In Morocco, The Arab Spring's Mixed Bounty On Feb. 20, 2011, Moroccans took to the streets in protest in a country considered one of the most stable in the region. King Mohammed VI acted quickly, offering constitutional reforms and early elections. But progress toward democracy has also revealed the limits of civil disobedience.

In Morocco, The Arab Spring's Mixed Bounty

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. In recent weeks, we've been marking the first anniversaries of the Arab Spring uprisings: Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen. Well, on February 20th, 2011, Moroccans took to the streets in a country that's considered one of the most stable in the region.

CORNISH: King Mohammed VI moved quickly to placate protesters. He offered constitutional reforms and called early elections, but NPR's Deborah Amos reports that progress there towards democracy has also revealed the limits of civil disobedience.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Look for reasons for unrest in Morocco and you can find some answers here, riding on a golf cart in the historic town of Marrakech. The rentals at this exclusive resort are all five star, large villas with extra room for a full time butler and a chauffer.

The clientele are very rich, says Mustapha, who directs the tour, pointing out the lake, the spa and the 18-hole golf course.

MUSTAPHA: (Unintelligible) they have the money. They live very good.

AMOS: This place is called the Secret Garden, but it's no secret that the gap between rich and poor is one of the widest in the Arab world. Fifteen percent of the population lives on two dollars a day. The literacy rate is little more than 50 percent, and say political analysts here, there's a lack of opportunity and a lack of hope among the young.

Just a short drive from the golf course is another Morocco with no electricity or running water. This is a neighborhood in the middle of an olive grove. The roads are unpaved. The houses are made of concrete block and mud. This woman is sweeping away whatsever(ph) outside of her house with branches. This is the poor part of Morocco.

And poverty is one of the many issues that ignited the region's revolts. The spark here came when a group of young Moroccans called for demonstrations on February 20, 2011 with this YouTube video.

They stated their motives for the street march demanded freedom, equality and, for the first time, directly challenged the absolute powers of the king, says businessman Karim Tazi, who joined the march.

KARIM TAZI: No one wanted to get rid of the king, but they want a different Morocco. They don't want an authoritarian one.

AMOS: They want a symbolic monarchy, more like Britain or Spain, says economist Fouad Abdelmoumni. A parliament with powers, a democracy, he says, not through revolution as in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, but through reform.

FOUAD ABDELMOUMNI: We have a whole generation that is beginning to have faith that they could lead their life and change their situation.

AMOS: A year after the first demonstrations, reforms offered by the king are being tested. The head of the new government is an Islamist. His justice and development party, the PJD, won the most votes in November, but the king and his advisors still retain substantial power, says Abdelmoumni, and can stall proposals of the PJD.

ABDELMOUMNI: Will they be able to change the mindsets where corruption, nepotism is the basic behavior of the states.

AMOS: That's the election promise, anyway, says Abdelmoumni, and party officials have already pledged to disclose the list of Moroccans who've benefited from a system known as grima, a French word that, in Morocco, means favors bestowed by the king.

ABDELMOUMNI: They will pay the price if they decide to go strongly against corruption and they will pay the price if they don't go far enough because the population is expecting a lot.


AMOS: This population expects jobs. Unemployed college graduates protest every week in the capitol. They shocked the country a few weeks ago when five set themselves on fire. Three were hospitalized and one died, upping the ante on dissent.

The new government's strategy is to grow the economy and curb corruption, but Ahmed Benchemsi says that could lead to a collision with entrenched interests, the elites connected to the king.

Benchemsi is the former publisher of a popular news magazine, now a visiting scholar at Stanford University's Center on Democracy. In a visit home to Rabat, he explained that much of the economy is controlled by the monarch.

AHMED BENCHEMSI: And he is the number one grocer. He's the number one farmer. He's the number one land owner. He's the number one steel producer, sugar producer.

AMOS: And, he says, despite the new constitution, the king can still block any law he dislikes. There are limits to the changes won by the protest movement a year ago, says Benchemsi, and you hear the same critique across the region of the young protesters who brought so many to the streets.

BENCHEMSI: This should have worked like a political movement, but the thing is, the protest movement in Morocco is not a political movement. It's just a bunch of kids who dream about democracy, which is a beautiful thing, but it's not enough to shake a deeply rooted system like the Moroccan monarchy.

AMOS: The demand in Morocco was to shake up the system, not destroy it, but if the government and the king fail to deliver soon, say analysts here, the next confrontation could be tougher against the monarchy itself.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.


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