The combination of wealth, power, and sacredness is a trinity that may lead to the overthrow of the monarchy in Morocco.
The last time I looked up the word “sacred” in English and Arabic dictionaries, “Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco” was not part of the definition. In ancient times the term was associated with spiritual practices which could assure rain, fecundity, and good fortune. This seems to somewhat differ from the political and social realities in Morocco, which make the king a “sacred” being.
Recently, the Moroccan regime banned the distribution of Spain’s leading tabloid El País, as a cartoon published by the newspaper purportedly “stained King Mohammed VI’s image”, a government spokesperson said. The Moroccan communication ministry told journalists; “The decision to ban (the paper) was made on the basis of Article 29 of the press code that protects the monarch”. Article 29 of the press code reads: “The introduction into Morocco of newspapers or publications whether periodical or not, printed outside of Morocco, can be prohibited by a decision taken by the minister of communication, a decision that the minister must explain, when the said publications inflict harm to the Islamic religion, the monarchical regime, territorial integrity or the respect due to the King or the public order”.
The vast majority of Moroccans can understand and agree to the ban of French weeklies that published cartoons of God and the Prophet Mohammed as well as publications that attacked its territorial integrity, but the prohibition of caricatures of the Moroccan king is a dubious act as it makes the latter rise to the level of ‘holiness’ and is against democracy’s rudiments. The Moroccan public is shocked because the sanctity of the monarchy is depicted as more important than the right to free expression.
Indeed, Morocco is not a democratic state. The king was not elected by the people. He exercises judicial, legislative and executive powers, owns and controls much of the country’s business and his persona is inviolable. In fact, rather than his sanctity, it is the notions of democracy and freedom that have been tarnished. For over one year, Moroccan protestors have been boisterously chanting and insinuating their unwillingness to sanctify the king by continuously stating: “His Majesty is not the king, His Majesty is God Almighty”.
The pro-democracy February 20 Movement has been contesting the legitimacy of the new constitution, as it was redrafted last year by a committee chosen by the king rather than by an elected constituent assembly. The referendum for the redrafted constitution did not gain the desired popularity as the majority of eligible voters boycotted the vote. In June, the king had, unconstitutionally, called on the people to vote “yes” on the new constitution.
The mainstream media entitled the new constitution a “Copernican revolution”. Nevertheless, protestors say the redrafted constitution is a deceitful stratagem aiming to overcome the current critical stage, gain time and therewith preserve the autocratic monarchy.
The Moroccan government’s attitudes towards the people destroy all claims of a new era feigning democratic reforms. For instance, an 18-year-old man from Rabat, Walid Bahoman, was sentenced to one year in prison for posting a cartoon of the king by caricaturist Damien Glez, on Facebook. Another Moroccan in Taza, Abdassamad Haidour, has been jailed after criticizing the king for his lack of action over high power prices and unemployment. Public defenders refused to represent him in court, as they feared government retaliation. Haidour appeared pro se before the court and received a sentence of three years in prison.
In several videos posted on social media sites, witnesses of the protests in Taza said that the police raided homes, spread panic, used violence against innocent civilians, broke into houses, smashed personal property, denied medical access to severely injured people, threatened to rape women and shouted that the king ordered them to do so.
In addition, many activists of the February 20 Movement, who are encouraging poor masses to protest in the streets, are facing provocative harassment from local government authorities. Sai’d Ziani, an unemployed and active member of the movement in Tangier, has been evicted by the landlord of his residence under pressure from local government. “I became homeless; the government has shattered my life with the stroke of a pen, the police threatens my living and freedom all the time” said Ziani. The highly educated Ziani is now forced to sell cigarettes in the streets to make a living.
Clinging to his dictatorship and ‘holiness’, as he claims lineage to the Prophet, Mohamed VI enjoys being the seventh richest monarch in the world, surpassing the Emirs of Qatar and Kuwait. The formula is simple: the people enrich the King by borrowing funds from his banks, buying products from his monopolizing companies, paying the annual royal court expenses of $250mn and paying him a monthly salary of $45,000. Objecting to the ‘divinity’ of the monarchy remains a crime. This seems to be the official interpretation of ‘democracy’ in Morocco.
It is indeed good to be a ‘sacred’ king, but only God and the will of the oppressed and impoverished will ultimately decide the fate of the nation.
This article was originally published on Fair Observer.