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Morocco Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Despite some reforms in recent years, the king keeps a firm grip on power. Morocco is usually highlighted as one of the Arab countries where freedom of expression is greatest, but the constitutional freedom of the press is limited in practice. The judiciary is independent on paper but plagued by corruption. State power exerts influence on politically sensitive targets.

The Royal House, after the turn of the millennium, has given in to demands for democratic elections, but sets boundaries and favors traditional relations. The makhzen, an old-fashioned power elite with the core at its core, also includes senior officers, business leaders and politicians. These influential informal groupings undermine state institutions and are often considered to stand in the way of reform.

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The party activities are tied up by the royal power, despite the fact that elections are held for both parliaments and regional assemblies. Several Islamist and leftist parties have approached the royal house and participated in governments. However, the country's largest opposition movement is not allowed to function as a party.

In matters of gender equality, the royal power has sent clear signals. Women have been given better legal protection against forced marriage and poor working conditions, and strengthened rights in divorce. Regent painters were previously completely invisible to the public, but with lalla Salma (from 2002), an active queen, modernly educated, has been presented as a role model (although transparency has limits: royal divorce papers exist - and they cannot be debated by Moroccan media).

Democracy and Human Rights of MoroccoThe conditions for Berber (native), Western Sahari (occupied) and migrants (most from sub-Saharan Africa) are questioned:

Protests in the Rifbergen, largely populated by Berber, have led to hundreds of arrests. Those arrested may be pardoned by the king, but leaders of the protests have difficulty regaining freedom (see Calendar).

The rights of Western Saharis, as people and as individuals, are not respected. A promised referendum has never been carried out and Morocco has moved its own population into the area (see Conflicts, Western Sahara).

The Moroccan state strives to meet the EU's desire to prevent migrants from reaching Europe. Human rights organizations criticize the way things are done, among other things that people are placed in camps and that forced removals occur (see Calendar).

When the Transparency International Organization in 2019 assessed the level of corruption, Morocco was ranked as country 80 out of 180, see list here. This was the same level as China and India, but a decline compared to the previous year. A new law against corruption had been delayed for several years.

Freedom of expression and media

Mass media is produced in both Arabic and French, and now also for the Berber audience. But despite promises of increased freedom, the situation has hardly improved in recent years. In 2020, Morocco ranked 133 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders ranking of freedom of the press in the countries of the world, see list here.

It appears that newspapers are banned, editors are imprisoned and foreign journalists are expelled. Defamation can give one year in prison. Writing about corruption among the governing, military issues or human rights is associated with risks, and questioning the king, Islam or Morocco's claim to Western Sahara is illegal. Migrant traffic through Morocco and the protests in the Rifbergen are sensitive issues. One method, instead of condemning journalists to prison, is to demand damages from critical writers and magazines, sentenced by litigation in the politically controlled judiciary. Other types of harassment have also been reported, such as advertising boycotts to stun critical newspapers financially. Article 381 of the Criminal Code is used to access "barefoot journalists" who document the abuse of the authorities. The legal text is really meant to prevent people from pretending to have a degree or a professional title that they do not have. In this way, Article 381 acts as an obstacle to freedom of communication.

A couple of the largest newspapers are privately owned and politically independent. The circulation figures are low, which is due, among other things, to illiteracy, distribution difficulties in the countryside and division into different language groups (see Education). Many newspapers are linked to some political party. Other newspapers speak for the regime. However, state media are increasingly compelled to take into account competition from foreign satellite channels in French and Arabic. They often report on things the government of Morocco is trying to do.

The state operates regional radio channels in Arabic, French, English, Spanish and the three Berber languages. State TV broadcasts in Arabic, French and Spanish and is partly financed by advertising. Since 1994, programs have also been broadcast on tamazight (Berber) and in 2004 the local TV channel Laâyoune TV was started in Western Sahara. In the canal 2M in Casablanca, which was founded by the royal house's wealth manager, the state has become a majority owner when the canal is in financial crisis. Several private radio stations include French-Moroccan Radio Méditerranée International (MEDI-1) in Tangier.

It happens that foreign media is turned off. Spanish El País was withdrawn twice in 2012, once because of an unsavory drawing and the second time because of writings about a royal-critical book. In practice, the TV channel al-Jazira was shut down for three years from 2010. On the other hand, when the government wants to reach audiences outside the country, it sometimes uses foreign media. The foreign minister chose to be interviewed by al-Jazira when the government criticized the Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen.

The Internet played an important role in mobilizing protests in 2011 (see Modern History). The government has occasionally blocked individual websites, especially those that have propagated for an independent Western Sahara, and blogging and anonymization tools. There is a lively blogosphere and network activism has influenced Moroccan politics on several occasions, but both bloggers and artists who criticize power through music videos risk punishment.

Judicial system and legal security

The legal system is based on a combination of French, Spanish and Islamic law. Islamic law is applied in cases involving family law and inheritance law. There is also a military tribunal. In the justice system, there is then old corruption and political pressure.

According to the constitution, the king is to guarantee the independence and function of the judiciary. He chairs the so-called Supreme Judicial Council, elects half of the members of the Constitutional Court and appoints its chairman.

During Hassan II's long reign (1961-1999), human rights violations were many and grave. Particularly vulnerable were left-wing activists and people suspected of being involved in military coup attempts. Following the outbreak of the war in 1975, hundreds of civilians in Western Sahara also disappeared. From the 1980s, the repression was directed more towards Islamists, who then began to be perceived as the great threat to the regime. Only during the 1990s did the conditions soften.

Mohammed VI has tried to distance himself from the inheritance of the father by emphasizing the importance of a rule of law with respect for human rights. In Rabat, the first center in the Arab world was opened in 2000 for the training of police, prison guards, judges and teachers on human rights issues. The King also appointed a Justice and Reconciliation Commission in 2003 to investigate the previous abuses. It reported in 2005 several hundred extrajudicial executions and that over 9,000 people were exposed to human rights violations. The victims or relatives were proposed to receive financial compensation - but the regime did not allow the culprits to be identified or brought to justice. Human rights groups claim that many cases have remained unresolved, especially with regard to missing Western Saharians and prominent enemies of the regime.

Activists who gathered in 2011 in what came to be called the February 20 movement have also been subjected to harassment. According to the Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH), at least 2,000 activists were arrested for four years from the start of the protests. Most were held briefly, but a number that have not been released are regarded by critics as political prisoners.

The security apparatus from King Hassan's days remains, although the management has been replaced. In recent years, interest has mainly been directed towards Islamist extremists, and with the support of a new anti-terrorist law, several thousands were arrested after the bombing in Casablanca in 2003 (see Modern History). According to human rights groups, many were subjected to torture and wrongful trials. Western Saharan nationalists have also been subjected to harsh interventions and abuse.

Unlike in countries with stricter application of religious law, such as those in the Persian Gulf, those who leave Islam do not risk the death penalty. The death penalty is sometimes punished for particularly serious crimes, but no execution has taken place since 1993.


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