Saturday

25th May 2019

EU takes king's side in Moroccan protests

  • Orante door handles at the royal palace in Fez, Morocco (Photo: pixies4ever)

The EU has endorsed reform proposals by the King of Morocco despite complaints that they will not lead to real change.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and nieghbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele in a joint statement on Sunday (19 June) called the King's plan "a significant step [which] signals a clear commitment to democracy and respect for human rights."

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They added that "once fully implemented, it would be a major step forward in the process of reforms" and would be "in line with the ambitions [for] advanced status in the relations between Morocco and the EU."

King Mohammed VI in a TV speech on Friday unveiled a draft constitution to be put to a referendum on 1 July.

The charter says that in future the king would have to nominate a prime minister from the ranks of a freely elected political party. The PM would be in charge of setting domestic policy and would have the power to dissolve parliament. The charter promises an independent judiciary and an end to human rights abuses by security forces. It also alters the king's official title from that of a "sacred" ruler to an "inviolable" one.

Mohammed VI would stay in charge of foreign policy and of the military and would remain the country's religious head, however. He would also be able to pass royal decrees in parallel to the government.

The country of 36 million people has so far avoided the kind of mass protests seen in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen in the run-up to Arab Spring revolutions.

But the youth-oriented February 20 movement on Sunday held rallies in Casablanca, Marrakesh, Rabat and Tangiers to denounce the king's plan. Casablanca saw around 10,000 people out on the streets, while rallies in other towns amounted to a few hundred or a few dozen people only. Rival pro-Mohammed VI groups also held small marches.

The Casablanca protesters carried banners saying "No to a constitution made for slaves!" and "No to a constitution of dictatorship!"

February 20 spokesmen claim the changes are purely cosmetic and are designed to avoid trouble rather than to bring change. "The king continues to hold exorbitant powers," economist Fouad Abdelmoumni, a February 20 "sympathiser" told the AFP news agency.

Critics added that almost half of Moroccans are illiterate and that all three news channels are controlled by the state, undermining people's chances to make an informed vote in the referendum in just two weeks' time.

Arabic news agency Al-Arabiya reported that in Rabat government-hired "thugs" beat up protesters, wounding 40 and scattering the march. It said there was similar harassment in Casablanca and Tangiers.

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