Friday, May 29, 2015


Like most of North Africa – actually, upon reflection, like all of North Africa – Morocco was once a part of the French empire, until it became a protectorate in 1912, though it still has a king. Until the “Arab Spring” of 2011, Morocco did not have the word “democracy” in its dictionary, though it liked to play the role of peacemaker on the world stage. Very ironic this, as there are few regimes in the world more ruthless in their suppression of any kind of opposition, whether the naïve fools who think to set up political parties, or simply individuals who fall foul of the ruling demagoguery; and when bombs went off in Casablanca in 2003, it was a very convenient excuse to make things even tougher, with anti-terrorism laws and attacks on whatever the Moroccan dictionary definition of “extremists” might be, given just how extreme the monarchy is.

After the “Arab Spring”, trades unions began to try out their voices, or at least their whispers, but it's difficult to protest when the king is using the age-old strategy of fake liberalism to cover up the reality of his regime. The introduction of Mudawana, or mudawwanah al-aḥwāl al-shakhṣiyyah in full, provides the country with a family code that ostensibly gives greater equality to women, though conservative Moslems have condemned it, probably because human rights activists have applauded it. The king has also named himself “the guardian of the poor”, which is fine in theory, but still waits to be made manifest in practice.

The other outcome of the “Arab Spring” was a referendum on a new constitution, which people voted for in massive numbers, though clearly most of them hadn’t actually read it, as all it did was give more power to the Prime Minister and Parliament, without inhibiting in any way the royal prerogative of veto and dismissal. The governing party is the Islamist Justice and Development Party, a “moderate Islamist party” according to the CIA, though a meaningful definition of "moderate Islam" has yet to be offered by anyone. The concept sounds like a contradiction in terms, and probably is, though in fact the government is a coalition so wide-ranging in its composition that one cannot imagine it ever agreeing anything that will need the king to veto or dismiss – conservative monarchists seated next to liberals is all very well, but socialists and communists, radical Moslems and, before it quit, the Istiqlal party, which is Morocco’s version of UKIP, except that what it wants to be rid of is not the whole EU, just France. Several ministers in the Cabinet have been appointed by the king rather than the PM, so it would be interesting to hear a conversation taking place around that table – a phrase which I imagine the king uses regularly, when he summons said ministers to keep him appropriately briefed.

Historically it is Morocco which gave its name to the Moors, who also inhabited Sicily, Malta, the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, and most of the Maghreb - think of Othello, the Moor of Venice. A mixture of Berbers and Arabs who had embraced Islam at the time of the Umayyad dynasty, we tend to think of them as part of that "primitive" and "Infidel" "barbarianism" against whom the Crusaders fought for several centuries, but actually Moorish culture was probably the most sophisticated in the history of the world until that time, and its indirect influence upon the European "Enlightenment" is so vast that it would be worth writing a book about - which, by strange coincidence, I have done, though a publication date has not yet been set. For a preview click here.


Marks for: 709 (the year the Moors arrived in Spain)

Marks against: 1492 (the final expulsion of Islam from Spain)

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