Generation Development team member Leila Hanafi discusses the ‘Arab Spring’ from the perspective of youth in Morocco.
The profound unrest the world witnessed throughout the Middle East and North Africa over the past year has prompted some Arab governments to introduce a series of dynamic and responsive measures via reforms. At the very heart of the unrest, echoed from the Maghreb to the Gulf, was the demand for constitutional reform to promote a more democratic political order that it is both credible, and, equally important, recognized as legitimate by the people. These reforms are designed to ensure that governments are accountable and to empower average citizens to play a more active role in policy-making processes. From the outset, popular unrest in much of the Arab world was triggered by outdated constitutional mandates that denied citizens many basic human rights.
Morocco, the first country to successfully engage its citizens by rewriting its constitution after the start of the Arab Spring, has been commended for its willingness and ability to incorporate the demands of its population. The country’s recently amended constitution has the potential to satisfy popular calls for increased freedoms, fundamental rights, transparency, political reforms, as well as social justice. The King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, announced the constitutional reforms in recognition of youth led demonstrations throughout the nation in a speech given on March 9, 2011. However, the true measure of the success of Mohamed VI’s efforts, of course, is directly related to how the reforms are implemented and the impact they make on the lives of average Moroccans.
The population of Morocco, not unlike other Arab nations, is noted for its “youth bulge”- a demographic of more than half of the population currently under the age of 30. Now, one year after the protests began on the streets of Casablanca and just months after a new government was formed, Moroccans are eager to see how the newly constructed constitution will advance the rights of this key demographic.
Consequently, it is imperative to encourage the participation of engaged youth in civil society, political parties and processes, and to reaffirm that their voices are vital for the future of the country. Often the majority of Moroccan youth feel excluded from these arenas, with some experts concerned that continued youthful frustration could possibly culminate in civil unrest on the same streets where peaceful protests were held not so long ago. While high levels of unemployment and a stifling global economy have created a sense of collective pessimism, it is hoped that broad political and economic reform will effectively foster the potential of young human capital. The unique makeup of the youthful Moroccan population may then be considered a demographic gift.
Moving forward, it is important not to be content with the words inscribed in the new constitution, but, more importantly, their realization. It is a common view that a major challenge for Morocco’s newly formed government is how successful it will be in implementing the reform that many of the politicians promised throughout the campaign period. As the King himself observed in his July 30, 2011 Throne Day Speech, “No constitution, however flawless it may be, is an end in itself. It is rather a basis upon which a new political pact can be built and capitalized on to uphold the rule of law, human rights and good governance, and bolster development, through efficient, credible institutions.”
One of the key lessons learned from the uprisings in Morocco, and indeed throughout the Arab world, is that governments need be mindful of the crucial role that civil society, including academics, NGOs, and women and youth groups, play in the political processes. Any tangible steps made in the ongoing development of Morocco cannot be successful without the healthy marriage of good governance and the active participation of its citizens.
Prospects for reform in Morocco will depend not just on the King and the redistribution of power, but also on the ability of citizens to voice their opinions and to participate in discourse on decisions that affect them. To improve rule of law in Morocco, and, consequently, strengthen access to justice and promote transparency and state accountability, it is essential to enhance the capability of civil society groups and leaders to promote a strong and fair legal framework, and, ultimately, greater confidence in the constitution as a blue print for future legislative reform. As rightly put by President Zoellick of the World Bank, in a recent address, “governance will not happen without the active participation of citizens. Institutions, however reformed, need citizens to keep them accountable. An important role here should be played by civil society to improve the enabling environment for social accountability.”
Innovation and progress are never a solitary process. Morocco must open to the world, tirelessly expand economic development, encourage the education of its young people, increase rights for women and enact the reforms that encourage equality and transparency. This desire is not held solely by any one demographic, one party or one group. The opportunity for prosperity and an improved quality of life is something that all Moroccans want.