Countries at the Crossroads 2006 - Morocco

  • Author: John Damis
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    3 August 2006

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


Morocco has made notable progress toward democracy since 1990, although this progress lacks a permanent institutional foundation. Despite constitutional reforms to improve accountability and political representation, ultimate authority continues to rest with the king, who occupies the unique position of all-powerful political actor and arbitrator. Legislative and municipal elections have become more transparent and regular, but they serve more to provide spoils for elites than to promote genuine political representation.

Morocco is a monarchy with a constitution, a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary. In practice, however, the king's power has virtually no effective constraints. He is head of state and of the armed forces, he represents both temporal and spiritual authority, and he is above the law. Following legislative elections, the king appoints the prime minister and members of the government. He presides over the Council of Ministers and has the power to dissolve parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. King Mohammed VI assumed the throne in July 1999 following the death of his father, Hassan II, who had ruled for 38 years.

Important political reforms took place in the 1990s. With constitutional revisions in 1992 and 1996, the powers of the two-chamber parliament were expanded. The parliament now votes on the government and reviews its general policies. It can also 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 called for political and economic change. The left-of-center coalition made rule of law, transparency, and social reforms their major priorities. However, the government's performance fell far short of public expectations. After the 2002 legislative elections, rather than appointing a prime minister from the party with the largest number of parliamentary seats, the king appointed Driss Jettou, a palace loyalist with no party affiliation.

Despite the public commitment of the monarch to democratization, these modest reforms have had little impact on the political process or the daily life of Moroccans. Civil and political rights ultimately depend on the king's goodwill and political expediency. When the king acts decisively, as he did with the reform of the family code in 2003-2004, personal rights are substantially enhanced. However, even though Morocco adheres to major international conventions, civil and human rights violations have increased since the Casablanca terrorist bombings in May 2003, which killed 45 people. The legal system remains vulnerable to corruption and political pressure, though the king and government have worked since 1999 to make the rule of law a major priority. Corruption remains endemic at several levels of Moroccan society, from communal and district courts to the top level of large public enterprises. High-profile investigations of embezzlement by senior figures in the public sector rarely lead to indictments. Moreover, politically charged cases – including those involving terrorism, corruption of public officials, and offenses against the monarchy, Islam, or territorial integrity – are subject to extrajudicial pressure. Territorial integrity, for the king, government, and virtually all Moroccans, includes the Western Sahara, a large former Spanish territory claimed by Morocco and occupied and administered by the kingdom since 1976.

Accountability and Public Voice – 3.30

The Moroccan constitution provides the basis for representative government and stipulates that "sovereignty shall be that of the People who shall exercise it directly, by means of referendum, or indirectly, through the constitutional institutions." Despite this commitment to representative government, Article 19 vests ultimate power in the king, who "shall be the Supreme Representative of the Nation and the Symbol of the unity thereof."

Elections in Morocco have historically been infrequent but have become increasingly regular since the 1990s. Constitutional reforms in 1992 and 1996 have improved the validity of elections, and successive elections have become freer of accusations of manipulation, lower-level corruption, and vote buying. By most accounts, Morocco's most recent votes – parliamentary elections in 2002 and municipal elections in 2003 – were free, fair, and transparent.

Morocco has had a multiparty political system since independence in 1956, and citizens are now free to affiliate with any of 29 legal political parties registered with the Ministry of Interior. Morocco has made improvements in allowing equal campaigning opportunities for political parties. This is evidenced in the acceptance of participation of strong Islamist candidates in parliamentary elections. In 1996, the Islamist party Unity and Reform was allowed to enter mainstream politics by joining an existing party, the Popular Democratic and Constitutional Movement (MPDC). Under this party, Unity and Reform members secured nine parliamentary seats in the November 1997 elections. As Unity and Reform members gained control of MPDC, they continued to campaign under the party's new name, the Party of Justice and Development (PJD). In the September 27, 2002, elections, the PJD won 42 seats in the 325-seat parliament, securing the third-largest bloc.

