The Kingdom of Morocco sits at the mouth of the Mediterranean and borders Algeria and Western Sahara. The country’s coastline is over 1800 kilometers long, while the nation itself sits on nearly 450,000 square kilometers of land in northern Africa. Morocco also lays claim to a large portion of Western Sahara, adding an additional 267,000 square kilometers of land to its territory. The majority work in agriculture and are predominantly Arab-Berber Muslims, though there are small minority Christian and Jewish populations.
Snapshot: Morocco's Constitution making
Morocco has a long history of civilization that dates back to the Neolithic age (2000 BCE). For a time it formed part of the Roman empire, and was later home to Islamic and Berber empires. Under the Berbers, Morocco reached its territorial peak, with the incursion onto the Iberian Peninsula. In 1631, the Alaouite dynasty came to power. The current monarchs of Morocco are of Alaouite descent. In the 19th century, Morocco struggled, largely successfully, to maintain independence during the era of Europe’s North African colonialism. However, due to its geopolitically important position at the mouth of the Mediterranean, European interest in Morocco was strong. Spain occupied the northern portion of the territory in 1860, while the French expanded their possessions in neighbouring Algeria to occupy the remaining half of the country in 1912. While Morocco fought for the French in World War II, an independence movement began shortly after the war ended. Occupied with the independence movement in Algeria, the French lost control of Morocco and granted it independence on 2 March 1956, while the Spanish also turned over their possessions in the same year.
The Sultan Mohammed V established a constitutional monarchy in which he maintained a large amount of authority. He was followed by Hassan II on 3 March 1961, who is best known as the ruler during a long period of government repression termed “the years of lead.” He began his reign by naming himself prime minister and appointing a new Cabinet. Hassan II then drew up a new constitution which was adopted by a national referendum in 1962. This constitution made the king as the central executive figure of the government. It also created a bicameral parliament and an independent judiciary. The period of political reform came to an end, however, when Hassan II was granted full executive and legislative powers under a state of exception due to political unrest over allegations of government corruption in June 1965. When the protests were quelled by the government, the king restored the Parliament, but with limited powers. A new constitution was drafted in 1970 eliminating one of the houses of Parliament and increasing the king’s powers, but it was abandoned after an attempted military coup in July 1971. Another constitution was passed by referendum on 10 March 1972, but another attempted coup occurred in August of that same year. This document allowed the king to maintain his powers, but it more clearly defined the balance of power between the monarch, council of ministers, and the parliament. When Western Sahara was partitioned in April 1976, Morocco acquired control of the northern two-thirds of the country. The constitutional amendments in 1992 and 1996 expanded the parliament’s powers to include budgetary matters, approving bills, investigating ministers, and establishing ad hoc commissions of inquiry to question the government’s actions. The 1996 amendment moreover re-established the bicameral legislature. Hassan II died in 1999 and his son Mohamed VI took the thrown, promising to end government corruption, release prisoners, and address human rights violations. However, political protests arose in 2011 in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring, demanding political reforms placing more power in the hands of elected representatives. In order to stay ahead of the movement that had toppled governments in nearby Tunisia and Egypt, the king appointed a commission of experts who drafted a new constitution in close consultation with a commission of experts who functioned as a liaison between the drafters and political parties, unions, businesses, and human rights organizations. However, the input of these groups was minimal, as they were only allowed to submit recommendations and were not privy to the actual negotiations and drafting. The new constitution passed by referendum on 1 July 2011.
The 2011 Constitution strengthened the power of the government, but the King still maintains significant, unchecked executive authority. The Constitution starts by recognizing not only Morocco’s Arab religious plurality and place within the larger Arab community, but its commitment to an African Union. It also reaffirms Morocco’s commitment to human rights and international law. It maintains Morocco’s character as a constitutional monarchy, placing the executive power in the hands of the Monarch, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet, while the legislative authority is held by the bicameral legislature. The Judiciary is headed by a Constitutional Court and presided over by a Superior Council.
