Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 20:36 GMT

Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Morocco

Publisher Freedom House
Author Abdeslam Maghraoui
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Morocco, 2004, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)

Executive Summary


Abdeslam Maghraoui, a Moroccan political scientist, is lecturer in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. His research and publications focus on the question of democracy in Muslim societies.

Morocco's steps toward democracy have been tentative, and any progress to date can be reversed. While Morocco has implemented constitutional reforms to improve accountability and political representation, ultimate authority continues to rest with the king, the supreme political actor and arbitrator. Legislative and municipal elections have become more regular, but they largely serve to co-opt elites by distributing opportunities for corruption and do not embody real political representation.

Formally, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a parliament and an independent judiciary. The king, who is the head of state and of the armed forces, represents both temporal and spiritual authority. Following legislative elections, he appoints the prime minister and members of the government. He presides over the council of ministers and can dissolve the parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. King Mohammed VI assumed the throne in July 1999 upon the death of his father, Hassan II, who had ruled for 38 years.

The 1990s were a decade of important political reforms. Following constitutional revisions in 1992 and 1996, the powers of the two-chamber parliament were expanded. The parliament now approves the government, votes on bills and the budget, and reviews the government's general policies. The parliament can investigate the government's actions through commissions of inquiry and dissolve a government through a motion of censure or a vote of no-confidence. In 1998, the king named a coalition government headed by an opposition socialist leader who advocated political and economic change. The left-of-center coalition made the rule of law, transparency, and social reforms important priorities. Following the 2002 legislative elections, rather than appointing a prime minister from a party with the largest number of parliamentary seats, the king appointed Driss Jettou, a technocrat with no party affiliation.

However, while officials in both government and the palace publicly assert their commitment to democratization, these timid reforms have little positive impact on the political process or the daily life of Moroccan citizens. Most of the reforms are initiated and guided by a governing monarchy bent on preserving its political powers and economic interests. Despite some reforms, civil and political rights ultimately depend on the king's goodwill and political expediency. Legal discrimination against women and Berbers persists, and child labor remains a serious problem. While Morocco adheres to internationally recognized conventions, civil and human rights violations have increased significantly since the Casablanca terrorist bombings in May 2003. Whereas the king and the government have made the rule of law a major priority since 1999, the legal system remains hampered by corruption and political pressure. Corruption is widespread in communal and district courts, which handle minor or uncontested infractions. Extrajudicial pressure affects politically charged cases such as those involving terrorism, corruption of public servants, and offenses against the monarchy, Islam, or territorial integrity. Despite official declarations calling for the eradication of corruption, the problem remains widespread and systemic. Petty corruption in the economic and administrative sectors continues to flourish, and investigations of embezzlement involving senior managers of large public enterprises lead nowhere.

Civil Liberties – 2.84

The Moroccan constitution underwent major reforms in 1992 and 1996 intended to make Moroccan law conform to international human rights conventions. Various constitutional articles now guarantee "the rights and liberties of citizens," "political equality between men and women," "freedom of worship for all," and "freedom of opinion, expression, association, and public gathering." In 1996, the code of penal procedures was revised to proscribe torture, establish legal provisions for arrest and due process, and set limits on preventive detention. The code specifies up to life imprisonment for members of the security forces or state officials who use torture. In 2001 a reform of the human rights advisory board expanded its mandate to examine individual cases of human rights abuses. The same year, the code of public liberties was modified to increase the number of warnings required from one to three before police use force to disperse unlawful public assemblies.

The government usually tolerates, and occasionally supports, organizations dedicated to improving civil and political rights. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work with the government and receive state subsidies. Several national and local independent organizations specifically advocate women's rights. The government also maintains contact with numerous associations that aim to protect children's rights or advance the cultural demands of the non-Arab Amazigh populations (also known as Berbers), who are the original inhabitants of North Africa and make up around 60 percent of Morocco's 31 million people.

King Hassan II established the Royal Consultative Council on Human Rights (CCDH) in 1990. Initially, the CCDH was set up to resolve cases of forcible disappearances and compensate victims of human rights violations. In 1998, the CCDH compiled a list of 112 cases of forcible disappearance, thereby officially recognizing state responsibility for human rights violations. King Mohammed VI expanded the council's mandate and autonomy in July 2002. By 2003, some 4,750 claimants against the state had received a total of $100 million in indemnities for past violations.