Among the parties banned by the authorities is the most important, popular, and largest Islamist-oriented political party – the Justice and Charity Association. With considerable popular support, Justice and Charity would easily win a plurality if not a majority of votes if the monarchy allowed its legal operation – and if the party was willing to participate in the political process.

The government is taking steps toward improving the Moroccan people's ability to create political parties. On October 30, 2005, the interior commission in the Chamber of Deputies approved new legislation to reform the process involved in the formation of political parties and the campaign finance law, including providing parties with an annual subsidy. Proposed revisions of the electoral code are also scheduled to be addressed before upcoming elections in 2007. However, the government maintains the right to block some parties from full participation, and by banning the Justice and Charity Association it is excluding the country's most popular party from the political process. The July 2005 political parties law forbids the establishment of parties on the basis of religion, race, or tribe. Furthermore, the government does not provide adequate regulations to prevent economically privileged interests from exercising undue influence on political parties.

The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Moroccan government can neither oversee one another's actions nor hold each other accountable for excessive exercise of power. This is in large part due to the manner in which the authority of the monarchy over the legislative and judicial branches is formally institutionalized. Although members of parliament are selected by a popular vote based on universal suffrage, the king reserves the right to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and dissolve parliament at his discretion. The king must also approve any changes in the constitution. The legislature and judiciary suffer from corruption and have been unsuccessful in gaining the trust and support of the Moroccan people. The parliament remains weak, disorganized, and in need of institutional reforms to improve its legislative, regulatory, and inquiry capacities.

In April 2004, parliament signed a Memo of Understanding with USAID to pursue two programs. The parliamentary program sought "to bridge the gap between members of parliament (MPs), civil society leaders, and constituents, and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of MPs and party caucuses." The political party program sought to help parties "to overcome the gap dividing parties from citizens, to build the capacity of women and youth to participate fully in political parties, and to improve political party members' access to skills and resources and communication within and between their parties." With the relative success of these efforts, international donors have undertaken similar programs to improve the effectiveness of parliament and Morocco's individual political parties.

The civil service is legally accessible to all who qualify, based on open competition and on merit. However, in reality selection is often based on connections. The government currently employs some 80,000 "ghost employees" who continue to receive salaries and pensions for no work. Dismissal is rare in the civil service, as employment is often for life.

In comparison to other Arab nations, Morocco practices liberal control over the establishment and activities of civil associations, and in many circumstances such groups are able to testify, comment on, and influence pending government policy or legislation. For example, liberal civic associations and women's rights groups were instrumental in procuring the January 2004 passage of the new Family Code. The government has also been increasingly supportive of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which have become an important fixture in Moroccan politics and generally enjoy the cooperation of the Moroccan government. Three officially recognized nongovernmental human rights groups operate in Morocco: the Moroccan Human Rights Organization (OMDH), the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), and the Moroccan Defense League of Human Rights (LMDDH). The OMDH and LMDDH receive support from the government in the form of subsidies. Other important groups include the Moroccan Forum for Truth and Justice (FVJ) and the Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP). The FVJ has been active in urging the government to acknowledge past practices of disappearances and arbitrary arrests. The government is passively, and sometimes actively, supportive of organizations dedicated to improving civil and political rights. NGOs work with the government and receive state subsidies, and a number of local and national independent organizations specifically advocate women's rights. The government often overlooks the legal requirements to establish a civic association, though it sometimes cites these requirements to constrain persons or organizations that advocate sensitive causes. The Ministry of Interior has the authority to dissolve associations and prevent any unwanted organization from operating. Thus, some Berber activists, Islamic associations, and leftist human rights and political parties are denied approval.

Although Article 9 of the Moroccan constitution guarantees "freedom of opinion" and "of expression in all its forms," historically, the monarchy has maintained tight control of the press. With the ascent of King Mohammed VI to the throne, the government has made a few promising gestures that suggest a commitment to liberalization of the media. In March 2002, the Commission on Foreign Affairs and National Defense in the parliament unanimously approved a revised press code. On January 7, 2004, seven journalists were released by royal pardon along with 24 other prisoners. Included in this official pardon was the well-known dissident Ali Lmrabet, who was imprisoned in June 2003 for publishing a cartoon criticizing the royal family. The king also pardoned three journalists who had been imprisoned for printing an article discussing the history of the Islamist movement in Morocco and its alleged relationship to Morocco's intelligence services.