The executive branch is headed by the Monarch who, in his position as the head of multiple government bodies, retains much of his previous executive power. His first responsibility is as the guardian of religion. The Superior Council of Ulemas over which he presides is tasked with studying questions relating to Islamic law, though the King is also given the responsibility of protecting the free exercise of all religions, not just Islam. The King is also the Head of State, in charge of protecting the integrity of the realm in its domestic and international relations. However, one of the most controversial attributes of the previous constitutions was the King’s role as Head of the Government. The 2011 Constitution nominally solves this problem by making the Prime Minister the Head of the Government. In this role, the Prime Minister can oversee the daily functioning of Council of Government, such as the implementation of government policy, the execution of laws, the administering of government funds, and the nomination of civil servants, ambassadors, and public officials. The Council of Ministers, a meeting of all the ministers of the Council of Government called at the request of the King or Prime Minister, possesses the additional powers of declaring war, amnesty, and a state of emergency. It is the King, not the Prime Minister, who presides over the Council of Ministers, so the King retains authority over the functioning of the Government. In addition, it is the King who appoints the Prime Minister and other ministers, and he possesses the authority to dismiss the government and any of its members, though the Prime Minister may request this of him at any time.
The King is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Morocco, as he presides over the Superior Security Council. This Council is in charge of all interior and exterior security strategy and is comprised of the King, the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the two houses of Parliament, the President of the Superior Council of Judicial Power, the ministers of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Justice, and the Administration of the National Defense, along with all other superior officers of the Armed Forces. The King also presides over the Superior Council of Judicial Power, can ratify treaties, accredit ambassadors, approve nominations for government posts submitted by the Government, and grant pardons. He also has a significant check over the legislative branch in that he may dismiss both chambers.
The Parliament is divided into two chambers: the Chamber of Representatives and the Chamber of Advisors. Members of the Chamber of Representatives are elected by direct vote for 5 year terms, and the number of its members is determined by law. By contrast, the Chamber of Advisors may not exceed 120 members elected by direct vote to 6 year terms. Three fifths of these Advisors represent the territories and regions in proportion to their populations, while the remaining two fifths are elected in each region by an electoral college composed of politicians and professional organizations of employers and workers selected by their own electoral college. The Parliament meets twice a year, though it may be convened by the majority of its members by special decree to address a constitutional revision, hear a declaration by the Prime Minister, discuss the presentation of the budget, or listen to a national address by a foreign head of state.
The Parliament votes on laws and controls the actions of the government. It has the authority to address questions concerning fundamental rights, the status of the family and civil rights, the rules of the health care system, and the regulation of the media. In addition, the Parliament may legislate on issues surrounding amnesty, the organization of the judiciary, the procedure of the judicial system, electoral laws, the national budget and financial matters, national and public transportation. Issues related to work and social security, the protection of the environment, the education system, and other matters relating to the administration of the nation are also under the Parliament’s purview. Normally, the Chamber of Representatives is given priority to address legislation, though laws relating to the development of the regions or social affairs are given priority in the Chamber of Advisors. Both houses have the chance to review the law and make changes before a ratification vote, and a law is passed if an identical version of a bill manages to gain a majority vote of the two chambers.
It is the task of the King to guarantee the independence of the judiciary, and he is aided in this task by the Superior Council of Judicial Power. This Council has the power to insure judicial independence and integrity by overseeing the appointment, advancement, retirement, and discipline of judges. At the request of the King, the Government, or the Parliament, the Council may examine judges and questions relating to judicial behavior, though it is not obliged by the request to make any specific determination. Presided over by the King, the Council is composed of the heads of the Court of Cassation (the highest appeals court), 4 elected judges from the lower appeals courts, 6 elected judges from the lower courts, a mediator, the President of the National Council of Human Rights, and 5 members appointed by the King either for their integrity and impartiality or on the recommendation of the Secretary General of the Superior Council of Ulemas.
