As Saudi Arabia intervenes in Bahrain and Col. Gaddafi fights back the rebels in Libya, the rest of the Arab world tracks expectantly the evolution of the uprisings in the troubled countries, fearing contagion to their own lands.
The first protests in Tunisia and Egypt and, above all, the positive result they achieved, shook the political roots of the rest of the countries in the Arab strip in north Africa and in the Middle East. Within weeks, almost all the Arab countries registered major protests in the main cities, where citizens demanded, at the very least, political reforms.
The unrest spread even to Morocco, one of the most stable countries in the region, and a Westernised nation ruled by king Muhammad VI. The protests have achieved their goals in Egypt and Tunisia, overthrowing the dictators that firmly ruled the countries for decades, and have led to an almost open civil war in Libya. But, will ever Morocco fall into such turmoil?
Contrary to what is commonly thought, currently Morocco is one of the countries with less GDP of the region, with a GDP per capita much lower than Egypt's and roughly half that of Tunisia, for instance. Yet experts say that it is highly unlikely that Moroccans will ever try to remove king Muhammad VI from power.
Amid the turmoil
The wave of protests which shook all the Arab world arrived to Morocco on February 20th, when over 5,000 demonstrators gathered at Bab al-Had square in Rabat, calling for change. According to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of people demonstrated also in the main cities such as Casablanca, Agadir and Marrakesh.
The protesters set fire to police stations in Marrakesh and Larache, and vandalised a stadium, two political offices and two hotels in Hoceima, according to the Moroccan Association for Human Rights. During the unrest five people died at a bank that was set on fire.
Just one day after the demonstrations took place all over the country, king Muhammad VI announced the creation of the Social and Economic Council, which would have the task of monitorising and carrying out reforms. It was a first movement towards the citizenship. Muhammad also added that the main priority for the executive would be fighting against poverty.
The last Wikileaks cables revealed that the royal Alaouite family was corrupted, and had been wasting thousands of dollars in the last years. On the other hand, the official unemployment rate of the country is only at 10%, but several Moroccans don't have any job, raising the doubt of the actual accuracy of these figures.
Morocco's future scenarios
The removal of Ben Ali and Mubarak and the clashes registered in Libya and Bahrain lead to a question difficult to answer: will these 'Jasmine revolutions' spread all over the Arab countries, deposing all the long-term monarchs and dictators that have ruled these nations for decades?
Albeit the question remains complicated, experts agree that it is unlikely to see a change in the Moroccan regime. According to Jillian C.York, a freelance journalist based in Morocco, the public opinion is strongly divided between support for the monarchy and a move toward a parliamentary democracy. Yet the king has only been in power for 12 years -unlike in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia-, and hence the Moroccans don't have the same sense of frustration. On the other hand the demands of the protesters were mainly directed to a move to a parliamentary democracy where the king will play a minor role -like the Spanish one-, an end to corruption and more economic balance.
Journalist Matt Schuman explains that the situation in Morocco is very different from that of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Despite having a lower GDP, the poverty is not oppressive, and the Moroccans can live a simple life without being rich but neither without starving.
Another difference, according to Schuman, is that whereas in Egypt and Tunisia the protests were driven by a cultural elite of educated youngsters and intellectuals, Morocco suffers from a lack of literacy. Only around 50% of the population is educated, and therefore "Moroccans' illiteracy hampers the spread of information in general, and would definitely impede the organization of any type of protest movement".
Finally, Moroccans don't want to depose the king. Although there is a Prime Minister, political parties and elections, the lesser political bodies are corrupted. However, the royal family is seen as a 'credible figure'. On the other hand, since he was crowned king of Morocco, 12 years ago, Muhammad VI has carried out some political and social reforms, allowing certain freedom and democracy in the country.
According to Jillian C.York, "Moroccans who support the protests are generally taking advantage of the current political climate on the region, but they are not seeking the same things; they are not hoping to overthrow the king. The king is well-liked and has not been in power for very long. He has made major changes during his 12 years of rule and much of the country is happy with that".
The revolutions' third way?
Last week, and after nearly a month watching in silence the evolution of the uprisings in the neighbouring countries, king Muhammad VI announced in his first national address since the uprisings "comprehensive constitutional reforms", where "individual and collective liberties will be expanded". He also promised that the power to name the Prime Minister will be transferred to the Parliament. Moreover, he added that some powers will be devolved to Morocco's regions and the figure of Prime Minister will have more powers. The proposals for the reforms will be carried out by a special committee created ad-hoc, and will be submitted in June. It might be the beginning of a more democratic Morocco, meeting some of the demands of the protesters and becoming the Jasmine revolution's third way, aside from the overthrowing of the ruling class in Egypt and Tunisia, and the open war in Libya.