King Mohammed VI’s speech on this 20th anniversary of his coronation emphasized the need for national progress in an intensely personal tone of anguish and hope.
There is much to commend in the King’s speech, its brevity, vision, broad statements regarding actions and steps to propel Morocco forward, and his expression of personal angst regarding unfulfilled pledges.
After recounting the country’s achievements in modernizing, particularly its infrastructure and key reforms, he said, “Let me say this clearly and frankly: what undermines this positive result is that the effects of the progress and the achievements made have not, unfortunately, been felt by all segments of the Moroccan society . . . . Indeed, some citizens may not directly feel their positive impact on their living conditions, or in terms of helping them meet their daily needs, especially in the areas of basic social services, the reduction of social disparities, and the consolidation of the middle class.”
And there’s the rub. The king has expressed multiple times his concern with inclusive economic growth, a streamlined public sector doing its job of providing services efficiently, and building on the strong civic sense of Moroccans to have a better life. Yet, there is still a lack of sufficient momentum towards achieving the goals that he himself has set out for regions, the frustration of which was reflected in the Rif demonstrations, and similar public demands in the South, or in promoting education for the market economy.
“God knows how much I suffer personally when a fraction of the Moroccan people—even if it were just one per cent of the Moroccan population—endures hardships and lives in poverty.”
So when he exclaims “God knows how much I suffer personally when a fraction of the Moroccan people—even if it were just one per cent of the Moroccan population—endures hardships and lives in poverty,” the 1% does not include obviously those public officials and friends of the king who have been the targets of outrage and boycotts over the years and still remain in power.
He expressed the contradiction quite well. “As I said in last year’s address, there will be no peace of mind for me so long as we have not properly tackled the hurdles faced and found the right solutions to development and social issues. This, however, cannot be achieved without a comprehensive vision, without qualified human resources, or without meeting the conditions required to carry out planned projects.”
The king has stated on multiple occasions the need to move forward with inclusive efforts to improve the quality of life for all Moroccans. He does it well and clearly. But somehow there is a disconnect with public officials, members of political parties in the House of Deputies, and leading private sector figures when it comes to equitable and transparent implementation.
So the king will, as he has done before when facing obstacles, create a special committee to assess and redefine Morocco’s development model. “I expect the committee to be totally impartial and objective, and to report on facts as they are on the ground, however harsh or painful they may be. And when proposing solutions, I want it to be daring and innovative.” This has been done before, in the South, when assessing the needs of the people living in the Saharan provinces. Cronyism, corruption, inefficiencies, and distortions in public services were all called out, and yet conditions have still not improved there.
The king said that, “The committee includes representatives from various fields of knowledge and intellectual currents, including prominent Moroccans from the public and the private sectors who meet the requirements of competence and impartiality, who are able to feel the pulse of society, who understand its expectations and who have the nation’s best interests at heart.” Well, what about youth, and the marginalized, and women, not the elites or the notables in the NGO sector, but real life citizens who struggle with health services, local officials, poor educational facilities, and sense a general decline in prospects for their children?
In prodding the government to take responsibility for change, he called out “Those who refuse to open up to the outside world in certain sectors—which I do not want to name here—arguing that it leads to lost jobs, do not care about Moroccans but fear, instead, for their own personal interests.” Reflecting the experience of the manufacturing sectors, he could claim that, “As a matter of fact, foreign investment in those sectors would boost state efforts, not just by creating jobs, but also by promoting quality training, attracting expertise, and showcasing successful experiences.”
To bring about this new resolve, the king recognizes the need to rebuild trust between citizens and the government, and indeed among citizens themselves. “The challenge of enhancing trust and consolidating achievements . . . is the recipe for success and a condition for fulfilling our ambitions. It concerns trust among citizens and trust in the national institutions that bring them together. It is about having faith in a better future.”
“The public sector needs an immediate three-dimensional revolution: a revolution in simplification, a revolution in efficiency, and a revolution in ethical standards.”
He went on to say that a new mentality is critical: “The public sector needs an immediate three-dimensional revolution: a revolution in simplification, a revolution in efficiency, and a revolution in ethical standards.”
The king spoke of the need for social and regional justice, “to complete the building of a nation of hope and equality for all; a country where there is no place for blatant inequalities, frustrating behavior, rent seeking, or time and energy wasting. Therefore, there must be a final break with such negative attitudes and conduct; we must uphold the values of hard work, responsibility, merit and, equal opportunity.”
Great speech, great themes, great hopes, but will there be any change? Will Morocco become, in his words, “a country that accommodates all its sons and daughters; a country in which all citizens—without exception—enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations, in an environment where freedom and human dignity prevail”?
The British have it right when they pray ”God Save the King,” as King Mohammed needs all the help he can get. His agenda is on target and his instincts still clear and focused on the Moroccan people. How to get there given the systemic flaws in the government is the greater challenge.
An additional note, as part of his annual tradition, the king pardoned 4,764 prisoners and detainees, some of whom were those who participated in the Al Hoceima protests in 2016-2017.