New POMED Policy Brief: Morocco’s “New” Political Face: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
On November 25, 2011, Morocco held early parliamentary elections which witnessed the rise of an Islamic party and a boycott by the youth-led “February 20th Movement.” Political Scientist John P. Entelis, the Director of Middle East Studies at Fordham University and editor of The Journal of North African Studies, examines the significance of the results of Morocco’s parliamentary elections and the nature of Morocco’s reform process. Despite a comparatively pluralistic political society, Morocco remains plagued by the socioeconomic inequalities and political disenfranchisement. Consequently, Morocco has witnessed persistent pro-democracy protests lead by the “February 20th Movement for Change” since the inception of the Arab Spring. King Mohamed VI sought to preempt demands for fundamental changes to Morocco’s political system—which would have established a constitutional monarchy—with a call to overhaul of the constitution and hold early elections. The political process initiated from above was received with apathy and cynicism, and the 45 percent turnout rate in the November parliamentary elections demonstrates the public unresponsiveness towards political projects spearheaded and manipulated by the palace. Although the election results were a victory for the Islamist-oriented Justice and Development party (PJD), these results do not indicate a significant break from past practices: the PJD rejects the label of “Islamist” and accepts the absolute authoritarian privileges of the king. Without substantial changes to the political structure to address the pro-democracy aspirations of Moroccan citizens, the North African nation is certain to face future instability. The U.S. must encourage meaningful reforms by expanding the scope and content of democracy and governance funding to the country and conditioning the renewal of Morocco’s MCC grant on the implementation of democratic reforms.