On Thursday, June 5, 2008 the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted a roundtable discussion with Ahmed Herzenni, the president of the Royal Advisory Council on Human Rights, and Fatiha Layadi, a member of the Moroccan parliament. The speakers provided insights gleaned from their efforts to advance civil and political rights in Morocco, and debated the next steps in the process of political reform.
Herzenni explained that the Royal Advisory Council on Human Rights was created to address abuses committed by Morocco’s past regimes and to recommend reforms needed to prevent such abuses from recurring. He said the Council has indemnified and rehabilitated 12,000 victims and 45,000 relatives of victims. The Council also provides rehabilitation and training services to help victims and their relatives to re-enter Moroccan society in both economic and social terms.
Herzenni proposed several recommendations for achieving greater civil and political rights in Morocco. These include: ensuring that the judiciary is independent from the other branches of the government; curbing the size and autonomy of the security services; and insisting that Morocco’s many political parties institute internal reforms to improve their ability to mobilize and operate effectively within Morocco’s constitutional framework. He hopes that Morocco ultimately can transform from a “delegative” to an institutional democracy, but said that more needs to be done to achieve this transformation.
Layadi said empowering women in the political arena remains a problem in Morocco. Only 37 women serve in the parliament and there is only a single female mayor in the entire country. While there is a legal and political commitment to sex equality, she said that men are often the ones who enforce and implement the laws, leaving women vulnerable to discrimination. She outlined four areas of particular concern for Morocco’s future: the availability and quality of education; access to quality healthcare; the fair administration of justice; and the alleviation of poverty.
The discussion after the speakers’ presentations focused on four issues: the possibility and utility of constitutional reform in Morocco; the need for reforming Morocco’s political parties; the inequalities faced by Moroccan women; and the ability of the Royal Advisory Council on Human Rights to carry out its duties unimpeded.
Herzenni said he would not object to reforming the constitution, but expressed doubt that such reforms were necessary. He said that, in order to advance civil and political rights, Morocco needs the right political actors to work within the existing constitution. Herzenni argued that the political parties need to reform themselves to become stronger and better able to use the opportunities provided by the political system.
Layadi said that Morocco should have a smaller number of stronger political parties than it has today. She said that, prior to implementing constitutional reforms, Morocco’s political parties must improve themselves. She said that the political parties are fractured, lack internal democracy, and are therefore weak. The impotence of the political parties contributes to the sense among average Moroccans that who is in charge matters less than who one knows.
Layadi said that the issue of women’s equality, while a national concern, is more pronounced in rural areas. Outside of cities, large numbers of girls do not enjoy the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts. This in turn prevents them from entering the work force and taking full advantage of new economic opportunities. She said that women’s health in rural regions of the country remains particularly poor.
Herzenni said that King Mohamed VI clearly stated to him that there were no red lines preventing the Advisory Council from carrying out its responsibilities. In practice, he said that no one ever tried to interfere with the Council or prevent it from completing its work, but that has not meant every state institution collaborated as well as the Council had hoped.