x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Moroccan monarch over Arab Spring but is set to face far more challenges

The challenges facing Morocco's king, Iranian influence in Yemen and US interference in Egypt.

The years 1999 and 2011 will remain engraved in the memory of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Taoufik Bouachrine wrote in an article posted on the Moroccan news website Febrayer.

In the summer of 1999, Mohammed VI acceded to the throne on the death of his father King Hassan II after a 38-year-long reign.

"He came to power as a blank slate and tried to follow a unique path. He started by cleaning the house, and embarked on vigorous tours across the kingdom in a bid to right the social wrongs of King Hassan II's legacy."

Many observers, at home and abroad, thought that the son would not fill the void left by father. But they were wrong.

In his early days in office, Mohammed VI said he was different from his father and that time would prove it.

However, not only did he retain all the powers of his predecessor, he added to them. He ruled by Hassan II's constitution for 12 years without a change until February 2011, when the winds of the Arab Spring blew in.

The youth who opened their eyes to what was going on under Mohammed VI, and knew nothing about his father's rule, took to the streets to seek a parliamentary monarchy and deep reforms that exceeded by far the demands of political parties that had been stagnant since the 1970s.

The monarchy was on the edge of sliding into a new authoritarianism following the advent of the palace-favoured Authenticity and Modernity Party, the re-emergence of human rights violations, and attempts at muzzling the independent press.

Before February 20, it was the calm before the storm. Youngsters in many cities demonstrated in favour of a new constitution, a new government and new political, economic and media environments.

What unfolded in Morocco was not similar to the other Arab countries. The authorities decided, since day one, against bloodletting, and elected to deal softly with the demands via response at times and containment at others.

"Mohammed VI did not lose time. On March 9 - 17 days after the start of the Moroccan Spring - he delivered a speech to the people, ceding some of the major powers inherited from his father and pledged a new constitution … and a new chapter for Morocco."

The speech came as a shock to many. "The king brought down the regime," commented a Moroccan newspaper.

The constitution of July 2011 was less ambitious than the March 9 speech, but the November elections were the most transparent ever, and led to the formation of a government led by and Islamist opposition party.

Thus, reform within stability was the closest recipe to the country's "conservative mood", the writer noted.

And now, the palace faces many challenges "to stoke the boilers of the reform train with fuel enough to keep it rolling".

Iran spying in Yemen isn't the whole story

The Yemeni interior ministry announced two weeks ago the arrest of an Iranian spy network, managed by a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer, that has been operating in the country for seven years.

Commenting in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat this week, columnist Mohammed Jumaih wrote: "Yemen's national security bodies have previously arrested groups and individuals on charges of spying for Iran, taking pictures of sensitive maritime and land infrastructures, and relaying important information to Iranian intelligence."

But spying is not the only shady activity that Iran has been undertaking in Yemen, the columnist added. Tehran also provides support in money and weapons to the rebellious Houthis in the country's north, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

"And the Houthis, in turn, support the separatists in the south, as their spokesman recently confirmed," he noted.

And since the Yemeni uprising started, unseating the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Iran has endeavoured to "stall the process of political transition" and spoil the Gulf states' initiative in supporting change.

"Iran is interested in Yemen owing to the latter's Zaydi Shiite minority … that Iran wants to convert to its vilayat-e faqih system [allegiance to the supreme leader] through its Houthi proxies."

These truths have become embarrassingly bare.

America must accept Egypt's emancipation

Lately, American officials have been behaving as if Egypt were a US protectorate. They continue to dictate their directives to the authorities in Cairo in what can only be qualified as a blatant interference in the country's internal affairs, said Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor of the London-based daily Al Quds Al Arabi.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Leon Panetta, the defence secretary, have been quite verbal with their injunctions regarding the duties of the newly elected Egyptian president and the shape and composition of the awaited government.

"It was believed that this is an approach gone obsolete with the ouster of the former Mubarak regime, but it seems to be still in use and there are those who believe that it could continue even in the era of the revolution," he said.

The US administration refuses to admit that Egypt has witnessed a solemn, popular revolution to rid itself of a dictatorship that, for four decades, submitted shamelessly to Washington's will and implemented its politics.

"Egypt has broken free from the jougs. Its people, who boast an 8,000-year-old civilisation, don't need any lectures from Mrs Clinton or Mr Panetta. What the people need is their daily bread but not without their pride, an ingredient that could hardly be found in US recipes," the writer said.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk