Strengthening co-operation with the Maghreb countries
Addendum to the report
| Doc. 11474 Add.
| 22 January 2008
- Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy
- Rapporteur :
- Ms Josette DURRIEU,
1 Political presentation
1 The parliamentary elections on 7 September 2007 in
Morocco were won by the independence party, Istiqlal, and its president,
Abbas El Fassi, was appointed prime minister on 19 September 2007.
Istiqlal won 52 seats, out-distancing the PJD (Justice and Development
Party), an Islamic party (46 seats)), the MP (Popular Movement)
(41 seats), the RNI (National Rally of Independents) (39 seats),
the USFP (Socialist Union of Popular Forces) (38 seats) and – the
major loser in the elections – the UC (Constitutional Union) (27
2 Abbas El Fassi heads a coalition government made up of Istiqlal,
the RNI, the USFP and the PPS (Progress and Socialism Party) and
of technocrats. Outside the coalition is, in particular, the MP,
despite its coming third. The 34 members of the new government include
seven women ministers or state secretaries in key posts (energy
and mines, health, culture, family and solidarity, youth and sport,
school education, foreign affairs).
3 Power alternation between parties, which began in February
1998 with the appointment of the socialist Abderrahman el Yousoufi
as prime minister and head of government until 2002, seems to have
come of age in 2007 with the appointment of the leader of the majority
Istiqlal Party, Mr El Fassi, as prime minister and the Islamic Party’s
inclusion in the constitutional system. This alternation is deliberate
and consensual. However, it is the King who makes the appointments
to the key, supposedly sovereign ministries, including justice, internal
affairs, Islamic affairs and foreign affairs, with Mr Fassi-Fihri
as minister for foreign affairs.
4 The RNI presides over the two parliamentary chambers. The
House of Representatives, which is the lower chamber, has 325 members
and the Speaker is Mr Mustapha Mansouri. The Chamber of Advisers, created
in 1996, is made up of 270 members elected by indirect suffrage
by elected members of trade chambers, employees’ associations and
local authorities. Members serve for a nine-year term, with a third
of the membership being renewed every three years. The Speaker is
Mr Mustapha Oukacha.
5 The elections were nonetheless notable for an unprecedented
abstention figure (63%). With only 37% turnout, the proportion of
blank votes came to 19%. These figures cannot fail to raise questions.
Observers found the ballot to have been honest and transparent.
That was not the view of the PJD (Justice and Development Party),
which levelled accusations of corruption: although it had come first
in terms of votes received (just under 500 000), it came only second
in terms of seats (under the system of proportional voting, by constituency).
The young are not attracted by elections. The word “politics” still
creates fear. It puts people in mind of the former regime and the
legacy of Hassan II. But the results concerning the Islamists came
as no surprise according to many senior figures in Morocco who had
not anticipated any massive or majority-winning breakthrough for
them. The electoral system and the constituency map are shaped to
prevent major electoral change in the rural areas, where the PJD
is strong. The real power in fact lies with the royal palace. The monarchy,
in Morocco, is undeniably popular and the King would seem set on
reforming his kingdom.
6 With Mohammed VI as the driving force, Morocco has
embarked on political reforms: openness to democratic change, reform
of the family code and decentralisation.
7 Issues of democracy and human rights are taken very seriously
in Morocco. Aware that respect for these things promotes development,
the kingdom has made fairness and truth its watchwords in putting
the “Years of the Lead” behind it once and for all. For example,
the IER (Equity and Reconciliation Body), a truth commission set
up in April 2004 to shed light on crimes committed during the reign
of Hassan II, has achieved the release, rehabilitation and compensation
of nearly 12 000 prisoners. The compensation rate runs at nearly 95%
and victims are given medical cover. An all-out effort, including
DNA testing, is being made to investigate the 1 200 known cases
of disappearances. Only 10 or so cases remain unidentified.
8 As Morocco opens a new chapter in its history, reconciliation
is thus being used as a tool of social cohesion policy. The kingdom
has embarked on large new projects such as guarantees of fair, pluralist elections,
a Citizen’s Charter and a Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad.
9 Changes are already observable with regard to infringements
of human rights. Police officers responsible for the various proven
cases of torture have been punished. Although it reaches only a
tiny proportion of the population (1% – equivalent to 300 000 or
so readers), the press is now free even though criticism of the
King is not allowed.
10 Women’s place in society has evolved in the direction of greater
gender equality, as can be seen from the Code of Personal Status,
which underwent a spectacular reform (the Moudawana)
in 2004, and the recent introduction of a charter on women’s portrayal
in the media. Morocco is the second country in the Arab world (Tunisia
was the first) to adopt measures on behalf of women.
11 Faced with the problems of fundamentalism and terrorism, Morocco
has developed a specific approach. Mohammed VI, as a modernising
sovereign, has opted for an open Islam and a reassurance strategy,
with the emphasis on integrating moderate Islamists into the constitutional
process and development of human rights and the economy. Islam exists
as a political force but the King, as Commander of the Faithful,
acts as the protector of the Moroccan people, who are practising
Muslims and conservative. This distinctively Moroccan approach is
very pronounced and marks off the country from Algeria and Tunisia.
