Barack Obama could learn a thing or two by closely watching Morocco. And the Northern African country’s new government may want to take notes when our troubled president faces re-election in November.
Morocco’s constitutional monarchy is mid-balancing-act, anchored on one side by the king and on the other by a parliament run by Islamists who campaigned on economic issues and anti-corruption promises.
Voters in Morocco’s 2011 election elevated the Justice and Development Party, an Islamist faction known by the French Acronym PJD, into a position of primacy. The PJD went from holding 15 percent of the chamber’s seats to controlling a 27-percent plurality. Its leader is now the prime minister.
Moroccans generally expected to get the best of both post-Arab Spring worlds after the movement’s protests arrived in early 2011: a moderate elected government along with none of the military uprisings and bloodshed associated with other deposed Middle Eastern heads of state.
Abdelilah Benkirane, the Islamist prime minister, came to his position under a power-sharing arrangement guaranteed by Morocco’s new constitution and, it should be noted, honored by the previously untouchable king. (RELATED: Egypt, Libya and Syria are hot messes, but Morocco’s king protects his position — for now)
The constitution guarantees, for the first time, that Moroccans are free to think, create and express themselves in any way they please. It promises to put women on equal “civic and social” footing with men. For good measure, it also declares that the king is no longer “sacred.”
But it’s one thing to scream from the minarets that you’re moving toward democracy, and another thing entirely to put it into practice.
So far, realpolitik hasn’t much materialized. And Moroccans are not a patient bunch. People who taste democracy invariably demand more of it, and quickly.
It took the new Islamist government four months longer than planned to pass a budget. The PJD held its vote over the din of protesters clashing outside with police and demanding government jobs.
When King Mohammed VI named him prime minister at the end of November, Benkirane promised a five-year plan of 5.5 percent annual economic growth. But when he presented his slate of ministers for their swearing-in five weeks later, Benkirane had revised that estimate down to 4.2 percent — the same growth rate Morocco saw in 2010.
A more realistic estimate, provided in late March by Bank Al-Maghrib, came in at 3 percent.
Four years ago, when a Google search for “Arab Spring” would have brought weather forecasts for Saudi Arabia, Morocco’s economy was growing at a 14 percent clip.