Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A view point of an observer

One Step Forward …T@P The West has high hopes for Morocco, but democracy is coming slowly.By Geoff Pingree and Lisa AbendIssue Date: 12.20.05Over several days this fall, an estimated 1,500 sub-Saharan Africanstried to enter Europe by scaling the wire fences that separate theSpanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from the rest of Morocco. In themidst of this attempt, on September 29, Morocco's prime minister,Driss Jettou, signaled in talks with Spain's president, José LuisRodrيguez Zapatero, Morocco's apparent commitment to diplomatic meansto stem the northward tide of illegal immigration. But Morocco'sactions spoke louder than Jettou's words: Government forces killed 14of the would-be immigrants and wounded dozens more. And when thedesperate young men who had walked to Europe's border from Congo,Mali, and Senegal remained in makeshift camps nearby, awaiting anotherchance to breach the fences, Moroccan security forces packed them onto buses and dumped them in the desert.The dissonance between Jettou's publicized meeting and his police'stactics epitomizes Morocco's recent attempts to become a more opensociety. Since Mohammed VI assumed the throne after his autocraticfather, Hassan II, died in 1999, the country has progressed by fitsand starts, effecting real changes while clinging to oppressivepractices. Though Mohammed VI has implemented democratic policies,authoritarian habits die slowly, and Morocco's old political elite, ormakzhen, retains much power. In addition, crushing poverty and highunemployment have led scores of Moroccans to emigrate in recent years-- draining the country of many of its most talented and educatedcitizens and encouraging the state to deploy less-than-tolerantsecurity tactics along its borders -- while swelling Islamist partieshave complicated the state's efforts to become more open.Those sympathetic to Morocco's uneven progress note that reformhappens in small steps, and that, however imperfect, the process iskey to political stability across northern Africa and along theMediterranean. The country's relatively tolerant brand of Islam, aswell as its strategic geographic position among Africa, the MiddleEast, and Europe, makes it an important partner in the Muslim and Arabworlds for both the European Union and the United States. Many expertsargue that modernizing and ensuring greater transparency and civilliberties are the surest way to protect against the radical Islam thatthreatens to overtake Morocco as it did Algeria. As U.S. Senator RussFeingold emphasized in 2004: "We need our Moroccan partners if we areto succeed in … the fight against al-Qaeda and associated globalterrorist organizations. … [T]he U.S. must support the Moroccan peoplein their fight for basic human rights, their efforts to combatcorruption."Yet six years after Mohammed VI took power, such an alliance is hardlyassured, and Moroccan democracy remains an uncertain work in progress.Certainly the government has increased political transparency andexpanded civil rights. After appointing the nation's first femaleroyal counselors and reserving 30 parliamentary seats for women, in2003 the king supported a new Family Code, the Moudawana, which madewives equal partners with their husbands, granting them jointownership of assets and permitting them to seek divorce. "Democracycannot stand on one leg," says Nezha Chekrouni, minister for MoroccansAbroad and longtime women's rights activist. "It needs both men andwomen. And the political will exists to change the dynamic." Islamistgroups vigorously protested the law's erosion of Muslim principles,jeopardizing the king's pursuit of the parliament's imprimatur. Onlythe May 2003 Casablanca bombings prevented an impasse, pressuring theIslamists to demonstrate their loyalty by rescinding their opposition.Still, if women's rights have progressed, an air of oppressionsurrounds many of Morocco's recent innovations. In 2002 Mohammed VIpassed a new press law that, although it requires authors andpublishers to register with the government, allowed politicalmagazines like the Casablanca-based Tel Quel to cross onceunassailable boundaries. (In January the magazine published anunprecedented account of the royal family's finances.) But even as itsscope broadens, the country's media continue to censor themselves tosurvive. Emphasizing that "we don't side with one party or another,"Tel Quel Editor Driss Ksikes notes that, even with greater freedom,his magazine must be cautious about what it covers and how.And Morocco's media is still constrained by more than self-censorship.In May 2003 the government closed Demain, a satirical weekly publishedby outspoken journalist Ali Lmrabet. The Ministry of Communication'sFatiha Ladayi, leafing through old editions of the magazine, pointedto cartoons lampooning national and world figures. "Demain was shutdown not because it was politically critical but because it engaged indefamation," she says. Lmrabet disagrees, saying, "My only defamationwas to state a fact that's in a United Nations' report on the WesternSahara," an embattled zone where the Moroccan government issuppressing independence efforts by the native nomadic people. Lmrabetspent four months in prison in 2003 on the defamation charge, receiveda royal pardon in January 2004, then was recently barred frompracticing journalism for 10 years.Morocco's government is also curbing dissent from Islamists. Justiceand Charity, a powerful Islamist