As the Moroccan state itches for an exit from the Rif stalemate, the breaking of genuine compromises seems uncomfortable. True, street protests have abated in Al-Huceima due to a police crackdown and mass surveillance, while activists have faced defamation, imprisonment, transfer to Casablanca and selective royal pardons. However, since key Hirak Rif leaders remain in prison, the seeds of public anger persist, aggravated by an activist’s death.
The deep state’s irritation with the Hirak and discomfort over political activism within state institutions coincide. The traditional security approach is its answer to the mobilisation of the people. In contrast, the institutional culture, including the roles of the judiciary, executive and legislature, is marginalised. Elected politicians are eclipsed by para-institutional initiatives that make their presence unnecessary and disesteem their efforts. Thus, ostensibly state “solutions” lack institutional legitimacy.
The use of royal pardons, for example, delegitimises the judicial process. While the act is welcomed because activists are freed, the pardon depicts the courts as being subservient to political circumstances. To start with, Elmortada Iamrachen was released to attend his father’s funeral, despite being charged with spreading terrorist propaganda. Other activists were then released before Throne Day, including Salima Ziani, yet most Hirak leaders are still in custody.
Read: Rif protester dies
Meanwhile, when investigating violations against activists, inquiries are short-lived, never-ending or shallow. Thus, the investigation into the circumstances of Imad El Attabi’s death seems like it has faded into oblivion. Moreover, more activists are detained, such as Abderrahman El Azri, a child who attended the march following El Attabi’s funeral. A more democratic step would be to strengthen the authority of the judiciary by freeing it from political interference. The repercussions of subordinating judges to politics spreads despair more than political stagnation does.
Furthermore, despite their pivotal role as mediators, political parties have been attacked severely in royal speeches. They stand accused of being unable “to deal with the real aspirations and concerns of Moroccans.” As a result, politicians are depicted as opportunistic arrivistes who only celebrate success, hide weakness, shun responsibility and jump at benefits. When they fail, they leave a void for citizens to address King Mohammed directly. Though such a portrayal is not totally inaccurate, some context is needed for more accountability.
The first is that many parties are created by the state. Throughout Morocco’s post-colonial period to-date, political parties have been created to replace rising powers or mitigate the effect of others. The most recent was the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, the King’s ex-classmate and current key advisor, in order to undermine the Islamists. PAM’s secretary general, Ilyas Elomari, resigned shortly after the Throne Day speech for failure to prevent the overwhelming electoral victory of the Justice and Development Party (PJD). His resignation has the potential to end the deep state’s dependence on the PAM and pass the torch of protecting deep-state interests to Aziz Akhannouch, another friend of the monarch and current secretary general of the National Rally of Independents (RNI), as well as the Minister of several portfolios around agriculture and rural development. Thus, the lack of freedom shrinks the impact of criticising parties.
Second, the politicians who are criticised are also elected publically. Many have been leading their parties for decades. They participate in general elections and access decisive posts. Thus, what truly deserves disdain, anger and serious change is electoral corruption that allows them to hijack parties and bribe impoverished citizens to win despite being inapt for decision-making.
What’s more, political action in practice is crippled by the supervision of the Interior Ministry. Infrastructure projects, for example, depend on its consent. The media blame the Ministers of Construction and Transportation, but politicians know that the Ministry of the Interior blocked all infrastructure projects nationwide six months before the 2016 elections; it was supported in this by the Ministry of Finance, which blocked any funds for local authorities. Thus, if parties are to be held accountable for local development then this administrative hurdle must be removed.
On top of all of this, the King and his circle are beyond accountability. The “Minaret of the Mediterranean”, a huge development project in Al-Huceima region, has faltered. The signatories included many para-institutional personalities under royal patronage. Hence, apart from the monarch, no individual or institution can review the project. Similarly, little is known about the financial aspect of the National Initiative for Human Development, a royal scheme for fighting vulnerability and poverty. Despite the huge sums and colossal, influential projects involved, the lack of accountability not only encourages general impunity but also creates an imbalance in the criticism levelled at parties.
Finally, all parties are put in one basket despite stark differences in levels of corruption, inaptitude and hunger for public funds. Some parties respect electoral results while others overlook the democratic process completely. Some convince voters while others never get parliamentary seats except by fraudulent means. Some have sustainable communication with citizens while others disappear after winning elections. Fostering a culture of institutions requires the highlighting of these differences, especially as parties can engage in self-evaluation and civil society can contribute to monitoring party politics.
Adding insult to injury is having to depend on Noureddine Ayouch to solve the Rif stalemate. Despite being a non-political figure, the advertising specialist leads an initiative to negotiate with the Hirak leaders. Ayouch is notorious for suggesting weird pro-French language policies. Being close to the palace, he also squandered public money on a failed campaign to encourage youth participation in the 2007 elections, unaccountably so. His success in solving the Hirak Rif issue will further marginalise elected institutions and lessen trust in the political process.
It is possible that those developments explain recent calls for new constitutional amendments to make political responsibility more precise. Otherwise, the weakening of state institutions will simply continue to make the kingdom’s political logjam worse.