Certain factors come into play when this notion of a “Morocco model” is cited. It most often appears in Western mainstream outlets, later regurgitated by allies of the Moroccan regime under the guise of panel discussions, academic papers, and press releases. One of the most notorious of these allies has been the Moroccan American Center, a registered lobby for the Moroccan government. It operates under a neutral name, but its activities are far from neutral. Their panels have praised the regime’s “reforms,” their press releases read like talking points from state media, and they selectively highlight news in Morocco convenient to their narrative–that narrative being that Morocco is a model for the region.
When Morocco is touted as a model for the region, the forces of the status quo set a standard. A low standard at that. This standard applies to the average authoritarian regime and usually an ally of the United States (an ally out of geopolitical strategy, access to natural resources, etc). Morocco is presented as a model because it successfully marketed itself, after hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on PR strategy, as a liberal country meeting the demands of its people, while somehow, not changing much. This is complemented by the neoliberal economic policies that have made way for projects such as the monster Morocco Mall, the pending construction of the French-built TGV (high-speed train), and dozens of luxurious residential projects propped up by the investments pouring in from the Gulf. It is a delicate image drawn up by very fragile short-term policies that only need a light splash to wash away.
Beyond this image, Morocco is handling a serious budget deficit, which the proposed 2013 budget bill does little to stabilize in the longterm with the countless tax exemptions to the wealthy. The violent repression of protests has continued. Activists face detainment for the self-expression of their political views. Artists are slapped with jail time for lyrics. Journalists lose accreditation simply over reporting facts. Newspapers are censored over printing political cartoons. The list goes on.
There is an inherent danger behind this reference to Morocco as a regional model. It is the most obvious example of how threatened outside powers are by the strength of people fed up with the socioeconomic circumstances polarized by state policies, paired with decades of authoritarianism. Morocco is a model for the authoritarian regime desperate to preserve itself in a region where its counterparts are falling one by one. It’s a model for regimes serving the foreign interests of the United States and the European Union over serving its people. Where cutesy words eluding to vague notions associated with democracy replace the concrete and legal separation of powers, Morocco serves as a prime model.
When a State Department press release praises Morocco and its “path” towards reform, it is not praising the courage of the people who demanded change in the face of police truncheons. It’s a cautious acknowledgement of the voices advocating for reform, while simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief at the regime’s ability to maneuver back into its autocratic comfort zone. Calling Morocco a model is a message to other countries in the region: “Democratic reforms are cool and all, but not at once please. Just take it easy. Who needs change now, right? Here are some franchises and shiny aid packages to keep you busy. Your reforms and demands for change can wait another 3 or 4 years!”