The Feb. 20 Movement VS the Makhzen : Will the Battle Continue after One Year of Struggle?

“What is a rebel? A man who says no, but whose refusal does not imply a renunciation.” says Albert Camus in his essay The Rebel (1951). A very literal reading to Camus’s statement would propose that whoever says no to refuse something or someone is thus a rebel. But Camus continues making his argument about the rebel plainer, saying: “He is also a man who says yes, from the moment he makes his first gesture of rebellion. A slave who has taken orders all his life suddenly decides that he cannot obey some new command.” Hence, a rebel would be someone who says yes to rebellion after having said no to compliance, obedience, slavery, submission, humiliation…etc.
Camus’s conceptualization of the rebel has not been used only in literature, when it is adopted as an evaluative criterion that is applied to study the rebellious aspects of heroic characters in the plots of literary works which sometimes revolt, at a certain point in the plot, against a certain institution which exerts power and authority, but it has also been used in politics, history and economy, and this may tell us about the intellectual value of this work. Sir Herbert Read, who wrote a forward to the English version of Camus’sL’homme Révolté, notes that the Rebel “is not a theoretical work, but on the contrary it is it is an examination of the actual situation of Europe today, informed by a precise historical knowledge of the past two centuries of its social development.” My intention in this blog post is to, metaphorically, connect Camus’s conceptualization of the rebel to the current political situation in Morocco and try to point out to both the rebel and the institution which exerts authority over it, with an attempt to examine each one.
One year elapsed since February 20 Movement said “no” the first time. I believe there is no better representation of “a man who says no” in Morocco rather than February 20 Movement. I still remember when the movement said “no” the first time when its adherents took to the street on the 20th of February 2011 saying no to tyranny, autocracy, corruption and humiliation. Great expectations marked the first protest all over the kingdom. I and my friends were all waiting something to crop up. Something that we didn’t know but we wanted it to happen though. At least it could have broken the silence that float all the noise that was made by the discourses of our official media. The movement didn’t only say “no” on that particular day but it also said “yes”; it said “yes” to dignity, justice, freedom, equality and democracy. And it is still, after one year, saying yes to struggle and protest.
I am saying that the February 20 movement is up to now rebelling and not revolting. Camus believes that rebellion is natural and it comes spontaneously when needed and I believe this is how the Arab Spring was broken out when the Tunisian Mohamed Bouaziziset himself on fire on 17 December 2010 to protest his conditions. “Rebellion cannot exist without the feeling that, somewhere and somehow, one is right. It is in this way that the rebel slave says yes and no simultaneously,” Camus said. Thus rebellion would simply be the refusal to accept some authority which the rebel thinks it is illegitimate without taking into account any far-reaching implications as the act of rebellion is not that ideological as the act of revolt, which usually entails a substitution of one current power by another. And that’s what Mohamed Bouazizi didn’t have in mind.
This association of February 20 Movement with Camus’s concept of the rebel can, however, be biased and too subjective for it comes from someone who has been advocating the movement from the very beginning. It can also be selective for someone else who believes that the February 20 Movement is only an outcome of a long history of struggle by other pro-democracy activists whose attempts to bring about change were extinguished, during the rule of King Hassan II, in the shadow of what is so-called the years of lead. My association of the rebel with the February 20 movement can also be eliminative for those who believe in change from within the states’ institutions by accepting the rules of the game and being part of the political game here and now, like political parties for example, which take part in elections. I shall demonstrate later that referring to February 20 Movement as “the rebel” is not biased, and neither selective nor eliminative.
Camus, in fact, stops a lot at that “no” trying to figure out what the rebel means when he says “no”. Camus thinks that the rebel when he says no, ““he means, for example, that “this has been going on too long,” “up to this point yes, beyond it no,” “you are going too far,” or, again, “there is a limit beyond which you shall not go.” […] The same concept is to be found in the rebel’s feeling that the other person “is exaggerating,” that he is exerting his authority beyond a limit where he begins to infringe on the rights of others.” But after all who does the rebel address when he says no? Or in other words, who does February 20 Movement address when it says no? Who is this who is exaggerating? Who is this who is going too far and he shall not go any further? Who is this who is exerting his authority beyond a limit where he begins to infringe on the rights of the people of Morocco, as the movement believes? Or to put it straightforwardly who is this against whom the February 20 Movement is being rebelling?
This can of course be no one else than the economic and the political actors in Morocco who work in a sort of a complex system forming a body that monopolizes all sorts of power and whose omni-presence is seen and felt in all the aspects of public life in Morocco — with consequences on the private life sometimes. The February 20 movement refers to this body as the Makhzen. It is an obscure concept that is as old as the hills  and that is deeply rooted in the collective conscious of Moroccans. Even though all seem to know it, I suppose it is meant to stay unknown and for this reason I will try to approach it in what follows.
The Sultan of Morocco and his Entourage (1845) - a painting by Eugene Delacroix.The Sultan of Morocco and his Entourage (1845) – a painting by Eugene Delacroix.
A recently published book, in Arabic, by Jadour Mohamed, entitled The Institution of  the Makhzen in the History Morocco (2011) (مؤسسة المخزن في تاريخ المغرب) , which is in fact a PhD dissertation, has succeeded to some extent in disclosing the ambiguity that surrounds the concept of the Makhzen as the book provides insightful definitions of the Makhzen with reference to previous researches by Moroccan and foreign scholars. Jadour (2001) focuses much on studying the Makhzen of the SaadiSultan Ahmad al-Mansur, during the late 16thcentury and the Alaouite Sultan Moulay Ismailduring the 17th century as he argues that the concept of the Makhzen is very much elaborated during the reign of the two Sultans. The two sultans, as it is generally believed, are considered ones of the most powerful sultans who mark the Moroccan history with their Political genius.
