Friday's passing of King Hassan II, Morocco's ruler since 1961, marked yet another changing of the guard in the Muslim world. King Hassan's weekend funeral was attended by some of the world's most prominent leaders from both the West and from the Muslim world, as well as by about 2 million Moroccans.
King Hassan's popularity on the international level was rather simplistic. For Western leaders, he was considered a moderate Arab leader who was among the first to recognize Israel and commit to Middle East peace. For Muslim leaders, King Hassan was able to accept Western demands for recognition of Israel while supporting Palestinian sovereignty and the rights of Muslims in Jerusalem. But the relationship of the Moroccan people with their deceased king is far more complex.
Amnesty International, in its 1999 annual report on Morocco, accuses Morocco of continuing to hold political prisoners convicted in "unfair trials," of torturing prisoners and of unexplained disappearances, particularly of Sahrawis from the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Robert MacPherson, writing for Agence France Presse (AFP) on July 26, noted that, under King Hassan, "political dissidence often meant a certain ticket to prison."
In a July 25 AFP report, Deborah Pasmantier wrote that "few [Moroccans] dared to assess" the rule of King Hassan II. She quoted one Moroccan as denying that the government still holds political prisoners, implying that the Moroccan people are either afraid to criticize their government or they are just unaware of human rights abuses. A Moroccan journalist, quoted by Pasmantier, said the people "have no direct opinion about Hassan. Their idea of the king is abstract. For them, authority is limited to their neighborhood..."
In general, the AFP reports concerning the funeral indicate popular ambivalence over the king's death. Pasmantier wrote that the funeral in no way measured up to the outpouring of emotion upon the death of Hassan's father, Muhammad V, in 1961. But an MSNBC report on the funeral painted a different picture of the King's passing, noting that hundreds of thousands of people lined the funeral procession, some weeping uncontrollably and fainting in the street. The report quoted an American diplomat as saying, "I've never seen anything like it." So regardless of where the true sentiments of citizens might stand, Moroccans have nonetheless demonstrated their emotion over their king's death.
King Hassan had in no way a stable rule, something of which his people had to be well aware given the international scandals many of these instabilities caused. It is worthy to note that King Hassan survived two near successful plots on his life in the 1970s.
At a grass roots level though, unemployment and illiteracy is something with which Moroccans are well acquainted and U.N. development statistics rank Morocco behind other North African nations such as Tunisia and Egypt. So Moroccans are surely aware, perhaps more so than foreign observers, of any shortcomings of the late King Hassan.
But perhaps Moroccan citizens are choosing to concentrate on the positive aspects of King Hassan's domestic politics. Last year he granted amnesty to 28 political prisoners and more recently acknowledged the disappearances of hundreds who opposed the regime in decades past. In 1990, King Hassan established the Consultative Human Rights Council to examine human rights abuses in Morocco, and the group was largely responsible for the release in October 1998 of the 28 prisoners previously noted. King Hassan also granted leftist opposition leader, Abderrahman Youssoufi, the office of Prime Minister in February 1998 and according to the 1999 Amnesty report, Youssoufi has declared his intention to clean up Morocco's human rights record. A July 20 article in Jeune Afrique said that the new government is committed to Morocco's progress in all areas: economic, political, humanitarian, etc. According to the article, "Regaining lost time has become the principal priority of the present [government] team."
Despite Morocco's problems, which have landed in the lap Hassan's 36-year old son, it is possible many citizens would like to see Hassan's legacy, especially most recently with efforts at power sharing and rejuvenation, continued with the recently enthroned King Muhammad VI. Pasmantier's report said that "continuity" is a key word being passed in the streets of Morocco. One woman told Pasmantier, "Of Muhammad, we don't know yet what he will do, but we hope he will follow his father's example."
Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at iviews.com