Sapping the political will
Since the sun set on the Arab Spring, Morocco has moved swiftly to cut itself free from its advances, despite the fact that it stood out as the exception in a region that mostly succumbed to turbulence. It does, however, remain wedded to its unique status. It has even gone so far as to halt the reform process in favour of stability – the catchword of the moment – although it had supposedly been ″agreed″ that the country would join the club of ″democratic″ nations.
Most parties on the Moroccan political scene engaged with the democratisation project in a new way, fielding clear manifestos. This proved in stark contrast to the ″alternate government″ experiment attempted in the late 1990s, when leadership rotated between the major opposition parties. This time round there was agreement on a new constitution and early elections were held, which were notable for the apparent neutrality of the state. Other indications also convinced people that the state was making a genuine political offer, turning its back on ceremonial democracy in a move towards true democracy.
But none of this was to be. As soon as the regime realised that the regional and international winds were blowing in its favour, it began back-pedalling; rather than falling into step with the rhythm of the street, the people and the democratic forces within the country, the clock was turned back to suit the decision-makers.
An attack on substance
Yet the regime could not readily use the means it had used prior to February 2011 to tighten its grip on the public and recover the ground it had ceded in the five years since. By now public awareness had increased across society, thereby reducing the state′s room for manoeuvre at a popular level – something that was clearly reflected in the results of the last two elections.
Using various well-known conventional methods to influence voters, the local elections of September 2016 and the legislative elections of October 2016 served to cleanse the political arena, draining the political debate of any substance. Sensing a change in the level of public consciousness among ordinary Moroccans, the confidence of the royal court increased: for six months, the country succumbed to political stalemate – what became known locally as the ′blocage′.
It is said that palace staff continued to work according to the maxim: ″plus ca change, c′est plus la meme chose″.Those advocating autocratic rule and the restoration of order were forced to adjust their approach and direct their efforts in a more promising direction. Most people, seeing the limited concessions the state was prepared to offer the parties and their representatives before each election, saw through the tactics. This time, those loyal to the palace decided to exert direct influence on the political process.
This was achieved by eliminating the remaining parties, in a political scene overflowing with entities best be described as ′administrative parties′ or political boutiques. These are parties whose voices are heard only in election season, or shortly after, when they compete for the largest slice of the governmental pie. Such sham parties were told either to engage in the political process or park themselves in opposition and wait to be assigned a role.