Morocco's attitude toward international conventions has been generally constructive. The government has ratified the major conventions signed at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights. In principle, Moroccan laws assume the superiority of international agreements over internal legislation. Since 2000, the government has allowed international organizations to conduct investigations, organize workshops, hold conferences, and launch new programs.

However, the granting and enforcement of rights continues to depend on the king's goodwill and political expediency. Although the Moroccan constitution proclaims adherence to international principles, it does not stipulate that Moroccan citizens are entitled to inalienable human rights. According to the constitution, it is the king who protects "the rights and liberties of the citizens, social groups and organizations" (Article 19). Individual and collective rights are vested in an abstract notion of royal protection. Political expediency often limits reforms and the rights of subjects. For example, the palace provided monetary compensation to victims of human rights violations but allowed no judiciary procedures or public hearings that could directly link the monarchy to human rights violations.1 On women's rights, it took the palace more than a decade of backtracking before a royal commission proposed a relatively modern family code in October 2003.

Civil and political rights deteriorated in 2002-03.2 The Casablanca terrorist attacks that killed 45 people in five synchronized suicide bombings on May 16, 2003, were a major blow to Morocco's democratic reforms. Ten days after the attacks, the parliament hastily passed a new antiterrorist law that calls into question Morocco's commitment to international human rights conventions. The law gives police and security forces the right to hold suspects without access to a lawyer, to intercept telephone calls, Internet communication, and mail, and to search domiciles and businesses without a warrant. The bill defines terrorism in such broad terms that even peaceful political activity could be legally punishable. More significantly, the bill extends the time limit for incommunicado detention from 3 to 12 days, a provision that leads to conditions under which mistreatment and torture of detainees are most likely to occur. Even this extensive time limit may not be respected; police reports routinely misstate the day of the arrest. The International Federation of Human Rights, which conducted an investigation in July 2003, reported more than 2,000 persons detained and widespread use of torture, including beatings, electric shocks, and threats of rape.3

The arbitrary arrest, torture, and ill-treatment of Sahrawi militants in the disputed Western Sahara territory continue. In 2002, 14 activists were sentenced to jail terms of six months to two years for participating in a demonstration at which slogans calling for independence from Morocco were chanted. During the trial, those accused reported being tortured while in police custody to extract "confessions."4 No investigation was undertaken to examine the allegations.

The constitution declares political equality between men and women, and the personal status code (Mudawana) that governs civil matters was slightly improved in 1993 to boost the legal status of women. The government revised labor, commercial, and administrative texts to eliminate other forms of discrimination against women as well. For example, the new laws suspend the need for a husband's permission for his wife to sign a contract, engage in business, or obtain a passport. The government implemented a new national charter of education in 2002 to enforce the schooling of young girls, particularly in rural areas.5 Although women rarely hold top positions in the civil sector, they are well represented in key sectors such as public health and education, the state administration, and public companies.

However, there is no reference in Moroccan law to equality in civil matters or with respect to education, work, and health. In practice, the 2003 United Nations (UN) Human Development Report indicates continued gender inequalities in education, economic activity, and political empowerment.6 The penal code does not adequately protect women against domestic rape, violence, and murder. Provisions to protect women in police custody and prison are routinely ignored. The Statutes of Public Services discriminate against women in matters of family benefits and civil allowances and exclude women from public responsibility in sensitive sectors such as defense, security, intelligence, and telecommunications.

In civil matters, the personal status code was – as of September 2003-based on a conservative interpretation of Islamic law (Sharia). Women are considered legal minors and denied sovereignty to settle a marriage contract. The code maintains the dominant role of the male in marital relations, matters of descent, and inheritance; assumes women's obedience in social and civil issues; and restricts women's right to divorce. By contrast, a husband has the right to dissolve a marriage unilaterally (repudiation). A man can marry up to four women simultaneously with the sole conditions that he inform the first wife and pledge equal treatment. Although a woman has the right to oppose a projected polygamous marriage, social pressures and the reticence of judges rarely allow a wife to exercise that right.7 As an indication of Morocco's remaining problems, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women issued a report in July 2003 asking the government to comply with signed conventions and accelerate reforms.

