Morocco: An Alternative to Iran?

A recent article by Anne Applebaum, published under two separate titles in the Washington Post (“Morocco, an Alternative to Iran”) and Slate (“Morocco Makes Peace with Its Past”), has caused quite a stir amongst Moroccan bloggers, as well as on Twitter and in forums.  The article, which suggests Morocco as a model for democracy coexisting with Islam to be used in Iran, has been criticized for going too easy on the Moroccan regime, as well as for projecting Western values onto both countries.

Moroccan author Laila Lalami blogged her frustration with the article, saying:

Her contention that protesters outside Parliament were “politely” waving signs is bizarre.  If she had spent any kind of time, day after day, watching what happened to them, she wouldn’t be praising their politeness or the police’s restraint.  The elections themselves are really nothing to write home about: turn-out was low and the results were, as usual, entirely unsurprising.  If this is what she qualifies as “transformation from authoritarianism to democracy” then Lord help us all.

On the Morocco Board forums, where Applebaum’s original article was posted, many readers took issue with the article.  One reader, Adiloss, seemingly agrees with Lalami:

It seems the journalist tourist is misled by some appearances.  It’s true that demonstrators in front of the parliament are often not disturbed by the police.  They have been there even for months for some of them, but nobody cares.

The journalist didn’t happen to pass by in one of those hot violent days were police officers can break the head of anyone they can lay hands on, even non demonstrator passers can be subject to violence and degrading verbal insults by police forces.

Lalami also commented on Applebaum’s contentious statement that in Morocco, “though there is clearly a fashion for long, flowing head scarves and blue jeans, many women would not look out of place in New York or Paris,” stating:

It almost never fails.  When a Western reporter goes to Morocco to write about the process of democratization, the resulting article will inevitably mention sartorial choices and give them positive or negative values.  Jeans = good.  Jellabas = bad.  At Slate, Anne Applebaum visits Morocco and finds that many women “would not look out of place in New York or Paris.”

Another statement by Applebaum with which readers took issue was: “One thinks wistfully of the shah of Iran and of what might have been.”  One Morocco Board reader, who calls himself Moroccan Patriot, decried the statement, saying:

Nothing this woman wrote is accurate.  She might as well be a reporter for FOX news.

Morocco has serious issues that do not need 100 years to solve.  They need those who are currently in charge to simply decide that they want to ENFORCE the current laws on the books.

There is NO accountability and NO uniform enforcement of the laws currently on the books.  This is not an accident, this is by design.  While certain degrees of this exist in all societies, it is seldom as blatent and in your face as it is in Morocco.

When you say things like, “think whistfully of the shah of Iran and what might have been”, you become very clear about your stated goal, the demonizing of Iran.

Of course, there were also those for whom at least pieces of the article rang true.  Maghreb Blog commented:

A flattering portrait of Morocco in today’s Washington Post.  Anne Applebaum sets the kingdom as a model for “slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders — the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman — and a set of family laws that strive to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.”  As I opined elsewhere, it would be a stretch claiming that Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, as the monarch still holds vast executive, legislative and discretionary powers.

Mazagan, yet another Morocco Board commenter, on a piece I wrote in response to Applebaum’s piece (“Poor Alternatives”), compares the two viewpoints and finds both lacking:

In one, Morocco is the picture perfect Oriental student in line with the West marching orders and the FMI directions, in the other it is simply the lackey of the Imperialism and the oppressor of peoples’ freedom.

Moroccos’ [sic] reality does not fit perfectly in either prism.  The electoral process has suffered a major setback, being recuperated by the oligarchy.  Still within the country, there is still very healthy civic and political debate taking place.

Only time will tell, as Morocco’s new political officers settle into their positions and its bloggers continue to analyze their governance.

Jillian C. York is a Boston-based writer, blogger, and activist.  She coordinates The OpenNet Initiative and is a member of the Herdict team.  She also writes for the Huffington Post and a number of other publications.  Visit her blog: <>.  This article was first published by Global Voices Online on 3 July 2009 under a Creative Commons license.