This past Sunday, two days after the bespectacled and besuited King Mohammed VI of Morocco announced his plan for constitutional reforms, several thousand protesters hit the streets of a rundown Casablanca neighbourhood. For some, particularly the pro-democracy February 20 Movement, the proposed changes — the creation of an independent judiciary, and the relinquishing of control over most executive powers, with the exception of military and religious matters — were simply not sweeping enough.
“Most of what he introduced is already in the current constitution,” says the Casablanca-based February 20 Movement activist, Zakaria, who asked to be referred to by his first name only. “I was expecting a real separation of power, a real parliamentary monarchy. A parliamentary monarchy wouldn’t give the head of state all those powers he is still holding on to.” Zakaria attributes the lack of significant change to the current state of the Arab Spring, now mired either in violence or sobering bureaucratic realities. “The pressure the King felt in March, when our protests triggered the announcement of his decision to overhaul the constitution, is just no longer there,” he said.
Despite the seemingly disheartening state, members of the February 20 Movement — named after the first countrywide protest — still hit the streets in the blistering heat last weekend demanding “Freedom! Dignity! Democracy!”. Nearby, however, Zakaria and his colleagues were met with intense opposition. Hundreds of recently anointed “pro-constitution” activists, dutifully enshrouded in ruby red Moroccan flags, championed on bullhorns their love and affection for King Mohammed VI.
As the day slipped into the early evening, the pro-government protesters’ numbers were further emboldened. Pick-up trucks loaded with loudspeakers and MCs, microphones in hand, swung past metal barricades guarded by plainclothed and uniformed policemen to join the rally. Their voices blaring out of the stacked speakers, ricocheted against dusty white Art Deco buildings, calling on spectators in their balconied apartments, and men drinking tea in sidewalk cafés, to say: “Yes to the constitution!” The slogan has now become commonplace on Moroccan airwaves as pro-government supporters are in a drive to have the population sign off on the King’s constitutional reforms, which will be put to a referendum on 1 July.
The King looks poised to get a majority of votes for his amendments, which despite keeping a tight grip on political and religious power, emboldens the position of the prime minister. Nonetheless, February 20 Movement activists are still going strong. On Wednesday, via Facebook, they called for nationwide peaceful protests in several Moroccan cities, citing their “demands to achieve democracy, dignity, and social justice.”
Adding to the call, Zakaria says, “Those in charge need to realise we will continue to make our needs clear until we see a change.”