Despite these improvements, the Moroccan government continues to utilize repressive means to curtail media independence and freedom of expression. The revised press code of 2002 only slightly reduced the penalty for defaming the royal family or public officials, and the government retained the right to revoke publication licenses and directly confiscate materials viewed as threatening to the public. The government often makes onerous libel claims against journalists who scrutinize government officials or policies. For example, on August 15, 2005, Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, managing editor of the independent weekly Tel Quel, and Karim Boukhari, his editor, were each given a two-month suspended prison term, charged 1 million dirhams ($100,000) in damages, and fined an additional 2,500 dirhams ($250). The suit was in response to a fictional story titled "A Brunette's Secret," featuring a dancer named "Asmaa" who becomes a legislator. A parliamentarian named Hlima Assali assumed she was the target of the satire, and charges of libel were brought on her behalf. Upon appeal by Benchemsi, the fine was reduced slightly to 800,000 dirhams ($80,000). In April 2005, the Directory of Royal Protocol sent a warning to the newsweekly Al Jarida Aloukhra for publishing a series of articles on the king's wife, threatening interdiction, suspension, and arrests.

The government continues to censor and harass journalists who attempt to cover the Western Sahara issue. For example, on May 24, 2005, Munir al-Ktawi of the weekly Bidawi attempted to cover a meeting of Sahrawi officials. When the officials realized he was a member of the press, he was kicked, punched, and thrown out of the building and had his equipment broken by his assailants. On May 25, 2005, Salam Zoukani, a television technician, was beaten by security forces while covering demonstrations in Laayoune, the major city in the Western Sahara. On June 16, 2004, Tor Dagfinn Dommersnes and Fredrik Refvem of the Norwegian daily Stavanger Aftenbladet were expelled from Morocco for meeting with Ali Salem Tamek, a well-known Western Sahara activist.

The Moroccan government does not restrict access to the internet, with the exception of two Western Sahara websites. The government does, however, influence the media through direct ownership of numerous television and radio stations throughout the country. The Moroccan government owns the country's largest broadcasting outlet, Moroccan Radio-Television (RTM). Morocco's next largest broadcaster is the French-backed MEDI-1, which, although independent, practices self-censorship.


  • Constitutional reforms should be undertaken to remove the monarchy's supreme authority over the legislature and judiciary, and to improve oversight among these three branches of government.
  • Senior officials appointed by the king to key public positions should be equally accountable to the government.
  • Press and judicial codes should be reformed to prevent the harassment and censure of Moroccan journalists.
  • Parliamentary and political party reforms should continue in order to increase public confidence in the political process.

Civil Liberties – 3.67

Major reforms of the Moroccan constitution in 1992 and 1996 were intended to bring Moroccan law into conformity with international human rights conventions. The constitution now guarantees "the rights and liberties of citizens," "political equality between men and women," "freedom of worship," and "freedom of opinion, expression, association, and public gathering." In 1996, the penal code was revised to proscribe torture, establish legal provisions for arrest and due process, and set limits on preventive detention. By June 2005, the UN Committee against Torture noted the positive development in the overall human rights situation in Morocco.

On January 7, 2004, King Mohammed VI inaugurated the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (IEC) to "close the file on past human rights abuses." The 17-member commission was composed of former political prisoners and human rights activists and was chaired by a former long-time political detainee. The IEC, inspired by the panel that spotlighted crimes in apartheid South Africa, was intended to complete the work of the Royal Consultative Council on Human Rights (CCDH) established by King Hassan II in 1990, with the added roles of issuing findings and providing compensation to the victims. In 1998, the CCDH had compiled a list of 112 cases of forcible disappearance, thereby officially recognizing state responsibility for human rights violations. To provide compensation to victims of past abuses, King Mohammed VI established the Arbitration Commission on Compensation in 1999, and by 2003 some 4,750 claimants against the state had received a total of over $100 million in indemnities for past violations.

