A New King with a New Image

Category: World Affairs Topics: Human Rights, Morocco Views: 1098

Morocco's new king, Muhammad VI, emerged from the shroud of his father's July 23 death to give his first substantive address over the weekend. King Muhammad affirmed his administration's commitment to constitutional monarchy, political pluralism and economic liberalism, according to the BBC on July 31. The address, and Muhammad's performance so far, indicates the new king's significant commitment to his people's needs, an often criticized overlook on the part of the late King Hassan II.

Although King Hassan had, towards the end of his life, shown signs of

loosening his stranglehold on power and efforts to redeem Morocco's somewhat tarnished human rights record, human rights groups such as Amnesty International remained critical of the country's economic and political inequalities and disregard for prisoner rights. In a move to calm international criticism, King Hassan called for the release of 28 political prisoners and in 1998 appointed the leader of the Socialist opposition as his Prime Minister.

But if rhetoric can be any indication, King Muhammad seems to have already outstripped his father in terms of commitment to rectifying Morocco's domestic problems. In the nationally televised speech broadcast Friday evening, Muhammad stressed "preserving human rights and individual and collective liberties, protecting security and stability for everyone," as reported by the BBC on July 31. In a clear reference to Morocco's sordid human rights record and grave social inequalities, Muhammad continued, "We all aim to achieve reconciliation and co-operation by overcoming the negative aspects of the present and looking forward to the future."

And the new king has evidenced that he is committed to such lofty rhetoric. According to the Middle East Times on July 30, Muhammad had in recent years "endeared himself to the populace" through devoting himself to social issues such as poverty, the handicapped and orphans. Rabat University professor Said Graioud told the Middle East Times that "Muhammad is very popular, people who know him say he has a genuine feeling for the people." Following his address over the weekend, King Muhammad declared amnesty for some 8,000 prisoners, according to the BBC on July 31. The amnesty primarily benefited the sick, handicapped, pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and well behaved, although some 700 foreigners were also freed. And while Moroccan courts on Thursday sentenced Muhammad Boussif of the Islamist orientated Islamic Youth movement to life in prison, King Muhammad's reprieve reportedly affected several members of Islamist groups. In addition to the amnesties, the King reduced the sentences of 40,000 other prisoners.

But King Muhammad's emerging humanitarian image stands to be tested by the realities of poverty and social ills his country faces. Morocco has a 19 percent unemployment rate and 12 million people live below the poverty line. Morocco faces a $23.4 billion foreign debt. And while his father seemed to avoid widespread popular discontent through reliance on the religious legitimacy of his rule, King Muhammad still has much to do to grow into his title of "commander of the faithful." The King led Juma prayers this past Friday, but many no doubt view his western education and reported orientation towards cooperating with western powers as an indication that the new king is more influenced by western ideals than Islamic ideals. But during his address on Friday, Muhammad placed his calls for reform entirely within an Islamic framework. He said, "Our religion is one of moderation, openness and clemency. It calls for peace, co-existence, friendship and the protection of human rights bestowed on humans by God, human rights which have been approved by international conventions ...," as quoted by the BBC on July 31.

In his quest to fulfill the needs of the Moroccan people, King Muhammad VI faces some severe challenges. But in his vivacity in tackling these problems while respecting the Islamic sentiments of the Moroccan people, he provides the first clear legitimization of his ascendancy to the Moroccan throne. Before he died, King Hassan II was asked by a journalist what he would hope for Muhammad's rule. He said, "I hope that it would be difficult. That will mean that Morocco will need him," as reported by Jeune Afrique on August 2. By confronting the needs of his people, King Muhammad is in fact demonstrating the positive role he can play as King of Morocco, thereby legitimizing the monarchy King Hassan worked so hard to consolidate.

Zakariya Wright is a staff writer at iviews.com

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Human Rights, Morocco
Views: 1098

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