In Ramadan, politics in Morocco usually abate to devote more public focus on spiritual life. This year, successive incidents have kept the level of social debate high. In addition to untimeliness, a second aspect is that the state is being pushed to be viewed as absent or ineffective. As a result, the incidents mirror Morocco as a state on the verge of failure in providing key services and protecting its sovereignty.
To start with, an unknown group called the Moroccan Commission for National Unity (MCNU), announced on social media that the interior ministry has asked citizens to report immediately, via the phone numbers provided, any strange activity or suspicious weapon-owning. The announcement occurred after the attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, and spread fear within Morocco about possible domestic attacks.
In fact, MCNU is itself a source of suspicion. Though active on the internet as an NGO, the commission has no official website and its headquarters is not mentioned. Its Facebook group reveals not only a supposed nationwide structure, with regional representatives and numerous members, but also that official doors are open for them. Despite its supposedly recent founding, it has visited the main sites of the royal cemetery and its ambassador to the Muslim world participated in a study day on Prophet Muhammad organised by the Brazilian parliament.
More noticeable is that MCNU aims principally to support the monarchy and cooperate with security services to serve the crown and protect the safety and unity of the country from terrorists and stray groups, without defining those terms. Its meaning of national unity is equally ambiguous, while its submissive discourse towards the monarchy is strange to civil society observers and looks like a play to gain political privilege.
The General Directorate for National Security, the official security agency, denied the "strange activity" announcement immediately, without mentioning MCNU. The press release simply insisted that its officers perform their duties effectively. This incident is second to none in contemporary Moroccan politics. The interior ministry is infamous for having well-embedded links with the deep state. At certain periods it was the backbone of the state and functioned under ministers' iron fists to smother freedom of speech and wipe out social mobility. As such, the reputation of the state is tarnished as far as seeking popular help is concerned. It is possible that the unfortunate culprit bringing state humiliation is the government.
Yet, hampering the ability to execute laws is more conducive to putting Morocco in the category of a failed state. If the first incident occurred mainly on social media and its motives remain unclear or difficult to trace, weakening state powers through the hands of official departments would both tarnish the state's image and convey harmful messages to the public.
For example, the High Authority for Audio-visual Communication (HACA) has been slow to sanction the broadcasting of content unsuitable for families and minors. Against the law, public TV channels aired the Jennifer Lopez concert during the 2015 Mawazine Festival live, among other sensual programmes. The law allows –or rather obliges- the HACA to conduct investigations and impose fines. Nevertheless, the HACA has developed a reputation of nonchalance and lethargy, especially when it comes to infringement of the laws relating to television.
In the face of public uproar about the Lopez concert, the head of the government sent a letter to the HACA chief executive, but no reply has been received, although a whole month has passed. True, the HACA is not obliged to answer Abdelilah Benkirane but its mandate obliges it to sanction broadcasters for breaking the law. Political propaganda tried to divert public attention from the HACA's slackness by looking at whether Benkirane's letter was legitimate or not.
Benkirane's move should be considered as a stepping-stone between earlier HACA lethargy and civil society's inability to issue complaints. Since the HACA was founded in 2002 to liberate the Moroccan media, which it has been too slow to do, it should be foremost in promoting media accountability to the public and encouraging interaction with civil society, to comply more with the prerogatives of the 2011 constitution. The HACA, however, not only rejects public pleas for media accountability, but -more damaging to the state – also cripples the rule of law when very few steps have been taken against TV channels despite successive content transgressions.
The impression these events convey is that Moroccans live under a government handicapped by its own institutions despite being elected democratically. The blame in the public psyche will gradually shift towards the whole democratic process that has enabled the Islamists to win elections. With a state that is unable to maintain the rule of law, its main characteristic of being an Islamist-led government starts to be viewed as a hindrance to maintaining social cohesion or easing public tensions that may arise from the inability to put laws into practice.
What different political players need to consider is that damaging the state's image will have negative repercussions on them all, including the monarchy, the government, the opposition and civil society. If and when a second wave of the Arab Spring erupts, the tendency to marginalise laws and state institutions will have become commonplace and public anger may not be easy to control, especially if corruption affects the forthcoming local authority elections.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.