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Morocco Strikes a Strong Note for Tolerance and Inclusion

How will it make a Difference?

An article recently reprinted in The Forward brought into sharp contrast the perceptions of Jews among Arabs and Muslims. The story covered the recent award by Kivunim, the Institute for World Jewish Studies, of its first Reverend Martin Luther King Jr -Rabbi Abraham Herschel Award to Sultan (later King) Mohammed V of Morocco for his protection of Moroccan Jews during World War II.

While estimates of the number of Moroccan Jews at the time vary from 250,000 to 350,000, there is no disputing the fact that when faced with demands from the Vichy government of France, which then ruled Morocco, to impose severe restrictions on Jewish citizens, Mohammed V refused. In the Wikipedia section on Jews in Morocco, it is noted that “Sultan Mohammed V refused to apply these racist laws and, as a sign of defiance, insisted on inviting all the rabbis of Morocco to the 1941 throne celebrations. Jews’ reliance on the sultan’s protection against French persecution was a striking reversal of roles between Europeans and Muslims as Morocco’s Europeanized Jewish elite had perceived them.”

Furthermore, when Arab countries were agitating against the establishment of the State of Israel, Mohammed V decreed that no Moroccan Jews should be harmed as they had been part of Morocco’s long and rich history, one that was highlighted during the Kivunim event.

The earliest Jewish immigration to Morocco occurred more than 2,500 years ago and they integrated into the local Berber population, thus predating the Arab conquest of the 7th century. Jews continued to immigrate to Morocco over the centuries, with the largest number coming as a result of the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Catholic Spain in 1492.

The perils of allowing a fractious relationship between Jews and Muslims were underscored in remarks on the occasion from Morocco’s current King Mohammed VI. In a statement read on his behalf by royal counselor Andre Azoulay, he said, “Today, we need, more than ever, to ponder the lessons and relevance of this part of history in order to stand up more forcefully to the deadly aberrations of those who are hijacking our cultures, our faiths and our civilizations. We are living at a time and in a world in which the collective imagination of our societies is too often impaired, not to say poisoned, by regression and archaism. By capitalizing on the depth and resilience of the legacy left by my revered grandfather His Majesty Mohammed V, we can, together, set out to recover the lost expanses of reason and mutual respect which have vanished from many parts of the world.”

This is not the first time King Mohammed VI has emphasized the multicultural identity of Morocco and the need to preserve its vibrant legacy. He insisted that it be included in the text of the 2011 Constitution, and he has supported projects promoting interreligious and intercultural tolerance and understanding in Europe and in the US. For example, in November 2015, there was an event in Washington, DC marking the completion of the “Houses of Life” project, which, under the King’s patronage, restored 167 Jewish cemeteries in Morocco despite the fact that less than 3,000 Jews now live in the country.

Serge Berdugo, President of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco, referred to the historical role of Mohammed V at the New York event. “Thanks to the strong decision of the sovereign, [the] Moroccan Jewish community was neither detained nor deported or murdered in concentration camps. All Moroccans, Jews or Muslims, enjoyed his full protection.”

At a time when issues in the Middle East and between Muslims and other communities seem intractable, there are counter-narratives, such as these Moroccan initiatives, that challenge the bleak assessments of pundits who insist that nothing can be done. Morocco and King Mohammed VI are clearly in the camp of hope, building programs of inclusion, tolerance, and collaboration that challenge the doom-and-gloom forecasts. The US should continue to support its friend Morocco in reversing the trends toward bigotry and exclusion that seem at times overwhelming in the region.

Sensing Change in Morocco

What to do with Emerging People Power

Just back from 12 days in Morocco tucked in before Thanksgiving. I hadn’t been back for two years, and if I’d believed some press accounts, I would have expected to find a country straining to find its direction. Yet after more than a dozen meetings, informal chats, and leading a graduate seminar for the Executive MBA program at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI), I can say that those who are overwrought about Morocco’s future should focus more on enabling than second-guessing its intentions.

