Translated by Nicole Cunningham from Pour une fois, la Tunisie donne au Maroc la bonne leçon
The courageous youth of Sidi Bouzid and in other parts of Tunisia have brought down a series of myths which form the foundation of the Tunisian regime, myths which have infected its Moroccan counterpart. In the last three years, many observers have outlined the derivations of the Moroccan leadership on the path of the “Tunisian model” and its doctrine of the “economic boom”, hypothetical of course, as a counterpart to absolute power. The events shaking Tunisia in recent weeks should give food for thought to a number of people in Rabat. Here I would like to discuss what the Moroccan leadership has borrowed from the Tunisian model.
The Myth of the Economic Miracle.
The topic has already been discussed on Talk Morocco and elsewhere: the interlude of political openness which characterized the beginning of Mohammed VI’s reign is definitely over. Morocco has embarked upon the path already taken by Tunisia: economic progress in exchange for political regression and the absence of liberties. The Moroccan leadership cracked down on the free press, for which 2009 was a horrific year; political leadership, or what was left of it, was tamed, and the regime even created a hegemonic party affiliated to the monarchy. Harassment of human rights activists and militants hit dangerous levels. So much so that in just a few years, these crackdowns have limited Morocco’s political growth and, more than ever, a power is in place with hardly any opposition.
This metamorphosis took place in a gradual, spread-out way. It met with very little resistance; after all, it is a question of sacrificing political openness for the economic good of the nation. Look at our Tunisian neighbors! This doctrine was hammered home in all four corners of Morocco: let the monarchy do its job for only it knows what the Moroccan people wants thanks to its necessarily enlightened and timely vision. As far as the motivations of the monarchy and its choices in terms of public policy, of the how and why of inconsistent and changeable decisions, this is definitely part of the special domain of the monarchy, which, beyond the applause machine, tolerates no criticism.
Of course Ben Ali’s Tunisia had one step ahead in this doctrine, inspiring Mohammed VI’s Morocco and validating Morocco’s new direction. Is Tunisia not the model country of the Maghreb? With a GDP per capita which over the course of the last decade grew twice as fast as that of Morocco? An economy which had, until 2009, all its macroeconomic indicators in the black? A small country, devoid of resources, which has outdone the entire Maghreb in terms of economic performance?
The problem is that in one year the economic crisis caught up with Tunisia. Its choices turned out to be debatable: the foundation of the Tunisian economy, essentially based on tourism and outsourcing, is too dependent on the European market and its conjectural flows. This in turn was aggravated by an economic base of weak added value and with no opportunities for graduates. These decisions were all made by the Tunisian leadership, who there as well, were the only ones who knew what the Tunisian people wanted thanks to its necessarily enlightened and timely vision. Evidently.
The economic and financial crisis left a lot of damage in many countries including those with a long democratic tradition. Mistakes were made in all four corners of the planet. However, in absolutist regimes, the population won’t forgive the errors and the directions taken by those who made sure to decide everything, all alone in their palaces with their clans, knowingly abstaining from allowing political participation via democratic institutions voted by universal suffrage. When one feeds on absolute power, and one isn’t accountable to anyone, it shouldn’t be surprising when one day social realities explode in a sudden and dramatic fashion.
The Myth of a Willing and Tamed Population.
Going back to the last episode, the WikiLeaks “revelations” only confirmed what was already known: the regimes in place in the Maghreb are particularly corrupt. In Algeria, a mafia of generals misappropriates the oil wealth. In Tunisia, the corruption of the presidential clan and its control of all economic sectors for its own enrichment needs no further proof.
In Morocco there is no need to spell it out. Economic growth has only benefitted a few privileged people close to the regime. From promising real estate to privileged investments and above all local holdings, the most important belong to the king and his entourage. Current economic news in Morocco is full of stories about the holding ONA/SNI, which belongs to the royal family, has a stranglehold on the private sector and on the Moroccan economy.
The populist adage is that only salon intellectuals and “bitter nihilists” are interested in the incestuous relationship between the regime and the economic world, and that the people don’t hold the regime accountable for its corruption. The truth is that these practices leave more resentment and frustration than what appears. Despite trying to muzzle the press and public opinion, these things are known and amplify the feelings of anger and social injustice. No matter how hard the population is policed and controlled, one day the camel’s back will break, and even the most sophisticated of fearmongerers will not be able to contain the anger of the populace.
The Myth of Control over Public Opinion and Information.
It can’t be said enough: there is nothing more idiotic and stupid than the belief that in outlawing newspapers, in muzzling the press and in blaming the foreign network Al Jazeera for all that is wrong in the country, that information and public opinion is under control. The Moroccan authorities embarked upon this process, even making surrealist decisions like outlawing foreign newspapers so as to prevent the circulation of the WikiLeaks cable content and this despite the fact that any Moroccan with internet access can find these leaks.
The Tunisian leadership, which also has vast experience in the domain, but in more repressive and relentless, wasn’t able to stop the transmission of images and information on the uprisings in Sidi Bouzid and other places even though most media outlets are forbidden from working in the country. Thanks to cell phones and the internet, images from the uprisings in Sidi Bouzid and elsewhere flooded the web. These images exist and bear witness to, big feelings of injustice and distress, anger and riots. These images can’t be concealed. The Tunisian authorities may well have tried to censor all of the traditional media and limit access to the internet, but they can’t do anything against the broadcast of these images which can’t go away. The authorities can neither deny, nor even minimize these events. Even better, these almost stolen images have the affect of accelerating the spread to other areas and creating a snowball-effect of dissent.
The Myth of Western Support.
Hypocrisy is de rigueur. Western governments, those in Europe in particular, prefer a Maghreb with its current institutions, authoritarian but more safe and secure, to a Maghreb of democratic openness. Western doctrine is to promote individual liberties, especially women’s’ rights, and not to make too much fuss concerning democratization in countries which are synonyms for geopolitical risk. Notably, for example, the European Union asks Turkey to make significant progress in democratization, towards which it is much more critical than Tunisia or Morocco!
For a long time, this hypocritical and unconditional support made up the foundation of support to the authoritarian regimes in place. But now, Tunisian activists have just shown that it is better to bypass this step and go directly to world opinion as a witness. Filming, testifying and bringing local reality beyond borders, bypassing foreign governments and by giving rise to the sympathy and solidarity of global citizens directly.
One can’t help but have plenty of sympathy for the revolt by courageous Tunisian youth against an authoritarian regime who has held the country in an iron fist for several decades. As far as the Moroccan authorities are concerned, they would be best served by getting a clue and drawing the necessary conclusions. The Tunisian model, which the authorities obstinately pursue, only leads to despair. Muzzling the press, creating a hegemonic party, and accentuating personal and absolute power are practices which only lead to deadlock and the eruption of society. For the Moroccan authorities, the equation is simple: Hedge its bets on political and democratic openness or risk losing the country in a chaos which could arise at the tiniest of sparks. For once, Tunisia has taught Morocco a good lesson.