The IEC received a mandate to look into cases of "enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention" that occurred between Morocco's independence in 1956 and the end of King Hassan's reign in 1999, a long period of government suppression of political and religious dissent that Moroccans call "the years of lead." The IEC's hearings began on December 21, 2004, in Rabat. Unprecedented in the Arab world, the hearings were public, open to national and foreign journalists and NGOs, and broadcast to wide audiences on national radio and television. The IEC's hearings gave victims and their relatives the opportunity to present vivid testimonies of disappearance, arbitrary detention, and torture.

The IEC's statutes, however, did not allow victims to identify their abusers or torturers. Moroccan human rights groups complained that the perpetrators of abuse could not be prosecuted and that testimony was not allowed on abuses that continued after 1999. IEC members argued it was necessary to protect the legal rights of both perpetrators and victims and to prevent retribution. To bypass the IEC's rules, the AMDH led a parallel series of public hearings beginning in February 2005 in which post-1999 victims could testify and abusers could be named. It then published a list of alleged torturers it thought should face trial, including members of Morocco's current administration.

[Editor's note: On December 1, 2005, the IEC submitted the final report of its 18-month investigation to the king, who ordered its publication on December 16. The commission found that 322 people had been shot dead by government troops during protests and 174 people had died in arbitrary detention. The AMDH maintained the true figures were much higher.]

Despite these highly publicized efforts to expose past infractions, allegations of post-1999 human rights abuses and acts of torture continue. The Moroccan parliament passed a new antiterrorist law within 10 days of the May 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca. 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 private dwellings and businesses without a warrant. More importantly, the law extends the time limit for incommunicado detention from three to 12 days, which greatly increases the risk of mistreatment and torture of detainees. By many accounts, in the months following the May 2003 attacks, some 2,100 persons were detained under the provisions of the 2003 antiterrorism law. Many were held in prolonged incommunicado custody and denied access to a defense lawyer. In November 2003, the UN Committee against Torture expressed its concern about reports of the increased number of detainees, including political prisoners, and increased allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Many allegations of mistreatment of detainees focused on the detention center at Témara, ten miles south of Rabat, where detainees were said to be held in secret, sometimes for months, without access to their families or the outside world. Amnesty International (AI) reported in June 2005 that alleged Islamists were systematically exposed to torture and ill treatment at the Témara center, which was operated by Morocco's internal intelligence service, the Directorate for the Surveillance of the Territory (DST), which reports directly to the palace. According to the AI report, DST personnel "are neither agents nor officers of the judicial police and are not authorized under Moroccan law to arrest, detain or question suspects." As of November 2005, of the 2,100 people who had been arrested in 2003, several hundred remained in detention. Conditions in Morocco's 46 prisons remain extremely poor, with serious problems of overcrowding, corruption, maltreatment, lack of hygiene, sexual abuse, drug abuse, and violence. Human rights groups and the press reported that several detainees died in police custody, with little or no serious investigation by the authorities.

Harsh treatment of Sahrawi militants in the disputed Western Sahara territory continues. Beginning in May 2005 and continuing the rest of the year, the Western Sahara was rocked by frequent demonstrations, especially in the one major urban center, Laayoune. Demonstrators expressed support for the Polisario Front or called for independence from Morocco. In responding to these demonstrations, local police and special urban security units used forceful measures, violence sometimes ensued, and dozens of demonstrators were arrested. Of those arrested, 14 went on trial in late fall. [Editor's note: On December 14, all 14 were convicted and given sentences ranging from six months to three years in prison.] Human rights groups alleged that some of the detainees had been tortured, none of them was allowed to call witnesses in his own defense, and seven were human rights activists who were unfairly convicted for their political views.

To provide greater protection, the Moroccan parliament passed two laws on October 20, 2005, that criminalize torture. The new laws call for a prison term of five to ten years for any civil servant who practices torture against an individual as defined by the law and sentences of 30 years to life if torture is practiced against civil servants, judges, security agents, witnesses, minors, victims, or pregnant women.

