s more contentious demands by promising constitutional reform and increased representation, which he calls “watershed changes,” though they are largely cosmetic. The proposed changes will give the prime minister, whom the king will now choose from the majority party, the title of “President of Government” and the ability to dissolve parliament. By granting this concession and splitting the associated constitutional article into two parts, the king creates an artificial separation of powers. He remains the “supreme arbitrator” and retains the power to dissolve parliament after consulting the Council of Ministers, many of whom he will appoint. The changes also say the king can appoint the chair of the Council of Ministers as president of government “on the basis of a specific agenda.”

Under the draft constitution, the king’s religious role as “Commander of the Faithful” will be declared inviolable. This title is a source of legitimacy for the monarch because it is rooted in Islam and gives him Sherifian status as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. The title is a point of contention for Morocco’s Islamist opposition elements. For example, the king offered the Justice and Charity Organization recognition as an official political party, but the organization refused it because they would not acknowledge the king as “Commander of the Faithful.”

The king is also maintaining his military title, “chief of staff of the Royal Armed Forces.” The security establishment, which historically has been a support base for the monarchy, has stood firm behind the king during the latest political unrest. Because the opposition has so actively organized online, the security apparatus has used tactics such as hacking Facebook and Twitter accounts and blocking e-mail communications to hinder the protesters’ activities. Security forces have also maintained close surveillance on foreign journalists and have shut down trains at times in order to limit the size of demonstrations in the cities.

So far, the king’s security forces have vacillated in resorting to overt violence against young, mostly peaceful protesters. In March, Rabat began using riot police to shut down protests, though Morocco usually allows peaceful protests with proper permits. The most widespread use of violence was May 29, resulting in the death of one protester and minor injuries for tens, possibly hundreds, of others. In June, police backed off, showing that Rabat decided it was important to allow the protests to continue, even though the organizers had no permits, in order to reduce violence and potential triggers that could cause the unrest to escalate.

The king wants to avoid a situation in which the demonstrations grow partly because of the use of violence by security forces — something seen in other countries across the Middle East. Given the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan and Syrian experiences, ordering the security forces to use violence against demonstrators would be risky, as there is the possibility that the security forces might turn. Furthermore, a large portion of the Moroccan security establishment is made up of ethnic Berbers, who often perceive themselves as marginalized. This helps explain why the king’s proposed changes to the constitution include recognition of the Berber language as official — a concession targeting minorities in the north who have long demanded cultural rights. (Some 10 million out of Morocco’s population of 32 million people speak a Berber dialect.)

King Mohammad has been careful to appear conciliatory in his speeches, trying to portray himself as patriarch sensitive to the needs of the masses. This stands in contrast with the memory of his father, King Hassan II, who was perceived as ruthless and indifferent to the people’s concerns and under whom two military coups were attempted. The king is also relying on a popular view in Morocco that the monarchy is an important symbol of national unity, and that its historical legacy must be preserved to hold the country together. The main point of contention is whether Morocco’s monarch should be an absolute ruler or a royal figurehead.

The king can also look to Morocco’s Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf region for support, as they all want to maintain the Arab monarchist tradition that has kept them in power. The Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council has extended invitations to both Jordan and Morocco for membership, even though neither is in the Persian Gulf region and neither produces oil. By helping King Mohammed, Saudi Arabia is attempting to establish its influence in North Africa to counter Iranian maneuvers and bolster the Moroccan monarch’s position so that toppling monarchies does not become a regional precedent. Saudi Arabia has been more involved in Morocco in recent years. In 2009, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz stayed in Agadir, Morocco, while recuperating from an operation. That same year, Morocco suddenly cut ties with Iran and expelled the Iranian ambassador, allegedly because of concerns of Iranian Shiite proselytizing. The growing Saudi-Moroccan relationship is important, as Morocco could ask the Saudis for funds to help appease political dissenters.

So far, King Mohammed has been able to prevent the youth-led protests from becoming a mass movement. However, should the king do something before the referendum to spark wider demonstrations, he might have to use force to contain the growing unrest. The current competition is between the king, who is trying to convince the populace that the constitutional reforms in the July 1 referendum are sufficient, and the protest movements, who want more popular support and more expansive reforms. To date, the February 20 Movement has not gained the momentum needed, and the monarchy is wasting little time in persuading the political opposition to back its agenda, with the promise of further reforms in the future, in case new triggers — whether violence or economic issues — lead to greater disenchantment with the regime.

Read more: Moroccan Protests and the Monarchy’s Response | STRATFOR

“This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

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