EUSpring | Morocco’s illiberal regime and fragmented political society

6 November 2015
Maâti Monjib (Political analyst, human rights activist, and historian at the University of Mohammed V-Rabat, Morocco)

In February 2011, citizens in Morocco – much like their counterparts elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East – poured into the streets in protest against corruption, economic hardship and a lack of freedom. These series of ‘uprisings’ or protests were quickly categorised as a general ‘Arab awakening’, or ‘Arab Spring’, but evolved in very different directions throughout the region; from the rise of parliamentary democracy in Tunisia to the outbreak of civil wars in Syria and Yemen. In Morocco, the post-Arab Spring period can be divided into different stages, based on the regime’s response to the demands of the protesters. During the first stage, starting with the protests in February 2011 and lasting until the summer of 2013, the ruling elite in Morocco implicitly, yet officially, accepted the public’s critique on its governance practices, and promised to change public policies related to civil, political and social rights.

But the government reshuffle and political crisis in the latter half of 2013 prevented the implementation of the promised reforms, and protesters became impatient with the slow pace of change. The ensuing unrest and chaos heralded the beginning of a gradual decline of newly-gained freedoms and citizenship rights and, because of the increasing threat of violence in the region, a renewed focus on internal stability and security. The situation worsened after the summer of 2014, with a further regression in terms of human rights, and growing restrictions on the use of public space. More worryingly is that the zeal for protest seems to have lessened, with many people in Morocco believing that the overall situation in their country is still far better than in most other Arab countries, and that the cost of protesting and calling for political change appears to outweigh potential marginal improvements.

This paper is published in the framework of the EUSpring project on Democracy and Citizenship in North Africa after the Arab Awakening: Challenges for EU and US Foreign Policy ( The project is carried out by a consortium of organisations, including the European Policy Centre, University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, The German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, the Centre for Mediterranean and International Studies in Tunisia and the Centre de Recherche sur l'Afrique et la Méditerranée in Morocco and coordinated by Università degli Studi L’Orientale in Naples. The project is supported by the Compagnia di San Paolo.