Efforts since 1990 by women's groups and liberal political forces to change the Mudawana (personal status code), which governs family and estate cases, were strongly resisted by conservative and Islamic forces. In a speech to parliament on October 10, 2003, the king tipped the balance in favor of change by presenting a plan for a new, "modern Family Law" that was "meant to free women from the injustices they endure" and that was grounded in Islamic values. Parliament ratified the new law in January 2004 with numerous amendments. The new Family Law eliminates language degrading to women, raises women's status as full partners with men, and upholds equality between husband and wife. Among the law's main improvements, the age of marriage for women was increased from 15 to 18, equal to that of men; the family is now under the joint responsibility of both spouses; the wife is no longer obliged to obey her husband; a woman can marry without the presence of a guardian; divorce laws now apply equally to men and women and can be exercised by either; polygamy is made virtually impossible; alimony payments are enforceable by the courts; and husband and wife now share property attained during marriage. The implementation of the reforms will depend on the establishment of 70 family courts and the training of judges to implement the reforms. Although citizenship still passes through the father, King Mohammed VI instructed parliament on July 30, 2005, to reform the citizenship code to allow Moroccan women to transmit their citizenship to their children. As a result, the Ministry of Justice established a commission to draw up proposals to amend the current legislation and present them to parliament.

However, even in cases in which the law provides for equal status, cultural norms often prevent a woman from exercising her rights. Moreover, the law does not ban domestic violence against women. Although sexual assault and rape outside of marriage are severely punished, most sexual crimes are unreported because of the stigma of the loss of female virginity outside of marriage. Within marriage, spousal rape is not a criminal offense.

The government has revised labor, commercial, and administrative texts to eliminate various forms of discrimination against women, including discrimination in employment and occupation. For example, a wife no longer needs her husband's permission to sign a contract, engage in business, or obtain a passport. Although women seldom hold top positions in the civil sector, they often find positions in such key sectors as public health and education, the state administration, and public companies. The new electoral code of 2002 reserved 30 seats for female candidates in the legislative elections, and there are currently 35 women in the Moroccan lower house (the Chamber of Deputies) out of 325 members, compared to only two in each of the previous two parliaments. However, there is no legislation against sexual harassment, and due to social and workplace taboos and laws heavily favoring employers, citizens rarely take action when they are victims of prejudice.

Morocco's geographic location makes it convenient as a transit center for international human trafficking. Morocco fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government made progress in its prosecution efforts in 2004 when it dismantled 423 trafficking rings and arrested 262 traffickers. In addition, Moroccan police arrested 70 Nigerian traffickers and rescued 1,460 Nigerian victims hidden by traffickers. In 2004, Morocco introduced severe punishment for promoting prostitution, pornography, sex tourism, child pornography, and child sexual abuse. Despite these efforts, some young Moroccan women are trafficked to Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

While the constitution calls for equality among all citizens, priority is given to Arab culture. Modern standard Arabic (as distinct from the Moroccan Arabic dialect) is the sole official language. While French is still used, Arabic is the primary language of national government, local administration, public media, and education. To give greater recognition to the Berber heritage of 60 percent of Morocco's population (including the royal family), the king established the publicly funded Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) in 2002. Teaching of the Berber language began in primary schools in September 2003. A year later, the teaching of Berber had expanded to 1,278 primary schools, and the government pledged to teach Berber in all public schools by 2008. These initiatives did not satisfy Berber activists, who complained that press coverage of Berber culture and official media broadcasts in Berber were too limited. Berber associations maintained that the government refused to register births for children with traditional Berber names, limited the activities of their associations, and continued to arabize the names of towns and villages.

