Morocco: Reforms Or Collapse

New York  / Morocco Board News --On an unusually sunny day of December 2005, I was on top of the highest point of Meknes old city and perhaps the greater Meknes. At a height of 50 meters, the old minaret of Bab Berdein mosque, a UNESCO heritage, stood as a remarkable landmark in stark contrast to a subdued landscape of promiscuous old houses sharing brittle walls and leaking roofs.

For few minutes I was able to see with my own eyes, what the Mueddin was enjoying for years, alone, and I took some pictures from its observatory.

I was born literally at the feet of the minaret and grew up with it in my horizon. The roof of the mosque with its green tiles was for few young summers a hunting ground for me and few other kids. Destroying wasps nest while adults were praying under our feet was quite a daredevil activity with the risks of being stung or falling from the roof while escaping. Living so close to the mosque also meant, that we were quite privileged and at the front raw seat when it came to nightly decibels. The powerful speaker system was always set to stun and although the quarter residents of Janah lamane and Tizimi neighborhoods in the old Meknes, were accustomed to the dawn prayer calls and perhaps learned unconscientiously to ignore it in their deep sleep. Still on few nights, I and probably many poor souls were forced to listen to the 30 minutes serenade punctuated with the Mueddin sudden gasps for air. During the day and before the call to prayers the Mueddin would let his speaker system on, while his listening to the Radio television Marocaine FM radio station music was broadcasted along with his annoying throat clearing. Many residents including my father would remind him to turn off his portable radio when calling for prayer but would not dare to ask him to refrain from clearing his throat live from the minaret.

Today the minaret is gone brought down to its knees by the works of time, the elements, its own massive weight, human neglect and perhaps corruption. I admit that I always knew that our minaret would go down. The question was would it fall on our side and damage our house. I was selfishly reassured by the fact that my house was out of danger based on the unscientific observation of a slight tilt of the minaret toward the northwest. This profane bending opposite to Mecca’s direction was much less pronounced than the Italian Pisa tower tilt but a better scenario would have the minaret falling to the parking lot of Bab Berdein, thus reducing casualties. Sadly, the minaret fell at the wrong time and in the wrong direction. It fell just as the imam was reading his Friday 19th February government-sanctioned sermon with many believers sitting at the feet of the minaret base. The minaret collapsed almost vertically under its own pressure killing more than 40 Meknassis. One of the victims was a neighbor. Ironically, many of the dead did come from distant streets because their local mosques were closed for safety reasons.

I was comforted by the fact that many of the victims families were given some form of compensation and that their medical costs or burials expenses were taken care of, or so I was told. However, the potential of other similar calamities cannot be ignored when many other decrepit mosques and their decaying minarets stand in almost every major street of the old Medinas, throughout Morocco. Perhaps it is time for the Ministry of religious affairs to innovate the management style of its park of bequeathed houses, shops and mosques and dedicate some revenues to renovation and or consolidation. Throughout the old medina, many mosques could benefit from better management, renovation and redecoration with the finest Moroccan artisanal expertise.  They would be offered to the eyes of locals as well as tourists who would pay to see Moroccan art at its best.  Many artisans in the old Medinas are left to go extinct and hassle with tourists to sell their art, while they could be instrumental in beautifying these decaying mosques and their minarets. In fact, they could be instrumental in the renovations and/or beautifications of the entire old Medinas throughout Morocco. Why is the ministry of tourism not involved in this effort? Who is responsible for the protection of this human heritage? There were some quick reactions to rebuilding the mosque as the original. However, I would suggest that it is done with a fresh perspective (21st century) recognizing the long forgotten role of the mosque as a center for learning and thinking a community center of sort. I would dare to ask the concerned authorities to be as innovative as possible.

The talk about the collapse of an old and neglected minaret in Meknes, Morocco might seem irrelevant in the current context of revolutions sweeping the Arab world.  Not at all!

I personally see many Moroccan institutions in a state of decrepitude similar to the old minaret in my Meknes. However, institutions do not collapse like a minaret, they only rot and rot until their smell becomes acceptable to everybody. Throughout the Arab world, cries for justice and complaint of corruption were the main demands on placards.

In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond presents a compelling narrative of the stupidity of human societies and how by their lack of learning from repeated mistakes, they end up in the bin of history. He outlays five factors with decisive impact on the longevity of societies. These five factors are 1) human ecological impact; 2) natural or produced climate change; 3) hostile neighbors; 4) friendly neighbors; and; 5) how the society responds to all these factors. In view of what is currently happening in the Arab world, we might ad another important factor, 6) bad or good governance.

It is time for meaningful reforms before the collapse.


YOUSSEF JOUNAIDI is a molecular biologist who earned a PhD from the University of Montpellier, France. Currently, he resides in the USA where he pursues cancer research. you can see his publications here. Beside Cancer Biology, he is interested in topics that usually rely on the many branches of sciences for an explanation.  He reads Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Gavin Maxwell, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and  others.

Comments (11)  

man en blanc
0 #1 The teeth have been rotting all along! And nary a dentist in sight. Moroccans would love to smile!man en blanc 2011-03-01 07:25
Falling hope or falling minarets, it's all the same to the everyday Moroccan. Something gotta give. And so far, to my chagrin, our government is taking a page from Tunisia and Egypt and preparing itself for a Libya.

I fear for my country.
0 #2 Dear YoussefRobert 2011-03-01 12:24
What an outstanding piece and a great metaphor! Keep the good work. Now, you asked for meaningful reforms and I am going to rationalize about the implausibility of such structural reforms as of today. Morocco, our dear land, suffers from a persistent denial of the fact that the institution of Monarchy and genuine and unequivocally irreversible structural reforms are incompatible. I have been thinking about this subject and I find it again and again that M6 has no inherent desire for the abovementioned reforms simply because there are no credible threats whatsoever to his power (reign and governance). Makhzen structure is deeply rooted in the bones and minds of practically all Moroccans within and abroad. The fervent support of the Monarchy is, at times, irrational driven by fear, a legacy from 30+ years of Hassanism ― or me or the collapse. February 20 movement, as far as we know, does not question or challenge the legitimacy of the Monarchy. No single national political organization even dares to challenge the concept. Moroccan Monarchy consistently and systematically discredits its opponents (Hassan II, M6 and Ismael did it in Meknes before that) intentionally creating a political vacuum than can be easily and readily filled up by the Palace. Parallel government is de facto running Morocco with no answerability. Examples of accusations of treason or “crossing the Red Lines” are abundant (ask political prisoners, journalists, human rights activists…etc.) . As long as most Moroccans explicitly recognize that the Monarchy is indispensable for the coherence of the State without questioning the Monarch's reach, they have to bear the consequences of such decision. The Monarch, as it stands now, is not accountable to any human, and citizens (subjects) have no legal mechanism to question or challenge his deeds knowing that he drives the political agenda of the country. Governing comes with privileges and obligations but it seems that in Morocco dispensations supersede the laws and families and clans operate in absolute impunity. In addition, the most powerful and influential nations on Earth, including where you live, are supporting the Monarchy in Morocco and “its courageous reforms”. What else? I tried to find, with no luck, a Monarch in History, who led his/her people through structural reforms similar to what you’re asking for, whereby the Monarch gives up his/her powers. I cannot imagine a scenario, under which, someone would voluntarily gives up political power without serious challenge. I hope I am wrong and some sort of miracle (no violence!) could happen for the seek of better Morocco. The collapse is definitely not an option. I hope February 20 demands will be taken seriously by M6...
0 #3 Morocco ForeverRod 2011-03-01 20:09

As I replied a couple of days ago, great article but we need to avoid falling into the "Arab World" narrative, we need to reconcile with our true Moroccan identity and free ourselves from the Pan Arabism label, it created many problems and divorced our country from its heritage and alienated the majority of our population.
The fight against racism and bigotry starts at home.
0 #4 Morocco foreverRod 2011-03-01 21:13

