On March 9th, when King Mohammed VI made his much anticipated constitutional reform speech, the streets of Morocco along with many Moroccan Facebook Walls buzzed with excitement. A most skeptic Moroccan tweeted on that day: “This was beyond what I had expected!“ The King had personally embraced the urgency of change, as he promised to introduce profound constitutional revisions that would bring limits to his own powers, and set Morocco on the path for democracy. Yet, despite the national euphoria, the King’s speech had not succeeded in taming the protests. Instead, the youth took again to the streets to test the royal promises, and mostly to say no to a constitutional reform made at the top and imposed on the bottom.
During these last three months, members of the Constitutional Commission, handpicked by the King himself, regularly gathered – though behind closed doors- to design their version of a democratic Morocco. At the same time, Moroccan streets kept filling with people claiming their own conception of democracy: ‘The constitutional commission must be elected by the people, the new constitution must establish a parliamentary monarchy where the king rules but doesn’t govern, where the government is accountable before the people, and where freedoms and dignity are rights guaranteed to all Moroccans.’ To put an end to this popular stubbornness, the regime confusedly swung back and forth between restraint and the use of repressive force.
On May 29th, the determination to quell the protests became clear with the beating of hundreds of protesters and the killing of feb20 martyr Kamal Ammari in Safi. Rather than discouraging the protesters, repression fueled the desire for change, sent more Moroccans to the streets, and emboldened the movement’s slogans. Thus, on June 2nd, when another record number of people took to the streets to demand real change, the regime adopted restraint. Still, Fatima Menssafi , a 17 year old young woman purportedly holding a sign that read: “God, the Nation, the People” instead of the national slogan “God, the Nation, the King,” was arrested and imprisoned.
It is amidst this tense situation that the catered constitution will be submitted to the public for debate before a constitutional referendum takes place arguably in July. Political parties were called in for consultation ahead of time. But a few of them have already deplored that they weren’t allowed sufficient time to review and discuss the changes. It is not clear either if the debate period will allow for further revisions. Nonetheless, speculations around the scope of constitutional changes are in full swing, and some copies of the new provisions have already leaked to the public here and there revealing glimpses on possible changes that would: limit the King’s power, offer equality between men and women, guarantee freedom of speech, and the person of the King “respected” (replacing “sacred”) and inviolable.
The Islamist deputy Benkirane has already hinted that he may oppose the reform. A leader of the PJD, and a staunch royalist who opposed the feb20 movement from the outset, Benkirane spoke of rejecting any constitutional changes that would impinge on the Islamic identity of the state, and warned that such changes would encourage homosexuality and moral decay. This led many to wonder if considerable changes towards more freedoms have triggered his reprehensible comments.
Regardless of the Constitutional commission’s achievement, the movement seems undeterred and set on rejecting the reform. On June 12th the tone has escalated, and the crowd insistently chanted: “A constitution drafted without the people is good for trash.” The movement further tested people’s desire for real change with slogans about the King’s power and sanctity: “we want the dissolution of article 19.”
The last protests may already indicate what the post-referendum scenario would look like, but there are still many “ifs” at play: What if the constitutional proposal offers considerable changes without satisfying all the demands? Should the Feb20 still oppose it? Or should they use it as a platform for negotiating further democratic progress? Take the issue of equality between men and women for instance. If it is true that the new constitution offers full parity, how would the Feb20 women react to it? Would they favor a utilitarian approach, and temper their position? Or would they reject a better status knowing that their fight is challenged by complex and possibly irreconcilable agendas raised by the hundreds of heterogeneous cells claiming Feb20 affiliations?
Speculations aside, the post referendum scenario will be less contingent on a yes or a no vote than on the movement’s decision to reject the constitutional proposal, regardless of the referendum’s outcome or the scope of reform. If the Feb20 youth movement seems set to stand its ground, it will also be held to higher expectations during its second contestation phase. The Feb20 youth will then have to agree on a common agenda and clearly articulate their demands into real proposals. As for the regime, it has hopefully learned that its restraint to repression strategy is a dangerous choice that doesn’t augur well for the promise of democracy.