Freedom of religion is protected by the constitution. Islam is the official state religion, and the king is designated as "Commander of the Faithful," with a responsibility to protect Islam and guarantee freedom of worship. A few thousand Moroccan Jews and 25,000 mostly expatriate Christians practice their faiths openly. However, Baha'is are not allowed to hold services, and the government restricts the distribution of Christian religious materials. Proselytizing is illegal, and the penal code allows a sentence of up to three years for attempting to convert a Muslim to another faith. Foreign missionaries are investigated, and Moroccan Muslims who convert to other religions are subject to prosecution and detention. Since the May 2003 Casablanca bombings, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments monitors the activities of mosques and provides religious training for imams, and the government strictly controls the construction of new mosques. Following the attacks, some employees in the private sector who displayed a more religious appearance were laid off from their positions. They had little legal recourse in a country experiencing fear and grief, where the perpetrators of the attacks wore the same religious garb.

Government estimates of persons with disabilities (especially polio victims) are 2.2 million, or 7 percent of the population. The government has established institutions to improve access for disabled people to various services. The Ministry of Social Affairs attempts to integrate persons with disabilities into society. For example, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in 1999 published 4,000 copies of the Quran in Braille. The government has built five acoustic libraries, while seven others are to be built as part of a program to provide universities with infrastructures for blind and amblyopic people. However, their integration is left largely to private charities, and most people with disabilities are supported by their families. Morocco has no laws to assist those with disabilities; access to buildings for the disabled is not mandated.

The constitution guarantees the rights of association, organization, and representation. Workers and professionals have a choice of membership in 19 labor unions, though only 6 percent of the country's 10 million workers belong to a union, and unions are sometimes subject to government interference. Most labor unions joined with government and business to draft a new labor code that went into effect in June 2004. The new law prohibits antiunion discrimination but also denies such public employees as members of the military, the police, and the judiciary the right to form unions. Most strikes are relatively brief; in 2004, strikes involving the teachers' union, Royal Air Maroc employees, bank officers, and healthcare professionals lasted only one to two days.

For security reasons, public gatherings and demonstrations require authorization from the Ministry of Interior, which can deny permits to prevent critics of government policies from holding meetings or peaceful sit-ins. Security police occasionally use excessive force to disperse demonstrators, as they did in Laayoune in the Western Sahara in May 2005; generally, however, the police monitor but do not hinder demonstrations.


  • The government should establish an independent body to ensure full implementation of the two 2005 laws that criminalize torture.
  • The government should establish a high-level commission to investigate human rights abuses since 1999 and to fully compensate and rehabilitate victims.
  • The government should take the necessary steps to ensure full implementation of all provisions of the 2004 Family Code.
  • A law should be adopted to protect the rights of peaceful demonstrators against the excessive use of force by the police and security police officers who violate those rights should be prosecuted without delay.
  • The government should create an environment in which women who have been assaulted and other victims can feel comfortable pressing charges against their assailants. This would include training security forces to act in a professional manner when dealing with cases of physical assault. In addition, the government should continue its efforts to fight domestic violence, expanding efforts to build outreach programs to educate men and women on the subject.

Rule of Law – 3.04

The Moroccan constitution guarantees the independence, impartiality, and fairness of the judicial system. However, Article 86 of the constitution stipulates, "the king shall preside over the Supreme Council of the Judiciary." Verdicts are pronounced in the name of the king, and public prosecution is the domain of the executive branch, not the judicial branch. In April 2004, King Mohammed VI delivered a speech in which he emphasized the necessity of shielding the magistracy from any form of influence or interference in application of the constitution, whether from the executive and legislative branches or other forms of power. Yet such measures have not been implemented, and Moroccan judges are known to give in to various forms of corruption or meddling.

Given the absence of independence in the Moroccan judicial system and the political role of the minister of justice, who has broad judicial authority enabling him to intervene, many court decisions take political factors into consideration, hence rendering the appeal process rigid and artificial. In fact, in terror-related cases and cases dealing with threats to public order, detainees are forced to turn to unconventional methods, such as hunger strikes, after conventional appeals are rejected. In turn, prosecutors, deterred by widespread corruption, continue to be reluctant about exercising their duties, despite changes in the political climate.

