Morocco in 2005

The New York Times had a front-page article by Neil MacFarquhar about the human rights movement and the challenges it faces in today’s Morocco. MacFarquhar spoke to Ahmed Marzouki, the man who spent 18 years in solitary confinement in King Hassan’s notorious jail at Tazmamart; Assia el-Ouadie, who runs a foundation to rehabilitate prisoners and give them job training; Mustafa Rameed, a politician from the Islamist party Justice and Development; and Zakia Mrini, a women’s rights advocate based in Marrakech. Here is an excerpt:

[M]orocco has moved further along the reform road than any of its Arab neighbors. Its press is vibrant and outspoken. A family law no longer treats women as chattel. Civic organizations can be formed with relative ease, and scores of them work on everything from improving prison conditions to lowering the country’s abysmal illiteracy rate.

Yet the entire system of law rests not on a framework of checks and balances, but on the whim of the king. Morocco’s Constitution declares the king both sacred and the “prince of the faithful.”

Other Arab constitutions do not declare the ruler holy, but an official reverence cocoons virtually every president or monarch in the region. Anyone who challenges the ruler does so at his own peril.

It is a fact that raises a central question here and across the Middle East: What is needed to turn states of despotic whim into genuine nations of law?

The picture that emerges from the article is one of a country that has made great strides in the last five years to ensure political freedom and women’s rights, but where there is no framework of checks and balances. Rather, MacFarquhar observes, advancements still depend “on the whim of the king.”

Be sure to look at the photos that accompany the article. This is a highly recommended read. (If you hit a subscription wall, try this other link, or use for a login and password.)

By the way, Ahmed Marzouki’s memoir of his detention at Tazmamart, Cellule 10, was a huge bestseller in Morocco. You can read the Moorishgirl review here.