There is Monarch who was instrumental in his country's transition to democracy and he lives next door to Morocco, his name is King Juan Carlos of Spain, please follow this link for more information:
0 #5 @Rod Robert 2011-03-02 10:19
I appreciate the link but please, don't read the headlines and move on. As a person, who knows Spain pretty well (lived and studied there), I would like to point out a major role that played the situation around the "Partido Comunista de España" in that period. In the same article you mentioned, it says rightly that [The positive attitude of the socialist leader gave further support for Suárez to carry forward his political project, but everyone clearly perceived that the big problem for the political normalization of the country would be the legalization of the Communist Party of Spain (Partido Comunista de España, PCE), which had, at the time, more activists and was more organized than any other group in the political opposition...]. And you know why the Partido Comunista mattered? Because this was a major organized party that called for "Abolition of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and the monarchy" (see Let me reiterate: a major well-organized clandestine political party was calling for the abolition of the Monarchy in Spain in the seventies. What would you do if you were the Monarch (Juan Carlos)? Or you structurally reform the country or you collapse (as Mr. Youssef said). And now, imagine for a moment that M6 Monarchy is challenged by February 20 movement or by any major political organization in Morocco. I am convinced that only by twisting M6 arms, Morocco will get meaningful reforms. The king will not give up an inch unless his comfort zone starts shaking. That's the very nature of political power; you can’t do much about it. Good Luck Morocco!
0 #6 Morocco foreverRod 2011-03-02 20:04
Thanks Robert for your concern for Morocco and for clarifying your connections to Spain, it seems like you suggest that we should "push" the king into a corner through popular revolt in order for him to heed our demands for real democracy, I happen to disagree on the method you prescribed for many reasons including but not limited to the fact that we are not willing to take our country into the path of uncertainty, chaos and possibly civil war, secondly, and I say this with a strong conviction, there are forces in Spain, Algeria and their puppets the Kaddafi supporting Polisario "freedom fighters" who would love to take advantage of any such events in Morocco to further their scam, so I say no thanks for your "support" and "good intentions", we will forge our own way towards democracy, maybe you can spend some time thinking about the plight of the Basque, Kabyle and Sahrawis in the concentrations camps in Tindouf Algeria, I believe that they "deserve" your support a lot more than we do...regards.
0 #7 Morocco foreverRod 2011-03-02 21:55
Algeria and the "Freedom Fighters" of Polisario are actively supporting Kaddafi massacre his people, have you heard any complaints from the Spanish media and Polisario hypocrites supporters in Spain??? of course not.
0 #8 @RodRobert 2011-03-03 10:35
I knew it was coming: usually when someone looses an argument, (s)he compensates by using personal attack tactics. So, I was de-moroccanized because I studied in Spain, a sufficient pre-requisite to link me to the Basque, Kabyle and Sahrawi,…etc.; and because I dare to question the wisdom of a blind support to an absolute Monarchy in my B’lad. However, I want to remind you that the space allotted to our comments is to address the substance Mr. Youssef’s article “Morocco: Reforms Or Collapse”. Having said that, it should be crystal clear that questioning the Monarch and demanding that he, his circle and his appointed government be accountable to Moroccan people is not and should never be considered anti-Moroccan. The second argument in your last comment is the usual official threat of “external dark forces” that are waiting for any blinking in Morocco to bring about chaos. We heard those arguments from the Soviet Union for over 75 years. The Castros, Muammar Gadafi and Hugo Chavez are using the exact same argument to keep things “safe” inside. This is exactly what you want in Morocco in order to avoid “chaos and possibly civil war”. So, the status quo that placed us in the very comfortable 114th position worldwide in Human Development Index (2010) is sweet, comforting and reassuring. So, let it be, Rod, and 25-50 years from now we'll be seeking jobs in Tunisia or Egypt. Let's not "corner" our dear king and wait for him in one shiny beautiful day to wake up and bravely announce deep structural State reforms to establish genuine democracy giving up most of his political powers... Let's not be rude and corner the regime that pushed us into the corner of the Human Development Index. Why hurry? We waited 50 years for something to happen. We can wait another 50 years (or may be 100; whatever the king decides). L’Maghrib Zouine. Beshouiya 3alina. Li Zarbou Matou. Sa Majeste will be “instrumental in his country's transition to democracy”. Let's just take it easy.
0 #9 @RobRobert 2011-03-03 11:47
A lesson on the accountability and "check and balance" for those who think that the king and his circle should be exempt and that we should not "corner" him, his circle and his appointed government:*38*
Listen carefully to the second scenario of the aftermath of February 20.
0 #10 Morocco foreverRod 2011-03-03 21:56
With all due respect, and I should admit that you make a really good argument, I'm very skeptical about your approach and your advocacy for confrontation and revolt, you seem to think that there will be no advancement towards real democracy without a serious challenge to the King's prerogatives, you completely brushed off the King Juan Carlos historical example arguing that he gave up his powers thanks to the all powerful Spanish communist party, I disagree because that party was not as influential as you made it to be and King Carlos was very popular and backed by the vast majority of the Spanish people and the military, he took the initiative to embrace democracy and the communists was not in a position to stop him.
Freedom of speech and descent are integral part of democracy, but yelling "Fire" in a movie theater is not considered freedom of speech because it could lead to a stamped and possible harm/death to the theater patrons.
0 #11 Morocco ForeverRod 2011-03-03 23:19
I watched the video, it was long on rhetoric and short on actual solutions, the guy on the video seems not to lack a good grasp on the democratic process and what's more concerning is his talk about the redistribution of resources, he is advocating some sort of communism and the creation of a nanny state, it's dangerous and it will kill any entrepreneurial initiative of the Moroccan people, we need to create and enlarge the middle class, invest in jobs creating investments, reduce the size and centrality of the government and much more, we need a constitution that guarantees the separation of powers between the judiciary ( parliament) and executive ( prime minister and his gov), and a complete independence of the judiciary, of course the king needs to reign but not rule, I always advocated these legitimate demands, we just don't agree of the best way to move forward. you advocate revolt and confrontation and I advocate dialogue outside of empty slogans and creating chaos and possible civil war in Morocco.

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