Morocco's geographic proximity to Europe makes it a transit center for international human trafficking. The government claimed to have dismantled more than 400 trafficking groups in 20008 and hosts regional and international forums against the sexual exploitation of children. However, Moroccan law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons. Thousands of enticed youths continue to pay up to $4,000 for fraudulent work contracts in Europe and hundreds die each year in smuggling attempts. Moroccan young women are also trafficked to the Persian Gulf states for prostitution. During the past two years, the local press revealed several trafficking networks offering young women fictional work contracts that led them to end up as prostitutes in Europe and the Middle East.9

The constitution stipulates equality among all citizens. However, although the king established the publicly funded Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) in October 2002 to promote this culture in schools, the media, and local government, the three Berber dialects (Tarefit, Tamazight, and Tachlhit) have been marginalized since independence in 1956 through forced Arabization policies. Modern standard Arabic – which is different from the Moroccan Arabic dialect – is the sole official language: the language of national government, local administration, public media, and education. A 1997 law outlaws birth registration of children with traditional Berber names. The government represses the public display of Tifinagh (a modern alphabet of ancient Berber script), monitors Berbers' associations and limits their publications, and bans the meetings and conferences of the most militant groups. Still, one positive development is that the compulsory learning of Tifnagh as a second language should be generalized by 2013, according to the ministry of education.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, declares Islam to be the official religion of the state, and designates the king as "Commander of the Faithful," with a responsibility to protect Islam and guarantee freedom of worship for all. Article 220 of the penal code punishes a person by six months' to three years' imprisonment for forcing or preventing worship. Some 3,000 Moroccan Jews and 35,000 foreign Christians openly practice their faith. Until the May 2003 suicide bombings, the state did not closely regulate religious schools or private mosques and required no special license or registration for religious charities. Today, the ministry of Islamic affairs is considering a series of administrative reforms, financial programs, and legal measures to exert more control over public religious activities (private donations, Friday sermons, the issuing of fatwas or religious edicts, the training of religious scholars and preachers, etc.) and institutions (mosques, religious endowments, Zawiyas, theological schools, etc.). The king publicly supports a variety of Sufi orders, whose teachings and practices are not always compatible with the monarchy's own Sunni doctrine, and the government regularly organizes conferences, spiritual festivals, and informal meetings among international religious figures to promote interfaith dialogue and tolerance.

However, the protection of religious freedom is not always consistent, and the government imposes certain restrictions. While a small foreign Hindu community received the right to hold services and perform cremation, Baha'is have been denied the same religious rights and freedom since 1983. Proselytizing is illegal and religiously not permissible. The authorities investigate foreign missionaries and jail Moroccan Muslims who convert to other religions. The import, display, and sale of Bibles in Arabic in bookstores is not formally illegal but is not permitted under Islamic jurisprudence.

In March, a court in Casablanca handed down prison sentences to 14 members of a heavy metal music group accused of Satanism and found guilty of "possessing objects that infringe on morals" and of "undermining the Muslim faith." Although the charges were later dropped under political pressure, the trial and conviction of the music group point to a major flaw in the penal code, which allows a sentence of up to three years for attempting to convert a Muslim to another faith.

The rights of association, organization, and representation are guaranteed in several constitutional provisions. Citizens are free to choose among some 28 political parties; workers and professionals can join a dozen labor unions; and civil society advocates can choose from some 5,000 active associations. However, the activities of civic associations can still be hindered by old governmental regulations. A 1958 Public Liberties Law and a 1973 restrictive amendment require the approval of the ministry of the interior before the holding of any meeting with the purpose of creating an organization. Although the authorities generally overlook this legal obligation, they do use it to inhibit persons or organizations that may advocate sensitive causes. Despite the general easing of restrictions on the formation of political parties and associations, Berber activists, Islamic associations and parties, and leftist human rights and political groups are frequently denied approval. For security reasons, public gatherings and demonstrations require the prior authorization of the ministry of interior. This procedure is often used to forbid meetings or peaceful sit-ins to critics of government policies. The security police routinely use excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrators. In March 2003, for example, the police arrested members of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights during a demonstration in Rabat in solidarity with the people of Iraq.

The ministry of the interior often infiltrates unions to monitor activities, and parent political parties intervene to manipulate the election of union leaders. As a result, trade unions are increasingly seen as political tools in the hands of the administration and the political parties, and less than 10 percent of Morocco's 9 million workers are actually unionized. While the constitution provides for the right to strike, the law requires compulsory arbitration of disputes, the government uses force to break up strikes, and employers can initiate criminal prosecutions against striking workers.