12 Terrorist action inspired by al-Qaeda remains localised and
the country relatively protected from it. Terrorism is, in part,
the consequence of an economy carrying high unemployment. The responses
to a situation of that kind are smuggling, emigration and adherence
to violent protest. The solution is policies geared to job creation
and training for the younger generation.
3 Progress to be made
13 Morocco still carries a number of handicaps, in particular
illiteracy and emigration, which hinder its economic and social
14 Illiteracy remains high, with over 40% of the Moroccan population
over the age of 15 – one person in three – unable to read or write.
That is one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. Morocco
must combat that deficiency, which places a real brake on economic
development and building a democratic, modern society.
15 Graduates of Maghrebi universities go to the United States,
Canada or Australia, while 85% of emigrants lacking higher education
make for the European Union. Legal migration everywhere comes up
against numerous obstacles, and this increases clandestine migration.
16 To put an end to these difficult situations which deprive
the kingdom of its intellectual elites and prevent the poorest social
strata from finding the solutions they seek to their problems, Mohammed
VI has set up the INDH (National Initiative for Human Development),
a major social-policy move to combat all forms of poverty and provide
a comprehensive answer to all the problems which beset Morocco’s
4 Foreign policy
17 Morocco’s foreign policy continues to focus on two
priorities: Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara and its ties with
the European Union (combined with close attention to its relations
with the United States). Stability of the Maghreb and regional integration
are absolutely necessary.
18 While taking the view that the regional status quo is bad
for all the players, Morocco remains convinced that democracy and
economic and social development of the Maghreb as a whole are the
keys to regional stability and the region’s political integration.
That is the course charted by the UMA (the Union of the Arab Maghreb),
a political body created by the Treaty of Marrakesh on 17 February
1989 and composed of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania,
and its Tunisian secretary general, Mr Ben Yahia, who see economic relations
– currently underexploited – as the best means of achieving regional
integration. However, the difficult relations between Algeria and
Morocco, whose border remains closed, are an impediment to take-off
of the regional economy.
19 The Maghreb – the three countries of the central Maghreb plus
Mauritania and Libya, forming the Greater Maghreb – is a fairly
homogeneous entity historically, linguistically and as regards religion,
while retaining distinctive features peculiar to the individual
country. Though disappointed by early European initiatives (the
Barcelona Process, Euromed and the 1995 MEDA programme), Morocco
has subsequently strongly engaged with the EU (through the March
2000 Association Agreement and the 2004 European Neighbourhood Policy
action plan) and has openly expressed its desire for closer relations
20 Currently, Moroccan leaders are showing a keen interest in
co-operation with the Council of Europe and this could develop into
a partnership for democracy. However, Morocco first and foremost
wants this co-operation to yield concrete projects on democracy
and human rights, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, and human
development and good governance.
21 The Western Sahara is basically seen as the final episode
in decolonisation. Since Morocco’s 1975 annexation of the former
Spanish colony and the 1981 Organisation of African Unity Summit
in Nairobi on Self-Determination, which set up an implementing committee
on the Western Sahara referendum, Moroccan positions have evolved
while still placing the emphasis on Moroccan territorial integrity.
Morocco has consistently been in favour of self-determination, entailing,
with each succeeding UN peace or settlement plan (1988, 1991, the
1997 Baker Plan), an ever larger measure of self-government. Rightly
taking the view that a mini-state on Morocco’s southern border would
turn into a sanctuary for terrorism and organised crime and would
destabilise the whole of the Maghreb and that dividing up the territory
would split people and tribes, Morocco is nevertheless in favour
of extensive autonomy. Its position is supported by France, Spain
and the United States.
22 Morocco, under United Nations auspices, is continuing its
discussions with the Polisario Front towards settlement of a conflict
which has now been going on for over thirty years. In Resolution
1754 (April 2007) the United Nations urged upon both sides “a just,
lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide
for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara”. Further
talks were held in January 2008, but without any great result. They
did, however, lay the foundations of a thematic approach to the
issues ahead of a further meeting scheduled for March 2008. Morocco
also considers that Europe has a contribution to make, providing
assistance to democratisation and social and economic development
of the region.
23 However, Polisario seems internally divided. There are those
who object to Algerian interference in the destiny of the Saharan
people, denounce the situation in the camps and call for an extraordinary
congress attended by reputable international observers. There is
comment in the Moroccan press that the Tifariti Congress got nowhere,
resulting neither in war nor autonomy and producing only deadlock.
24 As for the “Mediterranean Union”, it will have to be built
on recognised regional entities such as the Maghreb and on concrete
projects. The challenges, the interests at stake and the solidarity
are all very real.
25 Morocco maintains regular political dialogue with the United
States, with which it has a free trade agreement which came into
force on 1 January 2006. The United States classes Morocco as a
major non-NATO ally. Rabat hosted the first Forum for the Future,
part of the American Broader Middle-East and North Africa (BMENA)
initiative, and receives development support from the American Millennium
Challenge Account. And China, too, occupies an important position
in Morocco’s trade relations, as can be seen from the agreements
signed during the April 2006 visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao.