Morocco's king keeps strong hand despite reforms

Sun Nov 4, 2012 9:59am GMT

By Alistair Lyon

RABAT (Reuters) - Unlike other Arab leaders challenged on the streets early last year, King Mohammed VI swiftly reformed Morocco's constitution, held an election and let an Islamist party lead the government.

His response smothered popular ferment, drew plaudits from the West and seemed to set Morocco on a more democratic course, but 20 months on it is unclear how much power has changed hands.

Le Matin, an establishment French-language daily, still devotes its first half dozen pages to the doings of the monarch and his advisers before the elected government gets a mention.

The Islamist prime minister, Abdelillah Benkirane, still has his office in the vast precincts of the royal palace in Rabat.

For now, his Justice and Development Party (PJD), whose success in an October 2011 election brought it into government for the first time, insists political cohabitation is thriving.

"Morocco is an exception in the region," Communication Minister Mustafa el-Khalfi told Reuters. "We have succeeded in developing a third way between revolution and the old system of governance: reforming within stability and unity."

Under the new constitution, King Mohammed, who bases much of his legitimacy on his Islamic credentials as "Commander of the Faithful" and as a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, keeps control of military, security and religious affairs, while parliament legislates and the government runs the country.

"Key institutions enshrined in the constitution are coming to life," said one Western diplomat of the reforms. "The breadth of debate is changing. People feel part of the process."   Continued...

Morocco's King Mohammed VI (L) meets with United Arab Emirates' Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum upon his arrival in Dubai October 22, 2012. REUTERS/WAM/Handout
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