Morocco needs constitutional reforms to clarify and ensure the universal and inalienable character of rights. Gender equity, freedom of conscience and belief, and protection of Berber culture and language must be clear and explicit. Legal reforms must clearly define and proscribe torture and cruel treatment in all situations. The use of statements extracted under torture must be prohibited in clear and specific terms. An independent and transparent truth and reconciliation commission should be established to fully compensate and rehabilitate victims of human rights abuses, investigate unsolved cases, address clearly the state's responsibility, and put an end to continued impunity, especially in cases of current violations.

Rule of Law – 2.42

The constitution stipulates the independence, universal accessibility, and legal accountability of the judiciary. In practice, however, the courts are subject to governmental pressure, and in civil and criminal cases, judicial discretion is the source of abuse and corruption.

The modern legal system that handles non-family matters comprises the common law courts and specialized jurisdictions. In parallel to the modern legal system, Islamic law courts handle family matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. The bulk of judicial irregularities in nonpolitical cases take place in Islamic courts, the communal and district courts, and the courts of first instance. These courts handle minor or uncontested infractions and can only impose monetary penalties and light jail sentences.

Several factors facilitate corruption in these courts: legal ambiguities or vacuity; the defendant's unfamiliarity with the legal system; lack of disciplinary measures; inadequate representation; and resource constraints that result in cursory hearings, exclusive reliance on police reports, and admission of confessions taken under duress. Courts of appeal cannot address the irregularities of lower courts because they handle cases predominantly involving crimes punishable by five years in prison or more. And while the Supreme Court can review and adjudicate cases that make it to the courts of appeal, it renders decisions only on procedural issues, life sentences, and the death penalty. Therefore, the vast majority of defendants in lower courts have very few judicial outlets.10

In addition to corruption, human rights activists criticize poor implementation of the law in penitentiary institutions. In a 2002 report, the Moroccan Observatory of Prisons cited overcrowded jails, poor organization and management, meager health services, sexual abuse, drug trafficking, and systemic corruption.11 Equally alarming, the 2003 antiterror legislation reduces the requirements for the death penalty and long sentences. As of September 2003, 1,048 suspects had been arrested and/or indicted. In less than five months, judges handed down 16 death sentences and more than 50 life imprisonments in some 20 trials throughout the country (the death penalty has not been carried out since 1993, when Captain Tabit, a police officer in Casablanca convicted of serial rapes, was executed). Acquittals have been rare. The swiftness and harshness of the judicial process reflect what observers have characterized as unfair trials. Critics point to widespread torture during interrogation, coerced or fabricated testimonies, arbitrary procedures, absence of witnesses, lack of evidence, and disregard for the right to self-defense. Judges have dismissed defendants' complaints about torture and their denial of statements made during interrogation. In many cases, defense lawyers were ineffective or simply not present.12

In politically charged cases such as terrorism, corruption of public servants, and offenses against the monarchy, Islam, or territorial integrity, judges may seek the palace's advice and work directly with the government, especially the ministry of interior and affiliated security branches. The minister of justice – a political office – commands not only wide administrative authority to run the justice department but also extensive judiciary powers, which allow him to interfere in the judicial process. A common problem is the admissibility of police reports and forced testimonies. In addition, although in 2002 parliament adopted a new code of penal procedure that formally consecrates the presumption of innocence, in practice this right is widely violated in cases involving terrorism, threat to public order, and other broadly defined offenses.

Since 1998 the government has made judicial reforms a top priority. The ministry of justice applied disciplinary measures against some 1,000 justice and penitentiary administration personnel for corruption and misconduct during 1998-2002.13 The government called on different administrations to observe judicial rulings to "protect citizens' rights and preserve the moral integrity of the justice system." According to the prime minister, 85 percent of rulings delivered in cases against individuals and 45 percent of those against state institutions were implemented between 1998 and 2002.14 Other reforms included the establishment of commercial courts, training of the judiciary staff, limiting military tribunals' jurisdiction to military personnel, and assertion of judicial autonomy, especially in relation to local district officials. Finally, in 2002 the king set up an ombudsman office – called Diwan al-Madalim, or complaints bureau – to settle disputes between citizens and state institutions, and established the Mohammed VI Foundation for Inmates' Integration to humanize penitentiary conditions. Nevertheless, significant irregularities remain due to continuing political pressure, resistance from within the profession, and the complex structure of the Moroccan legal system. Abuse of power by public officials is rarely punished.

