Just over a week ago I had the privilege of witnessing the Arab Spring unfolding - in a peaceful, and even joyful manner. On Friday, June 17, I joined several hundreds of Moroccans outside the Parliament building in Rabat, where they celebrated the reforms King Mohammed IV had announced that evening. In his speech to the nation, Mohammed IV spoke about establishing a new constitution that focuses on the rule of law and strong democratic institutions. The changes include the establishment of a democratic and independent executive branch of government, the recognition of the Amazigh language as official language alongside Arabic, the strengthening of the legislative branch, establishing an enabling environment for Parliamentary opposition, strengthening the autonomy of the judiciary, and strengthening good governance through, among other mechanisms, the establishment of an independent agency for the prevention and fight against corruption.
Mohammed IV had reacted to citizen demands early on and announced constitutional changes in early March this year, after the February 20 "Movement for Dignity" had taken to the streets to demand change as so many have throughout North Africa and the Middle East. Three months later he presented the promised new constitution, and this Friday, on July 1, Moroccan citizens will vote on the constitution in a referendum. The February 20 movement criticized the King for not going far enough in his changes. The opposition movement took their protests to the streets after the speech, but no violence was reported.
What I saw in Rabat was a ruler's response to genuine citizen demand, and the people's joy over peaceful change toward what has the potential to be an accountable and democratic governance system. The Moroccan public sphere seems to have been functional here - and the result is a very different face of the Arab Spring than the one we see on the news every day.
Photo: Anne-Katrin Arnold