Morocco Leaps (Quietly) Towards Despotism
The world media has rightfully been paying a great deal of attention to the Saudis’ brutal murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but at the opposite end of the Arab world an equally important story is unfolding in a different authoritarian monarchy — that of the Kingdom of Morocco.
Of course, the comparison to Saudi Arabia is not entirely appropriate: although both countries have kings and a semi-theocratic state, Moroccans enjoy far more freedoms and civil liberties than their Saudi counterparts. Morocco has been deemed a ‘hybrid state’ and ‘partially free’ by Freedom of the Press, a U.S.-based watch group. In addition, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, was praised for loosening his control over the country’s government after protests broke out during the Arab Spring of 2011. Women are often elected to office, sometimes with the support of the King himself, formerly marginalized ethnic groups like the Berbers have been gaining civil rights, the King’s authority is being checked, and the powers of the elected prime minister have been expanded.
Not all is rosy, however. In just the past few weeks the Moroccan Association for Human Rights has issued a report which reveals widespread abuses by the government, cracking down on journalists, members of the political opposition, and human rights campaigners. The Association believe this part of a larger trend in which the Moroccan government is slowly and quietly reneging on the promises of its 2011 reforms and becoming more authoritarian. Perhaps most troubling, the report also reveals that the government has totally failed its commitment to curtail the use of torture. It is telling that the minister for human rights, reportedly said that Morocco ‘is neither a paradise nor a hell for rights’.
Perhaps we might see this as a larger global trend in politics: in America, the populist Donald Trump is President; China, Xi Jinping has made himself dictator for life; Saudi Arabia has brutally murdered one of its own citizens in Turkey — and Turkey itself is dealing with the increasingly authoritarian tendencies of Recep Erdogan; and Brazil has just elected Jair Bolsonaro, a man who often speaks admiringly of the country’s brutal fascist dictatorship. I could go on. Morocco might just be one small piece of the puzzle.
Regardless of global trends, it seems as if Morocco will continue to walk the line between Saudi-style absolutism and modern parliamentary democracy such as the one a few dozen miles across the Mediterranean in Spain. International observers in the West and elsewhere should pay close attention in the coming months to developments in this part of the world.
At the time of writing, Dylan Springer is a second year student at the University of St Andrews studying History. He is particularly interested in modern European history and politics and U.S. foreign policy.