During my family’s usual evening tea, memories from their lives in Morocco come to life. Whether they’re reflections of a royal speech threatening the lives of citizens for protesting or witnessing neighbors publicly beaten on the streets, they’re memories that they rarely share and that I listen to with the utmost curiosity. The conversation today wandered off to Queen Elizabeth’s royal visit to Morocco in 1980, also one of the most brutal periods of Hassan II’s reign. My family reminisced about reports on how Hassan II acted as a host with his tardiness and how infuriated the Queen reacted to the overall treatment. The above video recounts the royal visit with the anecdotes of other state officials, along with footage from the visit.
During the video, Hassan II was repeatedly referred to as an “absolute monarch.” Growing up in a Moroccan community living in the United States with Moroccans who left during the 1980s, it was commonplace to hear about living under Hassan II’s reign. The economic situation in Morocco paired with the brutality of Hassan II’s regime was a major driving force behind the Moroccan diaspora’s decision to leave during this period. As the years have passed and a new king rose to the throne, comparisons are always made with his father’s reign. The consensus is it’s gotten better.
But I say, it can be even better. By definition, Morocco’s political system is close to an absolute monarchy than a constitutional monarchy. Power lies within the hands of the monarch, and while liberalization has been widespread, the power structure has not changed. Even with the new constitution, the one institution that has bastardized its contents more than any is the monarchy. Just weeks after parliamentary elections, the monarchy has flexed its muscles and appointed a set of royal advisers who exemplify a recycling of the Makhzen’s most despised faces. The most recent royal advising appointment made today with outgoing Foreign Minister, Taib Fassi-Fihri was just the icing on the cake; a figure who is not known for eloquence and comes from a family of closely networked politicians, including a Minister of Health and a Prime Minister. This is in addition to the appointment of former Minister of Tourism, Yassir Zenagui, and former classmate of the king, Fouad Ali El Himma, a known palace insider who has been the target of dissent in many February 20th Movement protests.
Morocco has changed since the days of Hassan II, but instead of speaking of Morocco’s political structure in relative terms to the past, the standard should be set much higher. Morocco sees itself in a region where radical political change has been the norm–dictators have been toppled, new parties have been elected, constitutions have been rewritten. And while the region collectively continues to make progress towards a more democratic future, the 2011 Democracy Index illustrates that Morocco was the only country in North Africa that fell from its previous position, which was already in the bottom half of the list. The region is setting the standard higher while the chances for Morocco to catch up are getting lower. Meanwhile, memories of an old reign continue to haunt the people while a new generation rises with the desire for a new rule of law, a better rule of law. As a part of that new generation, I will remain optimistic. And in the ever-enlightening words of Kanye West, “No one man should have all that power, the clock’s ticking I just count the hours.“