World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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Into the Second Decade: Morocco under King Muhammad VI - Pre-organized panel
 

· Institution: University of Nebraska-Omaha (USA)

· Organizer: Moshe Gershovich

· Language: English

· Status: CLOSED

· Description: Ten years after ascending to the Moroccan throne in the summer of 1999, King Muhammad VI has gradually distanced himself from the long shadow of his late father, Hassan II. No longer regarded as the ‘new king,’ M6, as he is often referred to by his younger subjects, has quietly yet persistently transformed Morocco, reshaping it in his own image. Politically, socially, and culturally, Morocco today is a different country than it was a decade ago. Dating back to the mid 17th century, the Sharifian dynasty of the Alawis is the oldest in the contemporary Middle East. However, while Muhammad VI is the successor to a long chain of Moroccan rulers, he also reigns over a dynamic multi-party system and he has pledged a commitment for greater ‘democratization’ and political freedom. Still, concerns over the rising power of Islamism and the specter of religiously-driven domestic violence sparked by disenfranchised youth have compromised that commitment, as manifested by the May 16, 2003 attacks in Casablanca. Meanwhile, the structural socio-economic challenges confronting the country continue to mount.

Chair: Mark Sedgwick, Aaahus University

Paper presenter: Daniel Zisenwine, Tel Aviv University, Towards a Transformed Political System?: Moroccan Politics Under Muhammad VI
The first paper considers the transformation of the political system under Muhammad VI. It argues that King Muhammad's accession to the throne was met by expectations at home and abroad for a greater degree of political pluralism, which would bolster the position of political parties within the political system. The new king’s statements on the need to address the kingdom's political ailments suggested that Morocco was on the cusp of a new political era. Focusing on developments within Moroccan politics throughout king Muhammad's first decade in power, the paper outlines the changing political system in Morocco and highlights new political players that have come to the fore in recent years. It assesses the impact of these developments on the Moroccan public, and its position towards the political system. The paper draws on a wide range of primary sources, including statements and interviews with key political figures. It analyzes a changing political reality that could be relevant to other political settings beyond Morocco.

Paper presenter: Abdelilah Bouasria, Monterey Institute of International Studies, The other 'Commander of the faithful': Morocco's King Mohammed VI's religious policy
The second paper explores the different facets of Morocco’s religious policy. It argues that Mohammed VI is a religious reformer who still holds to the much-antique role of ‘commander of the faithful’ to subdue politically a big portion of a conservative population. The paper considers how the king’s ministry of religious affairs operates and discusses specific religious events in today’s Morocco such as the attack on Moroccan converts to Shii doctrine, in the same way Hassan II staged a condemnation of the Moroccan Baha’i converts, or the appointment of Ahmed Toufiq, a Sufi historian, as a minister of religious affairs. It also analyzes the conflict between the Moroccan Islamist movement Al Adl wal Ihsane (AWI) and the Moroccan palace, underlining the major steps of the chronology of a clash. Is Morocco’s new religious policy revolutionary or reactionary’ This paper will answer this question by looking not only at new policies and occurrences of the Moroccan palace in the ‘religious sphere’ but also at new occurrences in spheres known to be outside of the religious realm.

Paper presenter: Moshe Gershovich, University of Nebraska-Omaha, The Emergence of the “New Press” and the Delimitation of Free Speech in Morocco under Muhammad VI
The third paper examines the shaping and delimitation of free speech in Morocco under Muhammad VI. It assesses the progress made and the setbacks incurred by the ‘new press’ that began to emerge during the late 1990s. The paper focuses on the first year of Muhammad VI’s reign, during which great expectations were raised for rapid transition towards a freer and more transparent political discourse. At the center of analysis is the French-language weekly Demain, which started publication in March 2000. Its name represented a hope for a better ‘tomorrow’ for Morocco under the new king. Promising to set new journalistic standards in content and form alike, Demain’s founding editor Ali Lemrabet soon found himself in legal troubles as he constantly treaded the fine line of permissible speech. Eventually, after numerous cases of temporary suspension of publication, Lemrabet was forced to terminate Demain. He was subsequently sentenced to a long jail sentence, thus becoming a symbol of the continued struggle for freedom of the press, human and civil rights in Morocco. Looking at the short and turbulent history of Demain should serve as a good departure point for a serious discussion about the continued struggle for free press in Morocco today, as experienced by other French and Arabic language publications, which continue to appear on a more or less regular basis.

Paper presenter: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Tel Aviv University, The Amazigh Factor: Muhammad VI and the Amazigh (Berber) Culture Movement
The fourth and final paper offers a critical examination of one of King Muhammad VI's most visible policy initiatives, the recognition of Morocco's Amazigh population as a collective entity central to Moroccan history and culture. The combination of a decade of Berber intellectual and cultural activism and the predilections and needs at the top of Morocco’s political system produced two seminal developments during the first two years of Muhammad’s reign: the publication on March 1, 2000 of the ''Berber Manifesto,'' signed by more than 200 Amazigh intellectuals, and the issuing on October 17, 2001 of a Royal Dahir establishing the Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM). The activities of the IRCAM are the subject of ongoing debate within the Amazigh movement. Was the King's patronage just another typical example of makhzen tactics designed to co-opt and neutralize potential opposition? Did the costs, real and potential, of accepting the royal embrace outweigh the benefits of official support for Amazigh identity? Alternatively, was an effective division of labor emerging, in which the promotion of Amazigh identity could be advanced both within and outside of the establishment, making the Amazigh movement one of the main beneficiaries of the State's need for societal allies in the face of increased political and social challenges? This paper will examine the motivations and implementation of the Palace-Amazigh Culture Movement alliance from both the King's perspective, and from the various sections of the movement, and evaluate the results and its implications for the Moroccan body politic.