« Contrary to common perception, the prospects for genuine democratisation in Morocco have not improved in recent years »

Cet article – « Morocco – smart authoritarianism refined » – de Kristina Kausch, consacré à la libéralisation factice au Maroc, est tiré d’un ouvrage collectif publié par deux think-tanks européens, le Centre for European Policy Studies (Bruxelles) et FRIDE (Madrid), « Democracy’s Plight in the European Neighbourhood: Struggling transitions and proliferating dynasties« .

Je partage très largement les conclusions de Kristina Kausch, qui a l’immense mérite de voir les choses telles qu’elles sont, sans concession que ce soit d’ailleurs à l’égard du Maroc ou de ses partenaires occidentaux. Quelques extraits:

Over the last decade, the establishment of democracy as an international norm and the ascension of Mohammed VI to the throne have not led to greater democratisation in Morocco, but to an adaptation of governance strategies to consolidate semi-authoritarian rule. These methods have become increasingly sophisticated and outweigh positive factors that favour democratisation.

Political stalemate has been compounded by other negative factors, in particular recent developments in the international environment that have put democracy further on the back burner. As a result, the EU’s traction has decreased, and neither the EU nor the US are pushing for a systematic, structural political reform process in Morocco. Indeed, the EU’s and the Moroccan regime’s interests match: both desire a liberalised but stable Morocco that bears no risks for the ruling elite. (…)

Morocco’s ‘upgraded authoritarianism’ has aimed at substantial liberalisation in politically non-threatening areas while tight control is kept over the policy areas and political opponents with the potential to meaningfully challenge the current distribution of powers. Selective topdown liberalisation has significantly widened the political space for political parties, civil society and the media, but none of the reforms thus far have touched the powers of the palace. (…)

Morocco’s case stands out owing to the level of subtle and successful PR with which the regime manages to keep hold of the reins while also selling itself as a vanguard of Arab reform. Unlike some of their authoritarian neighbours, the Moroccan ruling elite (commonly called the ‘Makhzen’, which is broadly composed of the palace and its wide patronage network) resorts to open coercion and violent repression only very exceptionally.(…)

A piecemeal approach to the liberalisation of legislation leads to the adoption of laws that are broadly permissive but lack effective safeguards against arbitrary application of the law. Examples of this are almost all the texts dealing with public liberties, such as the associations law, the law on public assembly and the press code. Laws do not target or question civil liberties as such but always leave enough loopholes for the regime to hamper the activities of dangerous opponents via systematic harassment. The constitution is not a guarantor of the rights of the citizen vis-à-vis the state, but a guarantor of the prerogatives of the palace vis-à-vis the people. (…)

The co-option of political elites sideline opponents in political parties, civil society, the media and the business sector. In civil society, co-option takes place above all via the creation of political and financial dependencies. (…) The political party system is weak and highly fragmented. With the exception of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), none of the political forces have the potential to challenge the Makhzen’s political dominance. The biggest established parties, Union of the Socialist Forces (USFP) and Istiqlal (Independence), are staid and are having trouble attracting broad constituencies as they have fallen into the trap of powerless government participation. Istiqlal’s unexpected gains in the 2007 legislative elections notwithstanding, the inability to meaningfully influence the political course has eroded much of the established parties’ credibility.

The same pattern of co-opting emerging elites and sidelining resistant opponents can be observed in the media. (…) The internet, and in particular the emerging blogger scene, is far less controllable. A number of recent telling incidents, such as a temporal government ban on YouTube or the penalising of bloggers and facebook-activists with high fines and prison sentences (before being pardoned by royal decree), show how the regime is struggling to adapt its usual PR strategy to a medium that is not easy to control unnoticed.

In spite of Morocco’s reputation of holding relatively ‘clean’ elections, the subtle management of political contestation is a basic pillar in the Makhzen’s hold on power. With international attention largely focused on the day of the polls, fraud on the actual day of election is the exception. Instead, most of the Makhzen’s electoral engineering happens in the run-up to the elections. Gerrymandering, vote-buying, changes to the electoral code and other technical adjustments are among the measures taken to ensure that the outcome is as desired. (…)

Among opposition parties, the PJD is currently the most likely to push for democratisation. (…)While the PJD’s ultimate behaviour in power – like that of any untested party – is not foreseeable, most international observers agree that a PJD participation in government would likely be a plus for democracy. In the current constitutional and legal framework, however, the Makhzen can prevent this from happening as it sees fit. (…)

The still widespread Western fears of an Islamist government in Morocco, however moderate, are being played on in order to obtain tacit approval for clampdowns, arrests, or more subtle measures of containment. While most of the tactics described are not new and indeed were used in King Hassan II’s time and before, their subtlety in times of increasing pressure for democratisation is no coincidence. It shows how the Moroccan ruling elite has been able to skilfully adapt its governance strategies to the requirements of a new era by extending and refining its authoritarian soft power tool box. Yet Western policy-makers still tend to take the Moroccan PR lines of gradualism at face value, and have yet to adapt their policies.(…)

The rise of political Islam in the MENA during recent years has further cemented Western support for the region’s semi-authoritarian regimes. Even a moderate player such as the PJD, which in recent years has gone a long way to present itself to Western policy-makers as an acceptable and trustworthy political interlocutor, is struggling to make itself heard. (…) European politicians, whose views on Islamist political actors are often not nuanced, are reluctant to provide any support to a genuine reform process that may end up replacing the authoritarian but predictable Moroccan government with an Islamist rule perceived as a potential threat.

Je vous conseille d’aller visiter la page de Kristina Kausch sur le site de FIDE – elle a de nombreuses études à son actif, sur le Maroc, l’Algérie et l’islamisme, entre autres. Et que les non-hispanophones ne s’inquiètent pas: si les titres de ces études sont en espagnol, une version anglaise est systématiquement proposée. 

Hat-tip: Najlae.

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