The democratic reversal in Morocco confronts the state with a true dilemma. While the kingdom is requested to abide by global human rights benchmarks, local developments thwart a genuine respect for freedom of speech, adherence to the 2011 Constitution or benefitting from the glow of foreign relations. In their attempt to meet the challenge, state representatives and advocates draw a divide between foreign and domestic policies. They neglect the fact that social media as well as local and international human rights organisations are keen on divulging the discrepancy.
True, Morocco fosters south-south cooperation. In July 2015, for example, the economic heart of the country, Casablanca, hosted the founding Constitutive General Assembly and started to host the headquarters of the Africa50 infrastructure fund. Public and private investors from around 25 African countries joined in order to push infrastructure projects in Africa with a capital of around $1 billion. Jointly, Morocco partakes in boosting transportation and renewable energies to respond to the growing population and urbanisation across the continent.
Moreover, Morocco’s bid to join the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been confirmed in principle. Despite sharing no borders with the 15 current member states, membership facilitates access to a key financial and demographic market in Africa and offers a gateway to global markets. Several memoranda of understanding have already been signed, especially with the ECOWAS-leading Nigeria, to express goodwill and display cooperation potential. With freedom of movement and free trade possibilities, Morocco can bolster its geostrategic orientation southward, which has the potential to reap political benefit for the Sahara affair, as the Maghreb Union wanes incessantly.
Meanwhile, the ECOWAS seeks Morocco’s security experience. With never-ending security problems in Sahel, the pre-emptive expertise that Moroccan security agencies have garnered, added to internet surveillance and telephone operators that the state invests in, may mitigate threats of instability in a win-win approach.
That booming foreign image requires stability at home. Thus, as a hidden message to international investors and Moroccans abroad — two principle financial resources — King Mohamed VI insisted in his Throne Day speech that the kingdom is far from a security state wherein a policeman watches over each household and every citizen. However, the meaning of security has transmogrified with the coming of cyberspace, and the police no longer need to watch over every citizen physically. Virtual surveillance and the leaking of private data to state-related media suffice to keep the population under control.
Contrarily, Morocco’s foreign sheen does not match domestic practices. For example, the Hirak Rif detainees’ families have issued a press release denouncing the activists’ sordid conditions behind bars. First, they have been dispersed to around ten different prisons, including some in Casablanca and Al-Huceima. In addition to the hardship that the families face, detained activists are deprived of the right of assembly for joint activism whilst in custody. Families also report that activists undergo different kinds of abuse and mistreatment. These include mixing with dangerous criminals; the random swapping of visiting times; inadequate medical care; the inability to phone family members; and sleeping on bare floors. Consequently, many have started hunger, water or sugar strikes, which jeopardises their health and lives.
In solidarity, an online petition has been set up. Being the second or third of its kind since the beginning of the Rif mobilisation, the recent petition demands the release of the activists unconditionally in respect of their right to life and dignity. They were arrested for leading mass protests against Mouhcine Fikri’s squalid death and the dearth of decent infrastructure in the Rif region, so having to experience the state’s revenge essentially contradicts the latter’s efforts to promote the country’s reputation. In a genuine democracy, the blame for tarnishing the country should rest with the politicians who have aborted the nascent post-2011 democratic experience, not activists or journalists who support it.
Added to activism on social media, human rights organisations reveal discrepancies too. For example, the Hirak Rif situation was questioned in the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. Local and foreign organisations exposed infringements on freedom of speech, assembly and association. Representatives denounced the violations of forced disappearance, verbal insults, arrests of journalists and police violence. Thus, state propaganda to advance a “development-without-democracy” project fails, especially in the long run.
Yet, two factors have eased the adoption of Morocco’s official report. First, the Minister of State for Human Rights avoided answering questions related to Al-Huceima mobilisation, indicating in his reply that Morocco will consider the recommendations. Second, human rights organisations, especially foreign groups, neglect true infringements on the population as a whole to bring to the fore controversial individual rights. For Moroccan officials, it is easier to reject recommendations for LGBT rights than to explain the soaring prices of fuel, housing, water or highways that all result from monopolies.
No matter, incompatible foreign activity and local stagnation cripple the country’s self-promotion. They depict the prioritisation of the overseas image above local dynamics. With that, Morocco is not only expected to rank too low in international humans rights reports, but also, most importantly, the state’s legitimacy will plummet in the eyes of its own citizens.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.