It’s only day 5 of 2012

2012, so far, has been extremely eventful for those following the political stories in Morocco. I’ve found myself waking up to a new development every morning without even having enough time to catch my breath from the last.

Let’s breakdown the events in a bulleted timeline, shall we?

  • January 1 – Aziz Akhennouch resigns from his party, RNI: He was Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries under the previous government, and his decision to resign from his party has allowed him to secure his spot, remaining Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries as a political independent.
  • January 2 – King Mohammad VI appoints former Foreign Minister, Taib Fassi-Fihri, as a royal adviser: This came as a surprising disappointment to many, including myself. The announcement comes after former Minister of Tourism, Yassir Zenagui, and palace insider/founder of the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, Fouad Ali El Himma were also appointed as royal advisers.
  • January 3 – New Moroccan cabinet announced, with 31 cabinet positions: The much anticipated announcement debunked and confirmed many circulating rumors. According to sources cited in the linked article, 4 of the positions were decided by the palace, in addition to Aziz Akhennouch maintaining his position. Ramid, a public supporter of the February 2oth Movement and member of the PJD, was announced as Minister of Justice.
  • January 4 – Violent clashes in the northern city of Taza between protesters and riot police: People were protesting for economic reform, and according to reports, the slogans addressed the royal family’s personal wealth, including chants calling for the fall of the regime, chants not common to Moroccan protests. Footage showing an injured student is one of many.
  • January 5 – The trial of detained rapper, Mouad L7a9ed, postponed again: The trial demonstrated many inconsistencies from the part of the alleged victim, who is accusing Mouad of assault. @Larbi_org‘s Twitter timeline provides concise coverage of the trial, which many had hoped and expected would be his last. However, the trial went on past midnight, and the judge ended it with a continued date of January 10. A request for release on bail will be addressed tomorrow morning.

2012 may be the end of the world, according to the Mayans, but it’s definitely beginning with a bang for Moroccans.

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A Flash to the Past: Footage of Queen Elizabeth on a Royal Visit to Morocco (1980)

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.

Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Aziz Akhennouch, resigns from his party, RNI

Read more on the original story via La Vie Eco [fr]

This is being reported by multiple private and state media sources, including the above article which links to La Vie Eco, an affiliate of Aziz Akhennouch’s holding group. He has been a member of the palace-created Rally of National Independents (RNI) since 2007. RNI is also the party of recently appointed royal adviser and former Minister of Tourism, Yassir Zenagui and former Minister of Youth and Sports, Moncef Belkhayat (the center of the A8gate scandal earlier this year).

Aziz Akhennouch’s name is also closely tied to the recent Morocco Mall, the largest shopping destination in Africa. In a newsletter published by Wafa Immobilier, an affiliate of Attijariwafa, whose largest stake holder is the royal family, it cites Aziz Akhennouch as the head of the Morocco Mall project before he was appointed minister. Now while his wife, Salwa Akhennouch, currently holds the title of “President of Morocco Mall” and gets credit for investing in 50% of the total cost from her holding group, Aksal Group, the couples’ business affairs are extremely close. When I attended the press conference for the opening of the mall, Aziz Akhennouch was right by his wife’s side, whether that was a sign of spousal support or him securing his stake—I consider it both.

Aziz Akhennouch’s business dealings are no secret and they’re arguably what got him his position as a minister. Akwa Group, Aziz’s business empire, dominates the energy (oil, gas, petroleum), real estate, technology, and telecom industries. Apparently, he refused a salary as minister, probably because that salary is but a fraction of his monthly turnover.

Him leaving RNI is an interesting move to make, especially on the first day of 2012. However it can best be summarized in one word: opportunism. Since RNI positioned itself in the opposition, along with their good friends over at PAM, he would not have been able to hold on to his position as minister. However, the above article claims he has not made a decision to enter another party. Yet if he does remain a minister, he will be doing so as a political independent. (Don’t ask me about the legality of that because I’ve read the Moroccan constitution about 16 times since its release, and still don’t understand it).

Morocco’s entire political landscape can best be described by folks who go in and out of parties for the sake of securing a titled position, a little Luis Figo meets Joe Lieberman action. Moreover, the relationship between Aziz and Salwa Akhennouch exemplifies the sort of networks established after colonialism which pair both politics and business with no clear separation between the two. Morocco’s entire political economy is built on these extensive networks, even from the very top with the royal family’s holding company, SNI, which is heavily invested in the private sector. Your economic success depends on your political loyalty. Rarely will you find an outspoken critic of the regime in a position of authority in the private sector. This all feeds to the equation of authoritarianism, and the basis of an elite like the Makhzen, who despite being protested against, is extremely hard to dismantle because of their presence throughout various spheres.

But it makes for fun entertainment when you go to a VIP event at the Morocco Mall opening, only to be greeted by a stumbling drunk Minister of Finance (also the head of RNI) in the company of other drunk politicians and businessmen, all singing the praises of the monarchy to ensure the extra zeros in their bank accounts.

And that’s your Moroccan POL ECON 101.

Bonus clip: Moncef Belkhayat, Salahhedine Mezouar, Aziz Akhennouch, and Yassir Zenagui acting like annoying frat boys.