The pivotal role of the Royal Armed Forces (FAR) between 1976 and 1991 in securing the Western Sahara, a vast desert territory disputed by a guerrilla movement, reinforced the military's power in Morocco. According to the constitution, the FAR is a sacred institution and part of the king's sovereign domain. The military's annual budget of $2 billion – about 12 percent of total state funds – is voted in the parliament without a debate and approved by the government with no questions asked. Criticizing the military is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Private property is permitted and enforced in most sectors of society and the economy. With the exceptions of a few economic sectors reserved for the state, private entities, including foreigners, may freely establish, acquire, and dispose of their property. There are no discriminatory legal provisions against one group or another.


The role, powers, and composition of internal supervisory and disciplinary bodies such as the Inspection Generale and the Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature must be expanded and improved. To improve judicial performance and bring the problem of petty corruption in the judicial process under control, procedures should be simplified and decision making and execution accelerated through consolidation of various courts and jurisdictions into single court systems. In addition, the training of the justice corps should be increased and its performance improved by offering incentives to qualified students, revising teaching standards, and requiring professional internships as part of the curriculum.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 1.54

Corruption is pervasive and systemic in Morocco. It permeates every aspect of public life, from elections to establishing a business, from routine state services to taxes. It is an integral part of the political, economic, judiciary, and administrative systems that has been normalized and institutionalized during decades of authoritarian rule under Hassan II.15

International reports and domestic surveys point to an endemic problem. Morocco's corruption ranking in Transparency International's annual reports fell from 45th out of 99 countries in 1999 to 70th out of 133 countries in 2003. Successive polls conducted by local and foreign groups indicate that an overwhelming majority of Moroccan entrepreneurs continue to consider corruption the primary obstacle to investment and economic development.16 Surveys in other vital areas suggest that rampant corruption has led to an alarming lack of public confidence in authority.17

The fight against corruption became official policy in 1999,18 when the government of Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi put the issue at the center of public discourse. In April 1999, the newly certified Transparency Maroc, a local branch of Transparency International, was for the first time allowed to make public its findings. In a speech to parliament in October 2000, followed by a well-advertised letter to the prime minister in 2002, the king urged the government to stamp out corruption by simplifying administrative procedures for citizens and investors. A half-dozen independent newspapers began to report overtly about official corruption.

The legislative framework and political environment for improving transparency and accountability in financial reporting are generally adequate. Implementation is hindered by lack of adequate financial and human resources, absence of specific legal texts, and ambiguous institutional mandates rather than political impediments.

In collaboration with the World Bank, the government organized a series of highly publicized workshops to signal its commitment to transparency in public affairs. In parallel, the Youssoufi cabinet enacted new anticorruption laws and upgraded existing codes, disciplined and prosecuted hundreds of magistrates and police agents accused of corruption, and empowered the newly established ministry of civil service and administrative reform to rationalize administrative procedures and monitor misconduct of civil servants.

But these measures were insufficient and largely targeted petty corruption. The problem of major corruption remains untouched because it has deep political roots and involves powerful entrenched interests such as the armed forces, big business, and the monarchy. In the early 1970s, King Hassan II used the distribution of public assets as a way to ensure the loyalty of powerful actors.19 Prominent urban families with strong historical and political ties to the monarchy used their high position in government and the public sector to amass huge private fortunes. Through dubious credit facilities, state-subsidized services, noncompetitive public contracts, preferential tax treatment, and the exploitation of Morocco's best public companies for private gains, these families established a monopoly over key sectors of the economy. By 2002, the total amount of estimated embezzled funds in the public sector had reached $15 billion. Despite repeated calls for full and transparent investigations concerning financial scandals in the public sector, no senior officials were prosecuted, ostensibly due to lack of evidence. Financial disclosure procedures are inadequate to prevent conflicts of interest or oblige public officials to declare their assets.

Accusations of corruption directly involving the monarchy were made public in February 2000 when Abdessalam Yassin, an Islamic leader, published an open letter criticizing the corrupt reign of King Hassan II. Yassin specifically targeted Ominium Nord Afrique, a royal industrial conglomerate.20 Despite King Mohammed VI's efforts to stamp out corruption by appointing new managers in 2002, a recent report suggests that financial transactions, mergers, contracts, and takeovers within the royal holdings remain murky.21

The government has suppressed allegations of corruption in the military. For example, when information surfaced in the press between 1999 and 2001 about the involvement of senior military officers in lucrative fishing schemes and embezzlement of subsidized foods, fuel, and construction materials, the government censored the information and shut down publications. Those who blew the whistle from within the ranks were disciplined, prosecuted, or arrested.

