The Middle East Channel

The royal road to democracy

In his June 17 speech, Morocco's King Mohammed VI paved the way toward a mature democracy. The new constitution that he has called for goes beyond the question of the balance of power between the king and elected officials. It brings the Moroccan state into modernity.

The king's constitutional reforms will transfer most authority to an elected prime minister, who will have the power to appoint and dismiss ministers and state officials. The new Moroccan parliament, in effect, will have the same powers as representative assemblies of developed democracies -- complete with a bicameral legislature akin to U.S. Congress.


The new constitution will also enshrine Morocco's adherence to universal values, ranging from human rights to the protection of ethnic and religious minorities to fostering economic justice and protecting the environment. It establishes the primacy of international conventions and the necessity of adapting Moroccan laws to them. This is a huge step forward, which promises to safeguard the rights of women, for example, from the dictates of the religious establishment. Finally, the constitutional reforms include the guarantee of an independent judiciary and a new commitment to combat corruption.

Morocco has been praised by observers for its relatively light response to the widespread demonstrations of recent months. In fact, pluralism and tolerance have been a mainstay of Moroccan culture for generations. The state has acknowledged past human rights violations and initiated a process to compensate victims of the regime of the king's father, who ruled until his death in 1999. The new king promptly committed to turn a new page in Moroccan history -- fostering civil society while making amends for past wrongs.

These reforms were hailed in their time, but a decade later, more ambitious steps have begun. The need to do so became evident after the 2007 elections, when voter turnout dipped to 37 percent, indicating that the population felt disenfranchised. A year later, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, the country's oldest opposition party, called for a parliamentary monarchy at its annual congress.

The February 20 protest movement has thus acted as an accelerator, not a catalyst. Unlike in other Arab countries, most protesters did not call for the fall of the monarchy, but simply demanded the end of absolutism and corruption.

For the most part, police did not intervene to break up these protests. It was only when radical Islamists sought to hijack the demonstrations that the security services intervened. When one protester died of injuries stemming from a confrontation with police, the counsel for the king opened an investigation and censured the National Brigade of the Judiciary Police, an elite police structure, calling for changes in police policy.

Morocco's protest movement is heterogeneous. Most mainstream political parties support it, lending legitimacy and organizational structure to the young leadership. But other elements are also involved, notably the Islamists of al-Adl wal-Ihsan and the Maoists who belong to a party called an-Nahj. The former are in principle banned but tolerated, while the latter are a legal party.

These two currents are anti-monarchical. The Islamists, supporters of Sheikh Abd al-Salam Yasin and proponents of a pan-Islamic caliphate, believe that democracy can be used to achieve their ends -- but see it only as a steppingstone to achieve their ultimate goal. The Maoists want an anti-capitalist revolution. These two movements are a minority of the protesters, though al-Adl wal-Ihsan is a structured organization with a membership thought to be in the tens of thousands.

In endorsing many of the demands of the majority of protesters as expressed in the February 20 movement, the monarchy has gained the momentum in the ongoing debate about democratization. Although it will be necessary for Morocco's democracy activists to maintain pressure on the king to make good on his promises, Morocco's future belongs to those who are calling for a parliamentary monarchy rather than those who embrace an Islamist or anti-capitalist vision for the country.

While the past year's events have clearly highlighted the antagonistic relationship between the people and their rulers in many countries across North Africa and the Middle East, the king's guarantees of constitutional reform show that Morocco is indeed a special case. The protest movement in the kingdom is not calling for an end to the regime because there is already a political outlet, within the framework of the present system, for them to air their complaints. In Egypt and Tunisia, by contrast, protesters had no hope that their grievances would receive a hearing and could only demand an end to the regime.

Morocco's king may not be perfect, but he has by and large heeded the street's calls for real change. If only other monarchs in the region would do the same.

Ahmed Charai is publisher of the Moroccan weekly magazine L'Observateur and of the French edition of Foreign Policy.

ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Turkish foreign policy after the elections

Although it is still early to evaluate the ultimate impact that Turkey's June 12 parliamentary elections -- which resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- will have on the direction of its foreign policy, there are several likely outcomes. The electoral victory of the AKP under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrates again that the Turkish electorate is satisfied with the assertive foreign policy that has been a concomitant feature of the party. In fact, part of the explanation for the victory of the AKP was the rise of Turkey's stature in its region and in world politics over the last nine years. The support for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's electoral campaign by the candidates of opposition parties in his district -- and the tendency of opposition parties not to bring Turkish foreign policy to the election agenda -- was a further sign of public support for the government's outlook. From Erdogan's victory speech on election night, moreover, it's possible to tease out a number of possible changes (as well as continuities), in the tone, means, and goals of Turkish foreign policy.

In the AKP's next government term, Turkey will continue to extend and deepen its ties with different political actors and the people of the Middle East, which was indicative in Erdogan's salutation in his victory speech to the people of Damascus, Cairo, Beirut, the West Bank, Ramallah, Gaza, and Jerusalem. As such, and in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, an Erdogan government will likely aspire to a more integrated Middle East where Turkey occupies a central role more attuned to the political developments of the region. The prime minister realizes that only having a good posture, being a favorite leader in the region, or maintaining good ties with the people in the upper echelons of governments is no longer sufficient. To solve this problem, it would not be surprising to see a Turkish diplomatic outreach going forward focused on a "civilian surge" that aims to be more active on the civil-society level in the Middle East in order to build the groundwork for deeper ties with the region.

During the previous years, Erdogan's government has worked with existing global and regional leaders under the maxim of a "zero problems" foreign policy and thus refrained from pushing hard on democracy or human rights. While this is likely to remain an overriding orientation, Turkey will nonetheless become more overt in its support of people's movements and also more critical of oppressive regimes in the region.