Article 84 of the constitution allows the king to appoint all judges by royal decree at the proposal of the Supreme Council, itself presided over by the monarch. Judges receive instruction at the National Institute of Judicial Studies, which focuses on providing them with initial training prior to their joining the corps of magistrates as well as professional development during their tenure.

In 1999, Morocco introduced the concept of an accused person's being innocent until proven guilty, along with due process principles. The presumption of innocence was first applied in 2003. However, the judicial system has been widely criticized by various Moroccan and international human rights groups for failing to "fulfill their role as a bulwark against abuse" by accepting evidence obtained through torture or coercion and allowing fabricated testimonies, arbitrary procedures, absence of witnesses, lack of proof, and other due process violations. Magistrates have been known to reject a plaintiff's grievances and allegations of torture or fabricated statements, as well as hinder the defense process, if defense lawyers are at all present. As the example of the 2004-2005 Equity and Reconciliation Commission shows, perpetrators of past abuses have not been held accountable. While the constitution clearly stipulates that all Moroccan citizens are equal and the laws guarantee the protection of all citizens, in practice preferential treatment is given to the well connected, the very wealthy, and members of the governing and business elites.

The king, who is the supreme commander of the Royal Armed Forces, appoints civil and military personnel, who report directly to him. The king retains direct control of all security-related institutions, control that is never challenged.

The Moroccan state has been reinforcing private ownership in certain sectors previously controlled and run by the state. Private ownership is legally permitted to all, whether alone or in association with others. Individuals or other entities, including foreigners, are allowed to purchase or sell their property as they see fit. The state enforces property rights of individuals or groups holding titles or written contracts. However, access to certain sectors of the economy is limited to a few families directly connected to the palace.

The state has been known to confiscate ancestral tribal land or provide little compensation for its seizure. Moreover, when disagreements arise between powerful entities and a citizen or group, the state is less likely to defend the rights of the less powerful.


  • The Moroccan judicial system should be reformed and made truly independent from interference from government circles, the royal court, and other political influences. Judges must be able to act independently and provide fair and impartial rulings, regardless of any political interest that may exist.
  • A law should be adopted to protect the rights of citizens to appeal court decisions and to prevent the intervention of the minister of justice in the appeal process.
  • The government should train security forces to act in a professional manner in dealing with cases of physical assault.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 2.14

During the nearly four decades of authoritarian rule under King Hassan II, corruption became enmeshed in the political, economic, judicial, and administrative systems – to such a degree that by his death in 1999, it was normalized and institutionalized. Corruption can be found in virtually every aspect of public life, from elections to the regulation of business to taxes.

The severity of this problem is reflected in the findings of international reporting and watchdog groups. The Economist Intelligence Unit reported in 2005 that corruption is widespread throughout the bureaucracy. Morocco's corruption ranking in Transparency International's annual reports went from the 41st percentile of 90 countries surveyed in 2000 down to the 49th percentile of 158 countries surveyed in 2005, and its score fell from 4.7 to 3.2 on a 0-10 scale from 2000 to 2005 in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The overwhelming majority of Moroccan entrepreneurs consider corruption the main obstacle to investment and economic development, and widespread corruption has seriously eroded public confidence in authority.

To confront the significant level of corruption, the government of Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi (1998-2002) gave the issue a high public priority and in 1999 made the fight against corruption official policy. The NGO Transparency Morocco, a branch of Transparency International, was allowed to raise the issue of corruption and to make public its findings for the first time. In a July 2004 report, this NGO described the bribery of officials, including the judiciary, as a serious obstacle to human progress. Since 1999, corruption has been routinely and explicitly discussed and denounced in the press and in various conferences and workshops. In reporting that would previously have been censored, the press now writes critical articles about government corruption.

Nevertheless, legal protections are lacking for whistle-blowers, anticorruption activists, and investigators who report on cases of bribery and corruption. Despite the existence of anticorruption laws, persons who dig too deep into off-limits topics – Islam, the monarchy, territorial integrity (namely, the Western Sahara issue), trafficking by senior officials – are arrested and prosecuted. This was the fate of Hamid Naimi, editor of the weekly Kawaliss Rif (Stories of the Rif), who was convicted in March 2005 on several libel counts in cases dating back to 1998. These closed cases were reactivated after Naimi published an article in November 2004 about the embezzlement of public funds by officials in Nador on Morocco's Mediterranean coast. A Nador court sentenced him to three years in prison and a fine of approximately $50,000.

