In 1999, Mohammed VI ascended the Moroccan throne, ushering in a new era in Moroccan governance. Since that time, there have been progress and setbacks. In recent years great strides have been made in the areas of women’s rights, the Amazigh cultural movement, and tourism. Meanwhile, free expression is on the decline, and the conflict over the Western Sahara has nearly reached its tipping point.
While observers might disagree on the achievements and failures of the past decade, many seem to think that 2010 might prove to be a turning point for the country under the rule of Mohammed VI.
A Decade of Change?
The king has announced lately an important project aimed at reforming territorial governance by allocating more powers to regional decision makers. Critics say that in the absence of a genuine institutional democracy, with the monarch holding on to his prerogatives, the whole scheme might turn out to be pointless. The plan is also meant at resolving the conflict over Western Sahara by including the region in a wider decentralized space that would deal with the territory in an equal footing with other regions in the kingdom, putting an end, some say, to decades of preferable and costly treatment toward the southern provinces. Many analysts agree that regionalization is a bold move, that unless accompanied by fundamental institutional reforms, might turn out to be risky for the stability and unity of the country.
The conflict over Western Sahara has been plaguing regional relations for decades. A heavy political and financial burden for a country like Morocco struggling with economic problems and caring for its image abroad. As the country tries to win over international support and recognition of its claimed rights over the territory, separatist activists have succeeded lately in attracting the attention, and often the sympathy of international media and western human rights organizations. Moroccan authorities have constantly blamed neighboring Algeria for supporting and providing refuge for the separatist movement and for undermining their efforts in finding a solution to the conflict through a Moroccan proposed autonomy plan for the southern provinces. 2010 may prove to be an important year in the conflict as Algeria’s position arguably grows stronger in the world stage, and as Morocco tries to “normalize” its dealings with the territory through a plan that aims at integrating it in a larger national scheme. A normalization that can’t afford the economy of resolving pending questions related to violations of Human rights in the territory that occurred during the “years of lead” and that remain to be answered according to Amnesty International.
The “Amazigh Question”
Over the last 10 years, much attention has been paid to the Amazigh culture. Today in Morocco in fact one can get a Masters in Amazigh languages. Neo-Tifinagh is available in Unicode. Amazigh languages are being taught in public schools. An Amazigh language TV channel has been launched recently. In a region of the world torn by sectarianism and where certain cultural minorities continue to claim their right to exist, Morocco seems to have chosen to celebrate its cultural and ethnic diversity. A process hailed the world over but which isn’t without risk: how far the country would be ready to go to meet the demands of the Amazigh movement? And is there not a risk of instilling sectarianism in country that has known almost none so far?
Morocco in the EU?
Morocco enjoys an advanced status with the European Union and has embarked on a major effort to align itself on institutional, legislative and economic European standards in accordance with its Free Trade Agreement with Europe covering all sorts of goods, agriculture and services. The implementation of the accord will start to come out in full force in 2010 ahead of the creation of a Moroccan-EU free economic zone in March 2012, raising many questions about the readiness of the local market and legislature to absorb the flow of European goods and competitors in an environment still afflicted by endemic corruption and informal economy.
The Moroccan government has envisioned attracting 10 million tourists into the country by 2010, and embarked onto ambitious touristic projects. That didn’t come however without environmental and financial costs and many critics have been blaming the government for the lack of transparency and consultation. Conservatives too have been grumbling about a touristic policy they consider “too liberal.”
Freedom of speech–an uphill battle
Finally, there have been major setbacks concerning freedom of speech in the country. Morocco has jailed 5 journalists and 4 bloggers in the past decade, with numerous others arrested and tried for various acts of journalism. The Moroccan civil society is venting its discontent with what some activists describe as a return to a softer version of the autocratic rule of the previous decades.
In light of all this, what are your dreams, hopes and fears for 2010? And do you think 2010 will be a defining year for Morocco?