Cablegate: King Mohammed Vi's Speech On Regionalization


DE RUEHRB #0036/01 0210812
R 210812Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: The latest cabinet reshuffle
(reftel) came a day after King Mohammed VI appointed
a new Advisory Committee on Regionalization tasked
with developing a strategic plan to empower regional
governance across Morocco. Moroccan analysts and
politicians generally welcomed the initiative to
devolve power to the regions but which also has
clear political implications for the Western Sahara.
Should it gain momentum, the regionalization
initiative would bolster the legitimacy of autonomy
as a solution to the Sahara conflict, and would have
other long-term positive consequences for Moroccan
democracy. End Summary.

Devolving Power Away from Rabat

2. (U) More than two years after mooting the idea,
King Mohammed VI named a 21-member Advisory
Committee on Regionalization (ACR) on January 3 in a
bid to accelerate the devolution of government power
away from Rabat -- but also to reaffirm Morocco's
claim to Western Sahara. The King has given the
committee six months to elaborate a plan "specific
to Morocco's needs rather than an imitation of
foreign models." The result, he stated, would lead
towards the renovation and modernization of the
country's democratic institutions. The King named
Morocco's current ambassador to Spain, Omar
Azziman, chairman of this 21-member committee, which
includes representatives from different academic and
professional backgrounds and, notably, three women.

3. (U) Regionalization in not a new idea, but
Moroccan analysts' response to the king's newest
initiative on the subject has generally been quite
positive. Moroccan political scholar Mohammed Darif
commented in a press interview that the king's
effort "responds to [Morocco's] authentic needs as
it moves further along its democratic path." He
added that "Morocco is moving ahead with an
initiative to give regional authorities more power
to determine their own paths to development based on
local conditions and not to wait all the time for a
Rabat green light before launching projects, as the
case is now." Others said the initiative would also
encourage inter-regional coordination, and more
participatory approach to government. Zineb El
Adaoui and Amina Massouadi, two of the female ARC
members, said in television interviews that
regionalization would ultimately ensure the best use
of human, economic and cultural resources.

4. (SBU) In a separate discussion with PolCouns and
Pol LES, Member of Parliament Hamid Narjisse, who is
also the president of the Marrakesh regional
council, welcomed the democratic benefits
regionalization would bring. He noted, however,
that the level of "autonomy" that each region
requires, based on local conditions, is different.
For example, he said, Marrakesh already functioned
well and enjoyed excellent cooperation between local
and national authorities, thereby necessitating a
different level of local autonomy than in Western
Sahara, where very significant regionalization would
be the essential factor in an eventual solution to
the conflict.


5. (U) These positive responses notwithstanding,
questions have emerged as to what extent Moroccan
citizens would be consulted or allowed to be active
in this new governance scheme. The king's speech
made clear that he seeks citizens' participation,
but regional entities remain under the firm control
of the powerful Ministry of the Interior (MOI), and
changing that longstanding model will not be easy.
Finances are also a critical issue. Despite the
presence of elected mayors and regional council
presidents, the MOI still uses palace-approved
administrators, known locally as "walis" or
governors, to control and administer budgets,
personnel resources and development initiatives
everywhere -- again, a model that will take time and
serious political will to change. Morocco's
political parties, too, would have to adjust their
platforms and develop the technical expertise (which
they do not currently have) to take on greatly
enhanced administrative and budgetary
responsibilities at the regional and sub-regional
level. Perhaps more importantly, the parties would
have to find a way to deliver services and good
governance to the citizens -- a task that up to now
has been left largely in the hands of the walis.
Whatever happens, the new setup is designed to shift
the weight of responsibility to the citizens and
their representatives and would certainly revive
political life in Morocco. This is by all measures
a very positive step towards entrenching the
democratic experience in Morocco.

Autonomy in the Sahara

6. (SBU) In addition to the political and
administrative implications of an accelerated
regionalization effort, it is no secret that the
King intended to bolster and make more credible
Morocco's autonomy proposal for resolving the
Western Sahara conflict. Analysts and politicians
broadly agree that the king's speech was intended
not only for Moroccan audiences, but also for
Algerian leaders, the Spanish government, the
Polisario in Tindouf , and pro-independence Sahrawis
in Western Sahara. Abdelilah Benkiran, leader of
the Islamist-oriented Party of Justice and
Development (PJD), interpreted the king's words as a
clear message to the Polisario and to the Government
of Algeria: "We will go ahead with the autonomy
plan. You are more than welcome to get on board
with us." Likewise, other analysts have interpreted
it as an equally clear message to domestic pro-
independence activists, putting them on notice that
they have six months to figure out ways to join the
autonomy bandwagon -- otherwise regionalization will
launch without them.


7. (SBU) Certainly the king's plans for a root and
branch shake up of the way Morocco is governed will
prove significant -- if it takes hold. Moroccans,
including pro-independence activists, agree that the
GOM's autonomy plan for the Western Sahara is a
technical impossibility unless the monarchy finds a
way to begin legitimately sharing power between the
capital and the regions. This is a tall order in a
country that bases even its non-monarchial
institutions on an ultra-centrist French-style
model. The choice of the Moroccan Ambassador to
Spain to lead the effort and the lack of clarity
about involving the walis do not bode well.
Nonetheless, this tall order now appears to have the
king's backing. Should it gain momentum, the
regionalization initiative would bolster the
legitimacy of autonomy as a solution and would have
other long-term positive consequences for Moroccan
democracy. End Comment.


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