Another major source of corruption in Morocco is drug trafficking. Drug barons have established de facto fiefdoms along the Mediterranean coast.22 Although the corrupting power and influence of drug traffickers are publicly recognized, no serious state strategy has been put in place to neutralize them. The deep and wide involvement of local authorities in drug trafficking became public in August 2003 when a drug baron, Mounir Erramach, revealed connections with judges, magistrates, and high security and customs officers.


An effective strategy to fight corruption can evolve only in conjunction with far-reaching reforms in civil and political rights, the judiciary, and the rule of law. Without freedom of expression, public access to information, political participation, legislative empowerment, an independent judiciary, accountable governance, administrative transparency, and coherent and enforceable laws, it is difficult to imagine how the endemic problem of corruption can be eradicated.

Accountability and Public Voice – 2.42

Officially, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy. The constitution posits an elected bicameral parliament independent of the executive and judiciary branches. Universal suffrage was granted in 1960, and the principles of political pluralism were established in the 1962 constitution.

However, in practice, ultimate authority rests with the king, who is head of state, religious leader, and head of the military. For decades, the ministry of the interior has used the electoral process to reward parties loyal to the king and keep the nationalist opposition leashed. Although revisions of the 1962 constitution have improved the balance of power, the king's arbitrary authority remains virtually unchanged. Article 19 proclaims the king the "supreme representative of the nation," which translates into sweeping political power. The king appoints and can dismiss the prime minister and the cabinet by virtue of Article 60, which makes members of the government responsible to him first and only secondarily to the parliament. The king can also dissolve the parliament, legislate during recess and before new elections are held, declare a state of emergency without explanation, and revise the constitution by directly submitting proposed amendments to a national referendum. It is a crime to criticize the king's policies and decisions, and members of parliament can lose their parliamentary immunity for expressing opinions that may be considered disrespectful to the king.

The parliament's powers remain limited. A 1996 constitutional amendment provides for the direct election of the entire lower house, the chamber of representatives, and gives representatives in the upper house (which is indirectly elected through a complicated process of professional caucuses that involves greater administrative interference) unparalleled legislative powers to check the lower house and to censure the government. A battery of constitutional provisions allows non-elected entities to enact laws or veto inconvenient texts emanating from the parliament (Articles 45, 46, 55, and 58). For example, officials appointed by the king to high administrative positions exercise de facto legislative authority through various administrative texts (circulaires). Moreover, a law passed by the parliament becomes effective only after it has been promulgated by royal decree. In case the king disagrees with a law, he may return it to the parliament for reexamination or settle the issue through popular referendum. In both situations, the outcome is invariably in favor of the king's wishes.

The king appoints all high-level officials such as governors, judges, and directors of public enterprises, as well as half of the members of the High Constitutional Council, including its president. None of these nominations is subject to approval by any other entity. Finally, the king appoints the heads of the "ministries of sovereignty": justice, defense, foreign affairs, religious affairs, secretary general of the government, and the notorious interior ministry. The interior minister is responsible for various branches of the security services, the training and appointment of state officials, the allocation of local and regional budgets, the licensing of associations and political parties, and the organization and supervision of elections. Despite efforts to reform the ministry of the interior and make it more accountable, the Casablanca terrorist attacks and growing Islamic radicalism during 2002 and 2003 rejuvenated its predominant security and control orientation.

A positive effect of this state of affairs is that, since 1999, the king has appointed a dozen women as royal counselors and to high ministerial and managerial positions. In addition, in 2001 the government established a minimum 10-percent quota for women in the parliament. As a result, 34 women were elected to the 325-seat lower house in 2002.

Since the 1960s, Morocco has held regular, relatively open and competitive local and legislative elections. However, the elections were intended not to provide a public voice but as a mechanism to co-opt the elite through an administrative process of restructuring, reward, and exclusion. For example, the monthly salary of members of parliament is $3,600, in contrast to the annual average Moroccan income of less than $3,000. Inflated representation is another indication of Morocco's use of public office as a form of political cooptation: as opposed to the 535 members of Congress in the United States, Morocco's population of 30 million is represented by 595 parliamentary seats and 23,689 representatives in local councils.