The Constitutional Court has the authority to decide on matters relating to the interpretation of the constitution. The twelve members of the court are appointed to 9 year terms. Six are appointed by the King as nominated by the Secretary General of the Superior Council of Ulemas, and 6 members are elected by Parliament. Any organic laws must be presented to the Court before promulgation so it may pronounce on the constitutionality of the proposal. Similarly, laws and international agreements may be submitted before promulgation by the King, the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the two chambers of Parliament, 50 members of the Chamber of Representatives, or 40 members of the Chamber of Advisors. It may also hear constitutional issues brought up in the course of a case if one of the parties submits it for review.
Since the passage of the 2011 Constitution, student-led protests have continued unabated, demanding the further reduction of the Monarch’s powers, the strengthening of the powers of elected representatives, and the end to government corruption. They complain that the constitution continues to place the King in too powerful of a position, as he chairs Cabinet meetings, controls the judiciary and the military, presides over religious matters, and may dismiss the legislature if it passes a law he does not approve of. Many protestors also remain unhappy with the constitutional drafting process, claiming it was not transparent or reflective of the will of the people. Protestors marched in the capital of Rabat on the Monarch’s allegiance day, demanding that the King be transformed into a figurehead. However, unlike the Arab Spring protests, these protests remained relatively small and contain mostly students and young people. In addition, the movement lacked cohesive leadership and agenda of action. Some political organizations have moved to support the protests, dubbed the February 20 Movement. These leftist political parties, unions, human rights organizations, and Islamist movements have set up a council in the hopes of providing a centralized program of support for the protestors, but the main political parties of Morocco continue to be suspicious of the intentions of the group, fearing it will turn into another government-toppling, student-led incident as in Tunisia and Egypt.
In addition to the debate surrounding the powers of the King, concerns remain over the definition of the identity of the state. The Constitution names Islam as the national religion, and recognizes Amazigh, the language of the Berber majority, as an official language. There have been debates as to the role of Islam in the government of the country, creating tensions between the Islamist and civil parties. Those who advocate a more secular government are fearful of being viewed as irreligious, while the religious parties do not want to be associated with extremism. In addition, the Constitution guarantees a freedom of conscience in addition to a freedom of religion. This, some argue, forces the state to recognize controversial, non-religious practices such as homosexuality. While Morocco is more liberal than many other Arab states that use Sharia law, the King does have a religious role, and if Islam were removed from the Constitution, he would see his power diminished. Debate also surrounds the inclusion of Amazigh in the new constitution, as some believe this dilutes the nation’s Arab identity.
System of Government under 2011 Constitution
|Alaouite dynasty founded
|Spanish occupation of the coasts
|French occupation of the rest of the country not occupied by Spain
|Independence movement begins
|2 March 1956
|independence granted by France, Spanish give back territory, Sultan Mohammed V established constitutional monarchy
|3 March 1961
|Hassan II becomes King
|New constitution creates bicameral Parliament and established judicial independence, but keeps King as strongest power of government
|Hassan granted emergency powers under state of exception to deal with protests, then restored limited Parliament
|New constitution drafted by King
|attempted coup forces King to abandon previous constitution drafting process
|10 March 1972
|new constitution passes by referendum, prompting another military coup
|Morocco lays claim to northern portion of Western Sahara
|constitutional amendments create a Constitutional Council and parliamentary investigation committee
|constitutional amendment re-establishes bi-cameral legislature
|Hassan II dies, Mohamed VI takes throne
|student-led protests demanding more democracy and reduced powers for the monarchy prompt King to pass a new constitution which was approved by referendum on 1 July of that year
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- Souhail Karam. “Thousands Protest on Morocco King’s Allegiance Day.” 31/07/2011. Reuters. Web. 31 Jul 2011.
- Marina Ottaway. “The New Moroccan Constitution: Real Change or More of the Same?” 20/06/2011. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Web. 31 Jul 2011.
- Paul Silverstein. “Weighing Morocco’s New Constitution.” 05/07/2011. Middle East Research and Information Project. Web. 31 Jul 2011.
- “Référendum sure le projet de la Constitution.” Royaume du Maroc Bulletin Officiel: Edition de Traduction Officielle. 17 juin 2011. Print.
- Maddex, Robert L. Constitutions of the World. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2008. Print.
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Arab Political Systems: Baseline Information and Reforms – Morocco.