Situation Assessment 15 September, 2011

The Tensions of Tradition and Modernization: Democracy and Political Variables in Morocco


Morocco combines contradictions and distinctions - between Islam and the West, unity and diversity, wealth and poverty. These contradictions are reflected in the process of understanding the politics of Morocco, the role of religion in the political process, and the actual roles played by political parties.

Amid all this complexity and intertwinement, one cannot merely describe the general political scene and examine decisions based solely on the stated positions of key decision-makers. A careful, in-depth analysis of Morocco's politics requires one to see past the obvious in order to understand the nature of the variables at work, and the slow process of democratic change in the country.

Distinctions between Tradition and Modernization

Politics always creates its own agents and actors, and constructs its own stage and audience. It is imperative for an individual faced with these givens to go beyond what the cognitively visible scene of political dynamics presents or represents. We are in an environment where the realm of the symbolic merges with that of the material, as do the weight of history with the political forces of the present, the emotional with the rational, and tradition with modernity.

Faced with this overwhelming admixture, "only a careful and alert reader fully aware of the Moroccan milieu can arrive at what is said or not said in Moroccan politics". The flaring up of political events, both implicit and explicit, demands that we find a way to listen to the real actors in Moroccan politics. The latter seems simple and stagnant on the surface, but its depths hold a complex and seething mixture of players and roles.

In addition to the fragility of political knowledge and the confusion of the political scene in Morocco, and taking into consideration the wagers taken into account when decisions are made and political practices are shaped, it is also worth noting that pinpointing the processes and mechanisms of Moroccan political life cannot be done by relying solely on the dictates of political rationalism.

Undoubtedly, the Moroccan political process retains an internal rationality, but in order to be able to properly represent and understand it, one needs to look beyond the narratives of its formal and legal frameworks. A purely juridical reading will more often than not truncate the issues, ruining one's chance of truly understanding the nature of the political system. Moreover, any analysis that sticks to exclusively formal considerations will be unable to properly grasp the foundations that ground the system.

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