The 2002 legislative and 2003 municipal elections, the first under King Mohammed's reign, were considered the most transparent in Morocco since 1963. But serious problems continue to undermine the electoral process. Although several articles of the new electoral code stipulate fines and jail sentences for fraudulent behavior, the text is often incoherent. Problems include the gerrymandering of electoral districts to dilute the relatively independent urban vote; setting the elections to the upper house after those to the lower house, which allows the dominant parties and the administration to correct unforeseen political balances; an informal quota system to keep parties, especially the Islamists, under check; and the widespread buying and selling of votes.

The legislative elections on September 27, 2002, brought to power a coalition of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and the conservative Istiqlal (PI), the two major parties in Morocco that seek democratic reforms. However, the real winners were the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the only Islamist party allowed to participate, which tripled its presence in the lower house while presenting candidates in only 56 of the 91 legislative districts. This limited participation was reportedly negotiated with the ministry of the interior to avoid the "Algerian syndrome," in which Islamists might threaten to establish an Islamic state after winning elections. Meanwhile, the coalition parties lost seats. More alarming was the low rate of participation: only 51 percent of registered voters bothered to participate, and in urban areas participation rates were as low as 30 percent.23

The democratic political parties in Morocco are too weak to bring about democratic change. While the monarchy's repression and manipulation have contributed to their weakness, they also suffer from two problems of their own making: an ideological wavering between nationalism and democracy and an inability to fulfill their function as mechanisms of political integration and representation. The leaders of PI and USFP emerged from the nationalist movement that fought the French, and the imprint of nationalist ideology dominates their political principles and attitudes. While they defend modern democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and women's equality, they often violate these principles in the name of nationalism, patriotism, authentic identity, and sacred institutions.

The democratic parties' second major problem is their growing alienation from the population. Because their institutional capacities to operate freely in the country have been curtailed for so long and because they have resigned themselves to playing the game of patronage politics with the interior ministry, the parties have never really had to campaign seriously. Instead, the parties target specific professional interests and offer limited social choices, operating more like small pressure groups than modern political parties.

Finally, the pro-democracy political parties have been caught up in major corruption scandals. For example, in 2002 the Istiqlal party, a major partner in the government coalition, was implicated in a scheme to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from some 45,000 unemployed youths for fictitious job contracts in the United Arab Emirates.

Compared to his father, Mohammed VI has permitted greater freedom and public debate. Hundreds of newspapers and weekly magazines circulate freely throughout the country. Access to the international media, in print, television, and the Internet, is unrestricted. Domestic independent and partisan publications from diverse ideological persuasions now cover once-taboo topics including human rights, the role of the monarchy, religion and politics, and official corruption. On the newly observed Human Rights Day (December 9), the king confers with human rights activists and NGO representatives.

Still, freedom of expression can be suspended at short notice. Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, authorities can legally suspend the license of publications deemed offensive to Islam or the monarchy or considered a danger to state security. Foreign publications are examined before distribution and can be banned or confiscated if they contain articles that cross the lines of acceptable dissent. The ministry of the interior provides informal regulations or "guidance" to journalists for self-censorship on sensitive topics. Morocco does not provide for the right to government information.

Government-owned or -supported media propagate the palace's official line. Critics of the monarchy's policies are hardly if ever given access in the publicly funded media. The government provides subsidies to the rest of the press through price supports for newsprint and office space. Although the government tolerates critical editorials and articles, self-censorship on sensitive political issues is generally observed.

Moroccans receive stiff sentences for "defaming" the king. For example, in June 2003 Ali Lmrabet, a prominent journalist and democracy advocate, was sentenced to three years in prison for publishing a cartoon depicting bags of cash being moved from the state coffers to the royal palace, in reference to the parliament's lack of control over civil-list monies. This was considered to be defaming the king and undermining the country's sacred institutions.

The May 2002 press code transfers from the executive to the courts the authority to jail journalists (three to five years) for insulting the king or the royal family. However, judges appointed by the king and ruling in his name preside over cases involving the king's defamation. A law providing for jail sentences, fines, and damages for libeling public officials is strictly enforced. Since June 2003, at least five reporters or editors of independent newspapers have been arrested and indicted for publishing materials interpreted as providing moral justification for terrorism.


Constitutional reforms are needed to balance power relations between the monarchy, the state, and the three branches of government. Senior officials appointed by the king to key public positions must be equally accountable to the government. Institutional reforms are necessary to improve the legislative, regulatory, and inquiry ability of the parliament. The tasks, internal regulations, and division of labor between the parliament's two chambers must be clarified and institutionalized. Legal reforms should include progressive civil liberties and press codes, a coherent law on political parties, and a simple and fair electoral code. The party system must be completely reorganized to enhance the independence of the parties from the central administration, democratize their internal structure, and improve their representation capacity. The parties themselves must adhere to the modern democratic principles that they advocate, and the modernization of communication and recruitment methods, the renewal and discipline of party cadres and leadership, and the reorganization of local and national branches are necessary to improve the operational capacity and image of the political parties.