Corruption is widespread in higher education. The state has not implemented protection for higher education against corruption. University professors are hired primarily through personal connections rather than on merit, and it is not uncommon for some professors to share exams with, or give good grades to, family members or favorite students.

Morocco lacks an effective internal audit system to ensure accountability of tax collection. While taxes are withheld from all salaried employees, the many Moroccans who work professionally in the private sector or operate in the vast informal or underground economy routinely conceal part or all of their income without fear of audit.

No adequate financial disclosure procedures are in place to prevent conflicts of interest among public officials. The public and the media do not have ready access to information about the assets of public officials. Morocco has no freedom-of-information law, and access to information continues to be limited. An International Research & Exchanges Board (IREX) report of November 2005 revealed the existence of an array of laws and administrative procedures that obstruct access to legitimate information and data. Various government ministries have broadened the scope of information available on their websites for public access and are providing capacity to allow complaints to be filed, including corruption charges. The Ministry of Modernization of the Public Sector was charged with developing a plan to fight corruption, and in May 2005 it issued a draft of "The Plan of Action to Fight Corruption." This ambitious 38-page plan outlines many areas of action to fight corruption, including placing online government services and information for citizens to use in order to lodge complaints of corruption. It also provides links to a database of laws and decrees, of civil administration personnel information, statutes, and the like to which the public can have access.

New anticorruption laws have been enacted and existing codes have been upgraded since 1998. In the last few years, the government has disciplined and prosecuted hundreds of magistrates and police agents accused of corruption. In August 2004, for example, the Supreme Council of the Judiciary began disciplinary proceedings against 14 judges and eventually dismissed two of them and retired four more. For the most part, however, the anticorruption measures and efforts at prosecution have targeted petty corruption. Investigations into corruption generally do not go beyond a certain level in the state hierarchy. An exception was the prosecution in July 2004 of two senior local government officials in Casablanca; they were charged with diverting funds for public housing while they were working within the powerful Ministry of Interior in the 1990s. The first case in which magistrates were prosecuted for corruption was that of Abdelkader Younsi and Mohamed Farid Benazzouz in Tetuan in March 2005; as of November 2005, their case was still pending.

Drug trafficking in the north of Morocco along the Mediterranean coast remains a major source of corruption. In response to high demand for drugs in Europe, drug lords engage in smuggling and the bribery of judges, magistrates, and high security and customs officials, amassing power and influence. Despite government efforts to act against smuggling rings and police corruption in the northern provinces in 2004, drug trafficking, with its elaborate production, distribution, and protection networks, continues to thrive and is an important component of a vibrant multibillion-dollar underground economy.

It is illegal in Morocco to offer or accept bribes. In April 2005, the Government Council adopted the UN Convention against Corruption, which Morocco had signed in 2003. Notwithstanding these legal strictures, the problem of major corruption in Morocco has yet to be seriously confronted. The problem has deep political roots and involves powerful entrenched interests, including the armed forces and big business. From the 1970s through the 1990s, prominent urban families with close ties to the monarchy used their high position in government and the public sector to amass huge private fortunes. Morocco's best public companies were exploited for private gains, and billions of dollars were embezzled in the public sector. These families established and maintain a monopoly over key sectors of the economy, and the legacy of corruption from the period of King Hassan II continues to plague Morocco.


  • The government should expand the present focus on the prosecution of petty corruption to include the prosecution of major corruption.
  • The judiciary should be empowered to fight corruption at all levels, regardless of a person's position of power.
  • The government must allow full public access to official information.
  • The government should establish legal protections for whistleblowers, anticorruption activists, and investigators who report on cases of bribery and corruption.


John Damis is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University. He is the author of numerous publications on the politics and international relations of North Africa, including the Western Sahara.

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