x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A step forward with Morocco's new constitution

News of a planned constitutional referendum in Morocco, designed by King Mohammed VI and making some concessions to popular opinion, reminds us that compromise is another way forward.

A revolution does not have to be violent to bring about change. As protests have been met by force in several Arab countries, Morocco seems to offer another model. After three months of talks between various Moroccan civil society activists and political parties, on Friday King Mohammed VI announced a new draft constitution that should - in part - transform the kingdom into a constitutional monarchy.

King Mohammed's proposed constitution, if approved, would bestow sweeping powers on an elected prime minister. It would pare some of the king's absolute executive powers, such as the selection of the prime minister, governors and members of the Council of Ministers. Some of these powers would be transferred to the prime minister, who would be elevated to the title of head of government.

It is too early to say to what extent this will reform the political process but it is surely a significant step in the right direction. The redistribution of powers should empower the cabinet, Parliament and the judiciary - and ultimately the people.

"[The reforms] will lay the basis for an efficient constitutional system whose core elements are the balance, independence and separation of powers," King Mohammed said, "whose foremost goal is the freedom and dignity of citizens." On July 1, citizens will have a chance to approve or reject the charter in a referendum.

There are already opponents who say this does not go far enough, particularly because the king retains control of the army. But if implemented, this new charter could have sweeping consequences. A more independent judiciary would help fight high-level corruption, a widespread concern, and hold officials who perform poorly accountable. It is also significant that the new constitution guarantees human rights, such as fair trials and the principle of innocent until proven guilty; criminalises torture, forced disappearances and arbitrary detention; and enshrines freedom of expression. These have been core grievances among Arab youths and a root cause of discontent.

But the move could also be seen as transitional. "I think it's progressive," Mbarka Bouaida, a member of parliament from Casablanca told the Associated Press. "Probably we will need another constitution in 10 or 15 years, but we must go through this one first and give time for the political parties to be strengthened."

The king is widely seen as a reformer, who planted the seeds of change before uprisings swept the region this year. Morocco could emerge, we hope, as a model for peaceful reform, as opposed to the Syrian and Libyan templates.