1 On Morocco's deficient handling of human rights violations, see Susan Slymovics, "A Truth Commission for Morocco," Middle East Report (Spring 2001), 218.

2 Parts of this section are based on the author's essay, "Morocco's Reforms after the Casablanca Bombing," The Arab Reform Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 2, July 2003 (The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).

3 "Arbitrary drifts in the fight against terrorism: The FIDH is calling upon the Moroccan authorities to respect the law" (Paris: International Federation for Human Rights [FIDH], 21 July 2003),

4 Morocco/Western Sahara Briefing to the Committee Against Torture (London: Amnesty International, November 2003).

5 According to UNICEF, only 4 in 10 rural girls aged between 6 and 11 were registered in schools in 1997. In 2002, 8 in 10 girls of the same age were registered. Aman Daily News, 21 August 2003,

6 Human Development Indicators, Morocco (New York: UN Development Program, 2003), 126,

7 "La Moudawana: Dahir du 28 Novembre 1957," as modified in September 1993,

8 "Morocco Has Dismantled over 400 Human Trafficking Webs in 2000," Arab News, 9 November 2001,

9 On networks of prostitution in the Middle East, see for example, "La prostitution s'exporte bien en lieux saints," Aujourd'hui le Maroc, 21 November 2003; "Omra: Djellaba, String et petites combines," Aujourd'hui le Maroc, 21 November 2003; "La prostitution se developpe a El Jadida," Aujourd'hui le Maroc, 31 December 2003. On networks of prostitution in Europe, see "Nos moulins rouges exhibitent la peau fraiche," La Gazette du Maroc, 17 June 2002; "Le chemin le plus court vers la prostitution," La Gazette du Maroc, 1 July 2002; "Des orgies a la carte," La Gazette du Maroc, 24 November 2003.

10 See the World Bank's evaluation of the Morocco's juridical and judiciary system, June 2003.

11 "Rapport Annuel" (Casablanca: l'ObservatoireMarocain des Prisons, 2002).

12 "La justice marocaine tourne a plein regime pour juger les islamistes radicaux," Associated Press, 29 September 2003; "Moroccan rights group says terror trials flawed," Reuters, 30 September 2003; "Morocco jails twin girls for plotting to assassinate King," The Guardian, 1 October 2003.

13 Morocco: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – 2002 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 31 March 2003),, or, NCB Country Reference – Morocco Human Rights Report (Ontario, Canada: NetCent Communications),

14 "Prime Minister Youssoufi reviews his government's performance," Arabic News, 5 May 2002.

15 Abdeslam Maghraoui, "A Political Authority in Crisis: Mohammed VI's Morocco," The Middle East Report, Number 218, March-April 2001.

16 See for example: L'Economiste, "La corruption, deuxieme entrave au development" (21 January 2002); Aujourd'hui le Maroc, "Le bakchich penalise les affaires" (10 October 2003); and La Vie economique, "Corruption: des chiffres qui font peur" (20 February 2004).

17 "Les jeunes boudent les listes electorales" La Nouvelle Tribune, 24 April 2003; "Coma, couscous et communales" La Nouvelle Tribune, 11 September 2003; "Impots et corruption" Aujourd'hui le Maroc, 21 July 2003; "La corruption gangrene la justice" Aujourd'hui le Maroc, 8 August 2003; "Corruption: For How Long" Al Alam, 7 December 2003.

18 Gulain Denoeux, "The Politics of Morocco's Fight against Corruption," Middle East Policy, vol. 7, no. 2, February 2000.

19 Will Swearingen, Moroccan Mirages: Agrarian Dreams and Deceptions, 1912-1986 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).

20 The full text is available at

21 Le Journal, "Monarchie et affaires: Dangereux marriage," Dossier Special, 27 September-3 October 2003.

22 James Ketterer, "Networks of Discontent in Northern Morocco," Middle East Report 218, Spring 2001.

23 Ali Lmrabet, "Les elections: pas truquees mais arrangees," Demain Magazine, October 2002.

Copyright notice: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved

Search Refworld