I have to admit that I’m lucky the in the reach of discussions that I had. People I spoke with came from the government, private sector, NGO and civil society communities, and specialized agencies, as well as the US embassy. There is a common thread of understanding that Morocco must do more, and an equally strong commitment to doing it right. Without surplus funds that bolster economic and fiscal policies in other countries, Morocco has to act decisively and in concert with the global investment community to fund ambitious projects ranging from transportation infrastructure and renewable energies to upgrading its public education system and creating sustainable jobs equitably.

Arriving soon after the King’s Green March speech of November 6, I was struck by how strongly Moroccans supported His Majesty’s messages on territorial integrity, regionalization, and economic development initiatives. There is clearly a great deal of respect for the King, which may go a long way to explaining why there is more emphasis among people I spoke with on getting things done without waiting for the government. There continues to be a general lack of faith in many of the political parties (some 31 contested in the last election) and a concern that the House of Deputies is more a house of disputation than collaboration. I know, it sounds familiar…price of democracy some were saying…no rubber stamps in this process!

King Mohammed VI Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Green March

King Mohammed VI Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Green March

The most common themes discussed were: Morocco’s intentions to fully develop the South (Western Sahara) and proceed with “deep” regionalization; concerns about the need for detailed implementation of regionalization, as well as more capacity-building for local officials, and guidelines describing the respective roles of the elected regional presidents and the walis (appointed by the King); the state of public education, which needs more resources and trained personnel; successes in the manufacturing and renewable resource sectors; and the overwhelming necessity to create more jobs without burdening the state.

These are complex issues; often they overlap and are part of a larger challenge. Where should interventions be prioritized in the education sector in the short term to accelerate qualified job seekers? Do you start with those in the job market, upcoming graduates, dropouts, or those with experience and no degrees? All are concerns, and Morocco is trying to offer multifaceted responses.

Another issue: I was told that middle class Moroccans are increasingly burdened by sending their children to private schools so that they can aspire to higher education abroad or at top schools in Morocco, several of which are English-speaking. This leads to a conundrum on several levels: how do you break the cultural perspective that everyone must have a university degree to be someone? How does one promote technical and vocational training as a path to a good-paying and respectable life? For those children who are qualified for higher education, what is the path to a quality program that rewards achievement and supports future schooling?

Morocco is still struggling with issues regarding languages of instruction – Amazigh (Berber), Arabic, French, and English requirements are not yet clearly defined in school programs, a task made more complicated by the prioritizing of resources to the Amazigh program and by lack of qualified English teachers. Hopefully a new collaboration between AMIDEAST and the Minister of National Education will soon start certifying qualified English language instructors.

Parliament is working on a number of critical bills to help facilitate business development through easier financing; enable broad judicial reforms throughout the system; and deal with thorny issues such as land registration and a national media protocol. It appeared from my brief observations that there is increased emphasis on basic economic and rights issues that are at the top of the country’s agenda. There are also discussions about changing regulations to allow more public-private partnerships, which requires revising current incentive guidelines.

The much anticipated opening this December of Noor I, the flagship CSP solar power facility near Ourzazate, was obviously a hot topic, as it exemplifies the country’s commitment to renewables, which I heard repeated in numerous conversations. From ADEREE to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to several entrepreneurs looking for new venture opportunities, there is a buzz about how to leverage Morocco’s growth in renewables into hundreds of jobs in servicing installations both gigantic and household. This is clearly a growth sector throughout the country.

I also want to say a few words about my students – all professionals in fields ranging from engineering to finance to administration, in the public and private sectors. Spending upwards of 12 hours a day with them renewed my confidence in Morocco’s future. They see their country’s shortcomings all too well, as they experience them daily. Yet they are determined, even when personally paying for the degree, to make a difference in their lives and their country. They are sacrificing a lot to become proficient in skills that are a stretch for those emerging from traditional educational systems. I want to acknowledge their hearts…strong and able to grow when challenged.

If Morocco listens, it will hear the future in their voices.

