Yesterday thousands of Moroccans protested in Casablanca against the draft of the new constitution, presented last week by the King Muhammad VI. Although the new constitution introduces notable democratic advances, the protesters still consider that it falls short of providing guarantees for a democratic development of Moroccan institutions.
Why the necessity for a new Constitution?
The new Constitution, containing 180 articles, compared to the 108 of the current Constitution, has been drafted in the light of the wave of demands for democratic improvements that we have witnessed in the past months in the whole Arab world. Seeing the faith of the dictators of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya on the one hand, and being confronted with a rising threat of massive demonstrations at home on the other, Muhammad VI promised in March to prepare a draft of a new Constitution which would drastically cut his powers.
Muhammad was swift in his action and saw that it would be better to pre-empt his people’s demands than to wait for them to grow angry and jeopardize the position of the King as the leader of Morocco.
Last week – just three months after the announcement of changes – Muhammad VI presented the result of the revision of the current Constitution. The new Constitution – “drawn up by Moroccans, for all Moroccans” – will furthermore be subjected to a referendum on July 1, leaving a very short period for a public debate beyond superficial analyses. It should also be noted that the text has not been prepared by a constituent assembly, which is usually the case in democratic transitions, but by a special commission appointed by the King, which was invited to take into account the demands of political parties, unions and other representatives of the civil society.
What does the new Constitution bring?
- According to the new text the person of the king is no longer sacred, but inviolable. In spite of this he will continue as the highest religious authority and matters of religion will remain in his domain. Although Islam is declared as the State’s religion, according to article 41 the King guarantees the freedom of religious practice – but not the freedom of conscience – a Muslim, for example, cannot change his religion.
- The Amazigh language (also known as Berber) is constituted as an official language of the kingdom, alongside Arabic, as the “culmination of a course of action to rehabilitate the Amazigh language as a heritage belonging to all Moroccans”. Furthermore, the draft makes reference to a “unified, rich and diverse national identity”, with specific mention to Arabic-Islamic, Berber, African, Andalusian, Mediterranean and even Jewish components.
- Specific reference to human rights and the “pre-eminence of international covenants – as ratified by Morocco – over national legislation”; also as regards to gender equality and civil rights. This, however, only “within the framework of respect for the Constitution, and for the Kingdom’s laws which are derived from Islam”. Many of these international covenants have still not been ratified by Morocco and the government still has a lot to do in the field of human rights as has been pointed out by the latest United States’ Report on Human Rights Practices and by the Arab Human Rights Index.
- The Prime Minister – elevated to the status of the Head of the Government – will be appointed by the king from the party which wins the general elections. The draft Constitution also gives the Head of the Government the power to propose and dismiss cabinet members, to appoint high-ranking officials, directors of public companies or ambassadors, and to dissolve the House of Representatives (which has the final say in the ratification of legislative texts). Although the King has delegated some competences to the Head of the Government in terms of the civil service, he has kept the exclusive power of appointments in the military, which in practice means that he remains the Supreme Commander and Chief of Staff of the Royal Armed Forces. Furthermore, the King will have the power – upon consulting the Head of the Government – to announce the state of exception or to dissolve the Parliament (comprised of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors), and the Council of Ministers will be held under the chairmanship of the King.
- The legislative branch will have greater powers in terms of control over the government, especially as the government will be accountable only to Parliament. To raise moral standards in parliamentary action, the draft Constitution forbids party switching and restricts parliamentary immunity to the expression of opinion only (a common practice in the past).
- The newly created Higher Council of the Judicial Branch has been elevated to the rank of a “Constitutional Court” with extensive powers which, in addition to the existing prerogatives, include checking the constitutionality of international conventions and ruling on disputes between the State and the regions. However, the independence of the judicial system is under suspicion since the Muhammad VI will be the head of this Constitutional Council and will also appoint half of its members.
- The draft Constitution also creates the Supreme Security Council, chaired by the King, whose members will be the heads of the legislative, executive and judicial branches as well as the ministers, officials and personalities concerned. This Council will be in charge of the management of internal and external security issues, which basically means that the King will keep control over the Interior Ministry.
Protests against the proposed Constitution
It is evident that the new Constitution delegates to the prime minister and parliament more executive authority, but the King Muhammad VI will nevertheless retain key powers and also continue as the head of all security forces. All political parties, with the exception of some minor leftist formations and the Islamic Justice and Development Party, were quick to welcome the reforms, but the members of the February 20 movement, which since February this year has been calling for democratic reforms, called soon after for a protest against the insufficient constitutional reforms. The critics want the changes to be drawn up by a democratically elected committee instead of being proposed by the King and criticize the fact that referendum will be held already on July 1, leaving little time for real debate.
In short, despite democratic advances the Constitution lacks more democratic controls and it seems that the King is trying to push through the reforms by introducing a very swift timetable for the referendum. People have started gathering on the streets, but whether the whole Moroccan society sees the glass half empty or half full will be shown by the results of the referendum – providing of course the execution of the referendum itself will comply with basic standards; the previous constitution was approved by a suspiciously high 99% of voters in 1996.
This is a nonprofit explanation
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