Morocco’s 2011 Constitution: A Shining Example of Democratic Reform?

Now that the international human rights conference has ended, we wanted to draw your attention to the work of another one of our researchers, Francesco Biagi.

Dr. Francesco Biagi

Dr. Francesco Biagi

In addition to his work at the CCSDD, Dr. Biagi is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Bologna. His paper on constitutional reform in Morocco was just published by the Jean Monnet Chair, part of the Institute for European Studies (IES) at the University of Malta. You can find his work here. In October 2013, Dr. Biagi presented this paper at an IES conference at the University of Malta, where he spoke as part of a panel called “Constitution Writing and Consolidation of Democracy in the EU’s Mediterranean Neighborhood”. Dr. Biagi’s co-panelists were Dr. Michael Frendo, former Speaker of Maltese Parliament, Dr. Nasser Faraj Algheitta of Azzaytuna University in Libya, and Professor Ali Tekin of Yaşar University in Izmir, Turkey.

In “The 2011 Constitutional Reform in Morocco: More Flaws than Merits”, Dr. Biagi asserts that despite the attestations of some prominent Western political leaders, representatives of the European Union institutions, the mainstream media, and even a section of the literature, Morocco’s 2011 constitutional reform should not be considered a model in the region. Instead, he argues that this reform is characterized by some major democratic deficits.

We sat down with Dr. Biagi to discuss his work on Morocco, and his thoughts on the future of the uprisings in the Arab world.

Why did Morocco begin a process of constitutional reform in 2011?

King Mohammed VI decided to grant a new Constitution to the people in order to appease the public’s dissatisfaction and thus calm down the protests that had started to break out in Morocco after 20 February 2011 – the date from which the eponymous “Mouvement du 20 Février” took its name. However, it is important to note that these uprisings involved fewer demonstrators compared to other countries involved in the Arab uprisings such as Tunisia and Egypt. In the beginning, the majority of Moroccans were happy to have the King grant a new Constitution, but now there is a sense of frustration because many parts of the new document have not been implemented.

Why do some consider Morocco’s new Constitution to be exemplary of democratic progress, and how do you disagree with this common characterization?

Some prominent Western political leaders, the representatives of the European Union institutions, the mainstream media, and even a section of the literature tend to praise the process of democratic reform carried out by Mohammed VI, and often consider Morocco as a model for the other North African and Middle Eastern countries. In my opinion, this does not correspond to the truth. On the one hand, it is true that the new Constitution introduced some very important democratic novelties. However, on the other hand, it did not turn the country into a real democracy. Morocco remains a hybrid regime, i.e. a regime that combines elements of typical of authoritarian regime and elements typical of a democracy.
Describe some of the 2011 Constitution’s flaws.

In the constitution-making process, for example, one of the major weaknesses is the fact that the Constitution was directly granted by the King. It was not the result of a democratically-elected constituent assembly. Indeed, the commission who wrote this Constitution was entirely appointed by the Sovereign. Therefore, it can be considered as an example of an octroyée constitution. Moreover, the work of this commission was too rapid and characterized by a lack of transparency.

But the Constitution was ratified by 98% of Moroccans in a popular referendum.

In my opinion, this consultation was much more similar to an authoritarian plebiscite than a democratic referendum. In the two weeks running up to the consultation, the Monarch took every effort to promote the reform as much as possible, and strongly restricted the space for those who wanted to boycott the vote. This is why it was ratified by 98% of the population. Moreover, on election day, reports of fraud were reported all over the country. Thus, there was never going to be any doubt over the referendum result.

How did the 2011 Constitution differ from the 1996 one?

The 2011 Constitution is characterized by both discontinuity and continuity with the previous 1996 Constitution. It is characterized by discontinuity because the new Constitution recognizes and grants new fundamental rights and freedoms which were not guaranteed in the previous Constitution, and gives a lot of new powers to the Parliament and to the Prime Minister. Moreover, the judiciary is now more independent compared to the past.

It should be noted, however, that the 2011 Constitution is also characterized by continuity because the King remains the master of the political game. He continues to have almost absolute powers. So Morocco did not turn into a parliamentary monarchy. Morocco remained an executive monarchy: the King reins but also governs the country.

How has the implementation process gone?

One of the main challenges that Morocco has to face now refers to the process of constitutional implementation. Unfortunately, in many important parts, the new Constitution has not been implemented, at least until now. Therefore, all efforts should now be concentrated on the implementation of the most innovative parts of the Constitution, particularly those related to the independence of the judiciary, constitutional review, territorial decentralization, Amazigh as an official State language, and good governance.

At the very least, does the peaceful nature of the Moroccan reform process leave you hopeful for democratic transitions in other Arab countries?

First of all I have to say that I do not like the expression “Arab Spring”, because it is based on the presumption that the processes of transition will be successful, that these countries will become real democracies. On the contrary, we always have to remember that transition processes are characterized by uncertainty, in particular with respect to their outcome, and therefore it is absolutely too early to say these countries will become full-fledged democracies. At the moment I am quite skeptical about the future of the transitions in North Africa and in the Middle East. Probably the only positive exception is Tunisia.

How does your research on Morocco fit into your larger work at the CCSDD?

My research on Morocco is part of the CCSDD project on “Transitional Law and the Challenge of the Arab Spring”. In general, I am very interested in transitional countries: my PhD thesis, for example, was about the role played by constitutional courts in the processes of transition from authoritarian rule to democratic regimes. My case studies were Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic.

How did you get interested in Morocco in particular?

All started when I was a student. I graduated from the University of Bologna (“laurea triennale”) with a thesis in Islamic law. In particular, I analyzed the 2004 reform of family law in Morocco.  The same year I spent three weeks in Morocco on vacation: it was love at first sight.

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1 Response to Morocco’s 2011 Constitution: A Shining Example of Democratic Reform?

  1. Pingback: ConstitutionNet Features Biagi’s Work on the 2011 Moroccan Constitution | CCSDD Intern Blog

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