movement (it resists makingconcessions that would give it legal party status), is among theking's most outspoken critics. Movement leader Nadia Yassine wasarrested for lèse majesté in June when she publicly confessed herbelief that a republican government would better serve Morocco than amonarchy. Later that month, her trial was suspended amid rumors of aU.S. Embassy intervention, and she is now carefully monitored andcannot leave the country as she awaits word on a new trial. MoniqueQuesada of the U.S. Embassy in Rabat called Yassine's situation "aninternal Moroccan issue that the U.S. cannot interfere in," but addedthat "the State Department expressed concern about this and otherinstances in which the Moroccan government has moved to limit freedomof the press and freedom of expression. In Yassine's case, the [State]Department deemed that the government's move contradicted many of theimportant advances Morocco has been making in promoting human rights."Human rights appeared to be a secondary concern as well when, afterthe Casablanca bombings, Morocco passed an anti-terrorism law enablingthe arrest of more than 4,000 suspected terrorists. Groups like HumanRights Watch accuse the government of violating human rights and civilliberties, but as Haizam Amirah, senior North Africa analyst atMadrid's Royal Elcano Institute, says, "Morocco knows that it's notgoing to get major complaints from Western countries for cracking downon terrorism."Under the anti-terrorism law, the government has begun to monitormosques, imams, and the religious content of textbooks. Such tactics,and the legislation's vagueness (it defines "apologizing forterrorism" as a crime), led the nation's sole legal Islamist faction,the Justice and Development Party (PJD), to vehemently oppose the lawwhen it was proposed in 2001, but after Casablanca and increasedsuspicion of Islamists, the party yielded its position. Additionally,in March, the government drafted the Law of Political Parties, whichwould ban from party platforms all religious (as well as regional andethnic) references. If it passes, the law will effectively dissolveany meaningful Islamist political opposition, including the PJD.The country's ambivalence toward democracy is nowhere more evidentthan in Western Sahara, the territory squeezed between Morocco,Algeria, and Mauritania and claimed by both Morocco and theonce-nomadic Saharawi people who live there. As Spain negotiated itspostcolonial retreat from Western Sahara 30 years ago, Hassan II senttroops to claim the area, ignoring the International Court ofJustice's demand that a referendum decide the region's fate andsparking a long-lasting war with the armed Saharawi liberationmovement, the Polisario Front. In 1991 the United Nations brokered acease-fire that again called for a self-determination referendum andhas spent the 14 years since trying to enforce the agreement. Like hisfather, Mohammed VI has refused to negotiate Moroccan sovereignty overWestern Sahara.In recent months, opposition to the government's position has grown.In May, hundreds of Saharawi in Western Sahara's capital, Laayoune,and elsewhere took to the streets to protest harsh police measures anddemand independence, leading to violent clashes. One protester, HamdiLambarki, who took part in an October 30 rally, died. Police forcessay he was killed by a fellow protester's thrown rock; Lambarki'sfamily and eyewitnesses contend that the police beat him to death.In Western Sahara, public events and their larger meanings are inconstant dispute. In Laayoune, trials of dissidents are legally opento the public, but police block foreign journalists from entering thecourthouse. International delegations are welcome to visit, accordingto Moroccan officials like Hamid Chabar, "as long as they areimpartial," yet groups trying to investigate have been turned away atthe airport for "showing unconditional support for the Polisario."When in September the Polisario released the 404 Moroccan prisoners ofwar it had held at its own refugee camps across the border in Algeria,the Moroccan government welcomed the discharge (overseen by U.S.Senator Richard Lugar) but continued to refer to the 80,000 to 165,000refugees living in the camps as "hostages" of the Polisario.Curiously, it was the Polisario that rescued many of the sub-Saharanimmigrants abandoned in the desert in October.Is Morocco truly pursuing democracy? The question hangs over most ofthe state's reforms. Although the country has taken steps toward anopen society and a more representative government, it remains -- indeed if not in word -- ambivalent. What will this nation be in fiveyears, or 10? For Lmrabet, the answer lies partly with the West."People say you can't impose Western democracy on the Arab world," heremarks. "But the West can push it. Not by using force or bombs, butit can push it. Help us get democracy. We'll adapt it for ourselves."Geoff Pingree and Lisa Abend, professors at Oberlin College, writeregularly on the politics and culture of Spain and northern Africa.(c) 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc._______________________________________________Source: http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=10644_______________________________________________Forwarded by:_______________________________________________Norwegian Support Committee for Western Saharawsahara@online.no*** Referendum now! ***http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Sahara-update



Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?