With the advent of the Arab Spring and the February 20 movement, many new protest groups and organizations have emerged in Morocco. The surge in number and diversity of groups, including feminists, Amazigh, human rights activists, youth, and Islamists, have created a dynamism in Morocco’s public sphere that did not previously exist. Although the effectiveness of these new organizations remains to be determined, the historical significance of emerging civil society organizations and protest movements merits attention. This new visibility may help bridge the gap between public and private spheres, and between formal and informal ways of doing politics in Morocco. The 2011 reform of Morocco’s constitution was a historical moment that provoked a dynamic dialogue between civil society and state, and that gave rise to heated debates on the provision of an enabling environment for the empowerment of civil society.
At the beginning of 2011 a strong social mobilization triggered by the Arab Spring brought about unprecedented popular demands in Morocco to combat corruption, promote democratization, freedom, and human dignity. The king’s March 9, 2011 “historic” speech, promising wonders to Moroccans, and announcing time lined steps towards the drafting of a new constitution followed by a referendum and elections, succeeded in stifling these protests. Such acceleration of history allowed Islamists in Morocco, for the first time, the opportunity to form a government. Since the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), an Islamist party, failed to make a tidal wave during the November 25, 2011 elections, it was forced to form a fragile coalition with four major political parties that share very little of its vision.
While Moroccan civil society cannot be said to have played a key role in the social protests embodied by the February 20 movement, its interaction with the constitutional reform workshops cannot be denied. In fact, many civic rights, women’s cultural, developmental, and educational associations provided memoranda and proposals to the king’s appointed commission in charge of amending the Moroccan constitution. Moroccan associations demanded that the new constitution would strengthen the powers and broaden the prerogatives of civil society.
Civil society principles come with the promotion of participatory democracy and the reform of state bureaucratic institutions and processes as key elements to the improvement of people’s lives. In this connection, the participatory governance package, made essentially of decentralization reforms and participatory mechanisms for youth and women, represents a constitutional tool that should be adopted by the Moroccan government as a basis for addressing the challenges of promoting democratic institutions and reducing the growing social inequalities.
The new constitution intimates that the ability of a government to address socio-political issues is inextricably linked to the imperative of designing, implementing, and sustaining a comprehensive strategy of participatory governance. If carefully implemented, the new constitutional principles on participatory governance could assist both the government and civil society actors in developing participation principles, procedures, and practices. For the would-be Moroccan civil society, participation is not a concept which can be addressed once through principles and norms defined by the constitution and then shelved.
In this context, this paper will be divided into five main inter-dependent sections. First, it will provide a theoretical background on the notion of civil society and what this means in Morocco. Second, it will address the status of civil society as per the 2011 constitution. Then, it will shed light on the concept of participation as it appears in the constitutional text. Fourth, it will explore some of the correlations between civil society and the democratization challenges. Finally, the paper will discuss some aspects of the preliminary interaction between the current government and civil society and the way the national political context affects these dynamics.
Civil Society: A Theoretical Framework
In describing civil society, Seligman mentions three uses of civil society. First, as a slogan of different movements and parties. Second, as an analytical concept used by social scientists and third – as a normative concept in the ethical sense – to vehicle a vision of the social order. Seligman argues that “the idea of civil society thus embodies for many an ethical ideal of the social order, one that, if not overcomes, at least harmonizes, the conflicting demands of individual interest and social good”. Civil society for liberal thinkers balances the equation between rights and responsibilities. It also reflects a deep concern with the role of the state.
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 Adam Seligman, The Idea of Civil Society (New York: Free Press, 1992), p. 16.
 Don E. Eberly, ed., The Essential Civil Society Reader: The Classic Essays (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), p. 13-14.