Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Daniel Zisenwine

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingForeword/postscript


The year 2011 may well be remembered as a transformative one in the history of modern Arab states, a moment in which societies across the Middle East and North Africa “kicked back, " after decades of unbridled domination by authoritarian state structures. Tunisia’s successful “Jasmine Revolution” in January 2011, which suddenly toppled its long-ruling autocratic President Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali, provided the initial spark. The eruption which followed in Egypt was marked by gripping scenes of massive popular protest and confrontation, led by a younger generation which had known no ruler other than Husni Mubarak. The “January 26 Revolution, " named after the first day of massive anti-government protests, was partially facilitated by a powerful new weapon - social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, interacting with cell phone instant messaging and photo uploading, YouTube, and the ubiquitous, round-the-clock feedback and encouragement provided by al-Jazeera and other satellite television networks. After 18 days, Mubarak was toppled, marking the end of an era and raising profound questions for the future of Egyptian politics and society, and regional affairs as a whole. Shock waves from these extraordinary developments quickly reverberated across the region, causing ruling elites and social and political groupings of various stripes to quickly recalibrate their strategies. Regimes from Algeria and Syria, to Yemen and Bahrain, clearly unnerved, adopted a variety of proactive measures of economic and political reform, combined with repressive actions; from below, social and political forces sought empowerment from the Egyptian and Tunisian experiences, resulting at times in violent confrontations with the authorities. In Iran, two years after the regime violently suppressed large-scale protests over the presidential election results, both the regime and the opposition Green movement tried to appropriate Mubarak’s overthrow for their respective agendas. As elsewhere, the Moroccan public was overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Tunisian and Egyptian popular protests. However, the concrete reactions, both official and unofficial, were far more muted. In spite of the fact that Morocco suffered from many of the underlying ills which characterized their neighbors and motivated the popular protests - corruption, poverty, unemployment, the absence of real democracy and closed horizons for its large youthful population - Morocco somehow seemed different, a less likely candidate for imminent upheaval. Morocco did witness, in early 2011, sustained protests demanding political and economic reforms. They repeatedly stressed that the source of the public’s ire was not theMoroccan monarch, Mohammed VI, per se, but rather the “system” which underpinned the kingdom’s public life. This emphasis once again underscored the Moroccan monarchy’s powerful political and social position, and differed from the stark hostility which protestors in Tunisia and Egypt displayed towards their leaders. The Moroccan demonstrations morphed into a protest movement known as the February 20 movement (the date that coordinated nationwide demonstrations commenced). The protests in Morocco’s major cities did indeed motivate King Mohammed to institute constitutional and political reforms, which were confirmed by an overwhelmingly favorable vote in a nation-wide referendum held on July 1, 2011. The Moroccan trajectory, and the monarchy’s ability to initiate a process of reforms from above, differed significantly from the experiences in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. This certainly conformed toMorocco’s favorable image in the West, one of a country which was characterized by a benevolent mix of tradition and modernity, authenticity with openness to foreign cultures, political stability and evolution towards greater pluralism, including an Islamist current, as well as enhancing the status of women. Was there a secret to Morocco’s ability to dodge the shock waves roiling the region? To be sure, Morocco possessed many of the attributes associated with states possessing a relatively high level of cohesion, including: a political and societal center within a distinct geographical core stretching back more than 1, 200 years; a ruling dynasty possessing the sources of its own legitimacy pre-dating Western penetration by hundreds of years; religious homogeneity; and a distinct material and popular culture, religious practice, and linguistic configuration, much of which stems from Morocco’s Amazigh (Berber) population. The colonial experience also contributed heavily to the process of creating a unified national state with a monarchical regime, without the degree of bitterness and continuing complexes towards France which mark neighboring Algeria. However, if anything, Tunisia and Egypt possessed an even greater degree of “stateness”1 and cohesion, which had not prevented the latest revolutions, so by itself, Morocco’s relatively high degree of stateness could hardly explain the absence of massive popular protest. Was it the legitimacy provided by the monarchical institution? To even suggest so would have been ridiculed a generation ago. In the 1950s and 1960s, the tidal wave of populist nationalism which swept across the Arab world seemed to indicate that the prevalent monarchical form of government, underpinned by old social classes, was being consigned to the dust-bin of history. But by the 1990s, the monarchical institution was viewed in a more favorable light, a resilient institution that often provided vital social cohesion in times of rapid change.2.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary Morocco
Subtitle of host publicationState, Politics and Society under Mohammed VI
EditorsBruce Maddy-Weitzman, Daniel Zisenwine
Place of PublicationMilton Park, Abingdon ; New York
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic)9781136459641
ISBN (Print)9780415695466
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012

Publication series

NameRoutledge studies in Middle Eastern politics


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