By Conor Godfrey, on April 20, 2011
Oh the internet.
Sometimes it helps homophobic crazy people find other homophobic crazy people; sometimes it organizes revolutions to topple dictators; and sometimes, just sometimes, it organizes an orderly, open debate on the challenges facing a rapidly changing society.
For the last several centuries, Morocco has been the sleepy cousin of the Arab world.
Their Arabic dialect is difficult for other Arabs to understand; their beautiful country is better known for rugs and hashish then political turmoil; and for the most part, they have mostly stayed off Al-Jazzera during the putative Arab Spring.
Well, it turns out that Moroccan internet users, of which there are 10,442,500 – 33.4% of the population, have been channeling some of their political energies into a novel website created by two Moroccans– http://www.reforme.ma/en.
On this website, Moroccans can explore the proposed constitutional changes proposed by King Mohamed VI, and comment on any of the articles of the constitution.
ANY of the articles are up for discussion; including the first– “Morocco shall have a democratic, social and constitutional Monarchy.”
A bit of a sensitive one, that.
In fact, Moroccans have taken to online political commentary with gusto, leaving comments about article one left and right—Jeune Afrique reported that to date about 6,000 people have voted for the text of the first article , and nearly 2,000 users have voiced dissatisfaction.
I assume there is a bit of web censorship to make sure people don’t leave extreme comments, but I spent some time reading the various comments and I assure you that the debate is real, and the exchange of ideas meaningful.
When Morocco has made the news for public protests. the demonstrators have been fewer in number, peaceful, and full of better-than-average poster slogans such as “No to the Economic Oligarchy,” and “All citizens, no subjects.”
Many of the demonstrators openly support the monarch—very very few call for his downfall.
There are two ways to look at this I suppose.
A) King Mohammed VI manipulated the public expertly, offering just enough reform to calm public anger, but escaped without having to make substantive changes to his position,
B) this is simply how peaceful change comes about.
Actually, I think it is both.
Power concedes nothing voluntarily.
The bureaucracy of changing the constitution might water down the impact of the change over time, but there is no going back.
King Mohamed saw how quickly calls in the Bahraini or Yemeni streets turned from “Reform! Reform!” to “Get ‘em out!”
When history writes the story of the Arab world’s modern awakening, Morocco might just emerge as the country that gradually liberalized and developed while everyone else was looking the other way.