Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Morocco in Transition: Overcoming the Democratic and Human Rights Legacy of King Hassan II

Academic journal article African Studies Quarterly

Morocco in Transition: Overcoming the Democratic and Human Rights Legacy of King Hassan II

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Morocco's King Hassan II died on 23 July 1999 and was succeeded by his son Muhammad VI. Much of the media coverage of Hassan II following his death portrayed him as a champion of democracy and human rights in the region. Was this really the case? Was Morocco under Hassan II becoming a more democratic and open society? This paper critically examines King Hassan's legacy, challenges and opportunities it poses for his heir Muhammad VI. The paper also discusses Morocco's prospects for democratic deepening under the new leader.

INTRODUCTION

On 23 July 1999, the royal palace of the Al'awid dynasty in Rabat, Morocco, announced the death of Hassan II, the 70-year-old monarch who ruled Morocco for 38 years. Since the ill health of the king had been known for years, many Moroccans and others had speculated over what his death and the ascendancy of his son Muhammad would mean for Morocco. It is too early to assess the transition of power in Morocco, but not too soon to reflect upon the record of Hassan II and the challenges facing his successor Muhammad VI. This paper examines with the legacy of King Hassan II in the areas of human rights and democracy and also attempts to assess the prospects for change under his successor Muhammad VI.

Under Hassan's leadership, Morocco played a key role in the Middle East peace process and was a staunch ally of the United States during the Cold War. It remained an ally of the United States in the post-Cold War period, so much so that the king sent troops as part of the Gulf War coalition against Saddam Hussein despite the fierce objections of the Moroccan people. While other Arab nations struggled with the increasing militancy of various Islamist groups, Hassan's Morocco gave the appearance of a stable nation. At his death, most Moroccan and foreign media reports of both Hassan's rule and his legacy were filled with praise for the King's leadership both at home and abroad. Many media accounts of the King's rule, glossed over his iron-fisted rule of Morocco. Instead they focused on the last ten years of his reign portraying him as a protector of human rights and a messenger of democracy. (1)

It has been argued by the United States and others, that in the last few years of Hassan's rule Morocco was becoming a more democratic and open society. (2) This article questions whether this is the case and evaluates what steps Morocco, under Hassan II, had taken to instill principles of democracy and the protection of civil liberties and human rights in society.

GOD, KING AND COUNTRY

Not unlike Turkey, Morocco has played a special role in the international arena as a border state. Geography and history have made both countries links between east and west. However, Morocco's role is a bit more complicated since it finds itself not only as a bridge between the Arab world and the Western world, but also as a bridge between Black Africa and Arab Africa. Historically, Morocco has had a long connection with sub-Saharan Africa. This includes the Almoravid dynasty's (1073-1147) controlled areas reaching from Andalusia to Senegal. It is from this era that the seeds of the current Western Sahara dispute emerge. The history of slavery, including the use of a sub-Saharan slave army unit by Mawlay Ismail (1672-1727) to subdue the greater Fes region and the Gnawa movement, which originated out of it, demonstrates another connection between Morocco and sub-Saharan Africa. Today Morocco serves as a conduit for many West Africans, on their way to Europe. Increasingly, however, many West Africans are remaining in Morocco. This is adding to Morocco's rich cultural fabric, but is also creating tensions in the troubled economy.

Under Hassan II, Morocco took its role as a bridge nation seriously. Hassan II was adept at playing to many sides. Domestically, he could co-opt members of various parties, squelch dissent, crush enemies, and still be regarded by many as a beloved monarch. …

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