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Morocco's King Mohammed unveils constitutional reforms

Jun 18, 2011

Morocco's King Mohammed VI has
announced proposals for constitutional
amendments in a landmark speech.
The king said the measures would entrench
democratic institutions and protect rights,
though he confirmed that he will retain
some key powers.
The reforms would give the prime minister
and parliament more executive authority
and make Berber an official language in
Morocco, alongside Arabic.
The proposals will be put to a referendum
on 1 July.
The king promised in March to introduce
"comprehensive constitutional reform" after
anti-government protests inspired by those
elsewhere in the region.
'Historic transition'
Despite the pledge, thousands of pro-
democracy protesters have continued to
hold demonstrations.
Many activists have been sceptical about the
king's promises of change, saying Morocco's
400-year-old monarchy has a long history of
enacting superficial reforms.
In his speech broadcast late on Friday on
Moroccan TV, King Mohammed outlined his
proposals and urged Moroccans to back
them.
He said that if the reforms were approved,
they would "constitute a decisive historic
transition in the process of the building of
the rule of law and democratic institutions,
and in entrenching the principles and
mechanisms of good governance".
An amended constitution would also
guarantee "dignified citizenship and social
justice", he said.
The independence of the judiciary and
efforts to tackle corruption would be
boosted, he added, and the reforms would
guarantee freedom of expression and
gender rights.
'Real revolution'
But the king also said his own powers
would be reduced "as much as possible",
with the prime minister gaining the
authority to appoint government officials
and dissolve parliament.
According to the proposals, various national
councils, including a youth council, will
enable greater citizen participation.
The king said he would remain as the
supreme commander of the armed forces,
and retain control over security.
A new article within the constitution
formalised his role as the highest religious
authority in the country.
"The integrity of the person of the king
should not be violated," he said.
"The new formula does not try to put a
religious dimension to the person of the
king but rather highlights political
responsibilities."
The proposals were drawn up by a reform
panel appointed by King Mohammed.
Driss Lachgar, minister in charge of relations
with parliament, called the draft "a real
revolution".
He said it "laid the foundations for a
parliamentary monarchy".
As the speech ended, cars flying Moroccan
flags drove through the streets of the capital
honking their horns, and young people
marched along the streets banging drums
and cheering.
But some activists were not pleased by the
changes.
"Before we had an absolute monarch, now
we have an absolute monarch that is a pope
as well," said Elaabadila Chbihna, an activist
with the February 20 movement that has
carried out weekly pro-democracy marches
around the country.
Morocco has been facing severe economic
challenges with high unemployment and
rising levels of poverty.
King Mohammed, 47, acceded to the throne
in 1999 following the death of his father,
Hassan II, and now heads the Arab world's
longest-serving dynasty.