Trivia question: In 1777, which nation was the first to officially recognize the US as a sovereign state? No, not France. They’d of course discuss it, but the recognition would not become official until 1778. (Naturally followed by a declaration of war from Great Britain, who was understandably salty.) Believe it or not, Morocco was actually the first country to officially recognize the newly-independent US with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship on December 20, 1777. And for the most part, we’ve been tight ever since!
Fast forward a few centuries to the most recent regime change in 1956, and you have the Kingdom of Morocco, a 60 year old monarchy currently ruled by King Mohammed VI. His wife is Princess Lalla Salma, who despite her fair complexion and red hair, is in fact a native Moroccan. Note that her official title is that of a princess, the same of all women in the royal family. Queens do not exist in the Moroccan monarchy. In fact, traditionally the wives of kings are kept far away from the public eye. It wasn’t until the current King that the Moroccan people had ever seen the face of a King’s wife. The King is a very big deal though, as is evidenced by the country motto and namesake of this post: “God, Country, King.”
The Moroccan monarchy, at its surface, seems quite similar in structure to that of a typical democratic parliamentary system. However, in reality, the Moroccan parliament is nothing more than a puppet of the monarchy. As one local pointed out to me, the Prime Minister only exists for when things go badly... It is always the parliament’s fault, never that of the King. But if things are going well, then all credit goes to the king. In fact, Moroccan citizens can actually be arrested and persecuted for speaking out against the king. Though King Mohammed VI has been notably more liberalized than his predecessors, things haven’t been the same since the suicide bombings that occurred in Casablanca in 2003, the most severe terrorist attack Morocco has ever seen. The highest measures are taken for national security, certainly at great costs of civil liberty.
Morocco is also lauded as one of the most advanced African/Islamist countries for women, especially following the passage of the Moudawana law (also called the Family Code) in 2004. The law included major amendments to improve a woman’s ability to seek persecution and divorce in situations of domestic violence. Prior to the amendments, a woman had to have witnesses of the incident for any legal proceedings to take place. Sounds great! But here’s the problem: 60% of Moroccan women are illiterate, and therefore are hardly empowered by a law they can’t read. While it may be tempting to acknowledge the 17% of women serving in the Moroccan parliament, it is sadly only the result of a mandated gender quota, meaning that many of the women in parliament are quite literally there just for show. This is assumed to produce substantive representation for women in the government, but since the monarchy is the one pulling all the strings behind the curtain anyway, does it really make a difference? Morocco may be doing better than most, but further improvement is clearly still needed.
One of the most heart wrenching moments of my time in the classroom thus far came when one of my students told me “Things will never change. 20% of us live on less than the minimum wage of 200 dirhams a day ($2 USD) while the government officials get paid thousands for doing absolutely nothing. The best we can hope for is to continue our education, find a good job, and have enough to support ourselves and our family.”
Income inequality, unemployment, and illiteracy are three of the major issues afflicting Morocco right now. Many students cannot afford the opportunity cost of continuing school when their families need extra income to make ends meet. And many students, even after obtaining college degrees (yes, plural) in prestigious fields, are unable to find work in their field and have to resort to whatever else they can find to support themselves, like working in food delivery or as a parking assistant. At this point, you may be asking yourself: How is this government able to get away with this? Why don’t they protest? (Actually, they do.) What could possibly be worth sacrificing so much?
For all its shortcomings in civil liberties, government transparency, and rigid socioeconomic inequality, Morocco has something under the monarchy that outweighs all of the above. Something that can be summed up in a single word: Stability.
Amidst the chaos of ISIS, Boko Haram, and a systematic lack of government protection that plagues its neighboring states such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, (just to name a few) Morocco has enjoyed a steadfast stability that is not to be taken for granted. Their proximity to these persisting threats is constantly just a little too close for comfort, which they are reminded of when they see the inability of neighboring governments to protect its citizens. The monarchy, by contrast, has kept the Moroccan people safe by forging relationships with many world powers, working as their key ally in the Magreb. While it is certainly an imperfect system of governance, the people are acutely aware of just how much they have to be grateful for when they turn on the news.
Morocco is an altogether fascinating and complex country. I look forward to learning more about the triumphs and struggles that the Moroccan people face, because in an age where voluntourism (foreigners who travel to developing countries without understanding how to make a sustainable impact versus furthering the problem) is trending all across social media, it is of the utmost importance to seek out, learn, and understand the full story. Perhaps now, after this brief introduction to both the gaps and advantages of the Moroccan political system, you will start to see how my project in Women’s Empowerment was created in the hopes of meeting the challenges that Moroccans face.