Turkey will continue to be involved in ongoing regional problems, engage in dialogue with the representatives of different social and political forces, and not refrain from taking risks where the Turkish government deems necessary. While this translates largely to policy continuity when it comes to Turkish persistence on the Palestine question, for example, it has meant a more forceful application of different means and tools to resolve conflicts, mediate disputes, and integrate different factions regionally -- as evidenced by Turkey's evolving relations with Egypt and Tunisia after their respective revolutions. Yet difficulty remains, especially over the Syria issue, which will force Turkey to make tougher choices. If Turkey follows a harder line on Syria, it is very likely to evince a tense reaction from its good relations with the "resistance front" (including Iran and Hezbollah), something which may push Turkey closer to the Western bloc and the Gulf. If Turkey manages to masterfully survive this expected tension, it will only strengthen the image of Turkey's independent stature in the foreign-policy realm.

In terms of relations with Europe, there is likely to be a revival in EU accession negotiations, after what has been a noted period of paralysis in that integration process. The restructuring of the cabinet by Erdogan just days before the election, which has paved the way for a separate and independent ministry on EU affairs, has signaled an increasing level of commitment to EU membership. This ministry will seek to bring an increasing amount of resources and attention to affairs with the EU, especially in lobbying domestic Turkish public opinion for the membership process, something which has shown a steady decline in interest after the perceived unfulfilled promises of the EU to Turkey -- and the inability of the EU to contain economic crises in its member countries. However, this raises the question of whether the EU, with its current right-wing leadership orientation (including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy), and which has a negative position on Turkish membership, will be ready to meet a new Turkish policy effort halfway.

The EU membership issue aside, recent developments also indicate that in the new AKP term, relations between Turkey and European Union will become more multidimensional, especially when it comes to policies regarding the Arab Spring and humanitarian interventions in the Middle East. In this new agenda, Turkey will try to become a norm-maker instead of being a norm-taker, and it will try to shape the agenda and form of interventions regarding conflict in the region. One important result of this might be common Turkey-EU projects and policies on supporting a democratization process in the region as the European Union itself fashions a more active neighborhood policy expansion to its south Mediterranean -- especially in Egypt and Tunisia. On some security issues, however, Turkey's increasingly independent and autonomous foreign-policy agenda will likely cause some contention between European countries and Turkey and may even bring new alignments in some areas within Europe and NATO, as in the case of the Libyan war.

In terms of relations between Turkey and the United States, there have been many ups and downs during the nine years of the AKP government. Although in the first months of Barack Obama's administration the relationship witnessed a bit of a revival with the deepening of the concept of a "model partnership," things have since soured in the aftermath of several disputes, including the Iranian nuclear crisis and last year's flotilla incident with Israel. Going forward, the partnership will depend on the redefinition and reformulation by both parties. The United States needs to understand the new realities of Turkish politics and consider the demands being placed upon Turkey as a regional power with its own agenda and priorities. In that sense, the United States should approach Turkey as an independent partner in solving certain problems and recognize possible conflicts of interest as a natural and inevitable fact, but also find ways to reconcile differences if it wants Turkey on board. If that psychological barrier can be surpassed, there may be more mutual collaboration, especially as it relates to developments associated with the Arab Spring. Yet Turkey must also recognize that it lacks both the resources and experience to deal with some of its regional conflicts unilaterally. U.S. support will be critical to reach its goals, like in the Syrian case. In the end, a model partnership between the two countries will be a horizontal rather than hierarchical relationship, which includes strong ties in some areas and weaker links in others. That will require an earnest need to work together to find mutually acceptable ways to strengthen the existing relationship, even when disagreements arise.

Finally, and admittedly a more vague part of Turkish foreign policy going forward, will be Turkey's relations with Central Asian states, an area which has often lagged when compared with other regions in terms of Turkey's ideal, strategic partnerships. Although important bureaucratic structures -- such as the Department of External Turks and Relative Societies -- have been created within the Turkish state apparatus to improve and consolidate relations with countries in this region, Turkish policy here has not thus far translated into the diplomatic heft it has acquired in the Middle East and elsewhere. After important openings to these hitherto ignored regions of Turkish foreign policy, the AKP government in its new term may try to be more proactive and energize its social and cultural relationships. While Turkey has previously played a mediator role in the crisis in Kyrgyzstan and overtly criticized human rights abuses of Uighurs in China, in the new AKP term Turkey should play an even more active role in Central Asia as it seeks to improve interactions between business groups and civil society organizations in the region, while continuing to promote the free flow of goods and services there.

When it comes to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Turkey will continue to pursue its proactive foreign, economic, and political relations, especially as it solidifies its ability to link the region as an energy and transportation corridor. In addition, Turkey will likely strengthen its military relations with both Afghanistan and Pakistan through ISAF and trilateral military exercises, and as there are possible plans of the Taliban opening an office in Ankara, Turkey may become an essential mediator in yet another conflict in the region.

The third consecutive term of an AKP government will be defined by the level of mastery that Erdogan is perceived to have achieved over both the country's political system and in the successful implementation of its foreign-policy goals in a rapidly changing regional environment. This will likely usher in a more active, independent, assertive, and results-oriented approach, especially as it relates to the ongoing developments and long-term effects of the Arab Spring. If Erdogan succeeds in his foreign-policy agenda, which is closely tied to Turkey's pressing domestic issues -- such as a new constitution, active civilian control over the military, and the Kurdish problem -- this dynamic may again transform Turkey as well as its neighborhood.

Nuh Yilmaz is the director of SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C. Kilic Bugra Kanat is a doctoral candidate in Syracuse University's Political Science Department.

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