national referendum on a new constitution could be the first step
toward a European-style government, or toward stifling Morocco's pro-democracy
King Mohamed VI of Morocco / Reuters
Morocco, they say, is different. When post-World WarII independence movements across North Africa were toppling European-imposed monarchies, Morocco's independence party declared its allegiance to the king, Mohamed V. When colonial-era France deposed the king and replaced him with a puppet, the puppet, apparently unable to bear betraying the beloved monarch, quickly abdicated, recognizing Mohamed V as the true leader. And when the Arab spring protests spread across North Africa and the Middle East, only Morocco's leadership seemed ready to respond with a peaceful, gradual liberalization of political autocracy. King Mohamed VI, grandson of Mohamed V, recently announced a transition that he said will "make Morocco a state that will distinguish itself by its democratic course."
The country begins down that new course today, with a national referendum on a new constitution. Morocco, as always, is taking a uniquely Moroccan approach. Mohamed VI, who remains quite popular with large stretches of society, but who is nonetheless exactly as autocratic as his title implies, appears legitimately eager to deliver some kind of reform. Like his fellow Arab leaders, he initially ignored the pro-democracy protesters who rose up in his country on February 20. But when the demonstrations became impossible to ignore, Mohamed VI's response has been to try and meet some of their demands, rather than to crush them by force. He hand-picked an assembly of scholars (some of them legitimately independent and sincerely pro-democratic) and asked them to draft a new constitution that would meet with his, and the country's, approval.