King Urges Parliament to Take Action, Accountability for Country’s Future

Morocco sovereign stresses joint responsibility with local elected leaders in address to Parliament

Last week, King Mohammed VI of Morocco spoke to the new session of Parliament, remarking on the 50th anniversary of its founding and its role in moving the country forward. As is characteristic of the King’s public addresses, he understands the value of the “bully pulpit” in touching on issues of public service, economic challenges, and the role of politics in governance.

It was, frankly, a tough speech for some politicians to hear. As both the King’s words and subtext made clear, he feels strongly that they should more actively shoulder their responsibility for changes and reforms that have been discussed for far too long and that need to be acted on for the good of the country. For example, “The Parliamentary Mandate…is a national mission, and by no means a source of political gains.”

Harkening back to the landmark 2011 Constitution, the King reminded the members of the need to complete the implementation of its many clauses through passage of organic laws that define policies, procedures, and protocols. In this process, he noted that “you display a sense of national consensus and stick to the broad-based participatory approach that characterized the preparation of the Constitution.”

The King also made it clear that “what really matters to us, is not only the number of laws adopted, but also, and most importantly, the legislative quality of the bills enacted.” To this end, he called on the parliament to clarify the rules of procedure for the opposition in parliament, defining their rights and processes for contributing to the development of legislation.

He also commented on the exercise of separation of powers between Morocco’s executive branch of government (the Ministers) and the legislative (Parliament).  “To ensure sound political practices, based on efficiency, coordination and institutional stability,” King Mohammed said, “I must insist on the need for constructive dialogue and close, balanced cooperation between Parliament and the government,” adding that “Parliament should not be turned into an arena for politicking and political wrangling,” a reference to the previous ruling coalition that was brought down by the withdrawal of the Istiqlal Party.

Partners in reform and development: Parliament and local officials

In addressing the importance of locally elected officials, the King made a clear distinction between the Parliament, which passes national policies, and local officials “who are accountable before those who voted for them.” He called for “close interaction with the citizen, and genuine readiness to heed his pressing concerns and to attend to his administrative and social needs.” The King spoke in some details about the “wide discrepancies…in the way local and regional affairs are managed”—some quite effectively, others “plagued by mismanagement on the part of their elected bodies.”

Using Casablanca as an example, King Mohammed noted that the goal of making the city an international financial hub “cannot materialize just by taking a decision to this effect, or by erecting huge, state-of-the-art buildings.” In addition to world-class infrastructure and services, “Good governance must be upgraded, together with an appropriate legal framework…highly skilled labor and modern management techniques…” He pointed out a number of deficiencies, including the great disparities in wealth and services, concluding that the problem in Casablanca, Morocco’s economic capital, “stems mainly from governance.”King Mohammed reminded Parliament that, as he said in his first speech as sovereign in 1999, “I did not have a magic wand to solve all the problems, but would tackle all the difficulties consciously, seriously and diligently,” and he looks to the country’s leadership, at all levels, to do the same. By stressing the close ties that should exist between the parliament and locally elected officials, the King emphasized the need to implement greater decentralization and regionalization, especially the need for capacity-building at the local and regional levels “for the emergence of new regional elites who are able to handle public affairs at the local level.”

Moving the agenda forward

In short order, the King moved proactively to demonstrate the need for action. Earlier this week, he met with the Council of Ministers to adopt draft laws that will go to Parliament to implement the 2011 Constitutional reforms in three key areas:

  • The roles and responsibilities of members of government, their prerogatives, procedures, legal status, and clarification of the role of the Ministers.
  • The mandate, operations, and procedures of the Constitutional Court.
  • The scope of work, composition, and procedures for parliamentary fact-finding commissions.

The Ministers Council also approved the broad outlines of the 2014 finance bill.

While the process of evolving a parliamentary democracy comes with both obstacles and opportunities, the King’s twin roles as arbiter and visionary for the country provide a much-needed backstop and reminder that the people’s business transcends individual political parties and special interests.

By speaking candidly about the strategic partnership for governance between members of Parliament and locally elected officials, King Mohammed is encouraging politicians and officials to support, contribute to, and be part of reforms that will serve the country and secure its future.