By Ahmed Charai
In 1999, King Mohammed VI took the throne after his father’s death, and pledged to renew the monarchy on the basis of steady political and social reforms toward inclusive governance, egalitarianism and the rule of law.
He initiated an equity and reconciliation commission to both acknowledge the prior suffering of elements of the Moroccan population at the hands of the security services and begin to compensate the families for their losses.
This dramatic measure — still the only initiative of its kind in the Arab world — won acknowledgment from Amnesty International and other rights groups as an important step forward. The king has worked through the country’s Islamic institutions and civil society to improve the human, civil, and political rights of women. And even as the Moroccan security sector took hardnosed measures against jihadists in the kingdom, the monarchy has also taken pains to address what it sees as the roots of radicalism — including poverty, marginalization, and ideological indoctrination — through anti-corruption measures, economic development and Islamic education reform.
What happened in Morocco during the tumultuous Arab Spring period of 2011 to 2012 is testimony to the cumulative effect of all these efforts: The population did not, by and large, call for the “downfall of the regime,” but rather for further systemic reforms. The king, the government and the society came together in 2011 to establish a new Constitution that enshrines ethnic, sectarian, and gender equality and allows for an elected head of government.
Morocco is one of America’s longest-standing allies. Ruled by a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed who therefore has no need to prove his Islamic credentials, it is a bastion of moderation — religious, social, and political — in an otherwise turbulent region.
Though it has no official relations with Israel, many of Morocco’s Israeli Jews still are sentimental about the Moroccan monarchy, which protected them for decades.
The country has become a favorite tourist spot for Israelis, who often will fill every chair in one of Casablanca’s several kosher restaurants. Moreover, given his role as chairman of the Islamic Conference’s Jerusalem committee, the King is in a position to help Palestinians and Israelis reach a compromise over the status of the Holy City, long one of the stumbling blocks to an overall peace agreement.
From the beginning of his reign, Mohammed VI argued that today the destinies of Morocco and its African neighbors were inextricably linked: “I believe what is good for Morocco is good for Africa — and vice versa. Theirs is one and the same destiny. I also believe there can be no progress without stability, either the two go together, or they do not do not exist,” the king said.
In contrast to the colonial powers which he contends “looted Africa’s resources, stifled the potential of its sons and daughters, mortgaged their future, impeded the continent’s development and sowed the seeds of discord and strife among African countries,” contributing to “the problems plaguing African peoples today, such as backwardness, poverty, migration, wars and conflicts, in addition to despair and succumbing to extremist and terrorist groups,” the king outlined a Moroccan commitment “never made with the intention of exploiting the continent’s assets and natural resources,” but based instead on “mutual benefit.”
Mohammed VI expresses his confidence that, “Africa has the means to ensure its development and to take its destiny into its own hands, thanks to the resolve of African peoples and to the continent’s human and natural resources.”
The geopolitical and economic implications of this policy orientation are considerable.
I have repeatedly highlighted Morocco’s role both as a gateway to business in Africa given, inter alia, its free trade agreement with the United States and as a critical player in regional counterterrorism and security efforts.
These deep, sustained reforms and vision were on the one hand the result of an organic, internal Moroccan process; and on the other, the legacy of a long history of engagement with the United States and its democratic values and institutions.
Moroccans drew inspiration from the U.S. — then acted independently, without external prodding, on the basis of the ideals they had internalized.
Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan Publisher. He sits on the Board of Directors of The Atlantic Council in Washington and International Councillors at The Center for Strategic and International Studies. He’s also on the Board of Trustees of the The Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and member of The National Interest’s Advisory Council. Mr. Charai is a Mid-East policy advisor in Washington whose articles have appeared in the major U.S. media. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.