During the era of Sultan Moulay Ismail for example, Laroui “distinguishes between a narrow sense of the Makhzen and a broad one. The first one usually refers to the military and the bureaucracy and whoever gets a salary from the treasury of the Sultan (the King) and the second meaning includes in addition to the first one, the Guich tribes[1] and sherifians (people who claim decadence from the prophet Mohammed) and displaced people in rural areas (المرابطين المنتشرين في البوادي) (according to the dictionary of Lisan al-Arab, people who usually reside in rural areas to get ready to fighting the enemy in case a war breaks out) and whoever gets decrees of reverence and respect.” (cited in jadour 2011, p. 393).
In the 19th century, however, the body of the officials of the Makhzen, according to Ibn Zaydan, “consists of ministers, secretaries of ministries (state’s secretary) who work in administrations of which each one is know as B’nayka (البنيقة) (ministry in our times). This body of officials used to carry on the Andalusian traditions which used to be kept thanks to the educational system at the university of the Quarawiyin in Fez and thanks to a full detailed system to choose who are desired, and appoint them.” (cited in  J F Ade Ajayi‏ 1996, p. 545).
Jadour (2011) studies the aspects of the presence of the Makhzen during the reign ofSultan Ahmad al-Mansur and Sultan Moulay Ismail as he also thinks that the Makhzen in those two periods acquired the connotation of a “state” or a “central authority”. But at the same time he thinks that using the concepts of the Makhzen and the state interchangeably is a risky enterprise for “the makhzen is not an abstract entity through which the sultan plays a specific role, but rather the Makhzen was an apparatus which refers to all those who are connected with the Sultan, or one of his representatives, and it also refers to all the functions they were in charge of, and which are based on relations of personal dependency”. (p.393).
A state with such a hierarchy system of power  is what Abdullah Laroui articulates in his book The Concept of the State (1983), a “Sultani state” (الدولة السلطانية), when describing the traditional Arabo-Muslim states, which according to Laroui are ruled by “a Sultan who considers himself as the successor of God on earth or as his shadow, which means that there is no justice on earth but the one under his flag and that God bequeathed him the earth and everything on it from the treasury, bureaucracy and the army”. This latter, according to Laroui, is “the arm of the Sultan which fights at home more than outside” […] “And the taxes are usually estimated by the needs of the Sultan not by what the subjects (the people) can afford to pay. It is taken forcibly from the merchant, the farmer, the manufacturer and the employee”. (Laroui, 1981. P. 89-125). The same idea expressed by Laroui was put forward before by Max Weber uses the term “Sultanism”, “which is the absolute control of society on the part of the Sultan.” (cited in Jadour, 2011. P. 391).
Jadour also notes that the concept of the makhzen takes metaphorical dimensions. It is usually personified in the person of the Sultan, or the King and it usually evokes fear and lack of confidence and sometimes it means security for people and it is also synonymous with power and wealth.
If we consider the Makhzen a state then February 20 Movement is fighting the state not the Makhzen and in this case one can no longer speak about a movement that is rebelling against the authority of the Makhzen, but rather about an anarchist movement since the movement in this case will be calling for a “stateless state”, that is a state without institutions, which remains very utopian in our time. However the conclusion one can draw from the definitions of the Makzen stated so far is that this latter doesn’t stand for a state but a central authority or more precisely a “centralized authority” and it is this authority that the February 20 Movement is rebelling against.
This central authority derives its power particularly from its powerful economic influence that no strong political decision can be taken without going back to this authority which plays a strategic and arbitrational role in politics. It is a power at the head of which comes the actual King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, as “Morocco’s biggest banker, former, grocer and land owner, who controls the country’s market,” as Moroccan journalist Ahmed Benchemsi reports in the Journal of Democracy in January 2012. Accordingly, one way to resolve this dilemma according to the February 20 Movement is to adopt a parliamentary monarchy as a referential regime in order to decentralize that centralized power and thus getting out of the circle of the traditional “sultani states” and join developed democracies by building a modern state which depends primarily on a total separation of power and the separation between wealth and power.
El Mostafa Ramid before he became the Current minister of Justice and Liberties holding a signboard which says: "No Real Democracy  without a Parliamentary Monarchy"El Mostafa Ramid before he became the Current minister of Justice and Liberties holding a signboard which says: “No Real Democracy without a Parliamentary Monarchy”
The parliamentary monarchy and the separation between power and wealth were in fact two main demands that the movement has been asking since February 2011, adding to that other demands like downsizing the power of the King, who is still in the framework of the new constitution —which the movement contests its legitimacy— enjoys a range of powers as a King, a president of the government council, a president of the ministerial council, president of the scientific board, a commander-in-chief of the army, a president of the supreme judicial council, in addition to other powers like appointing high officials.
King Mohammed VI receiving allegiance on July 31, 2011King Mohammed VI receiving allegiance on July 31, 2011
What still makes the concept of the Makhzen ambiguous in the era of Mohammed VI is perhaps that the Makhzen is in a phase of re-constructing itself and I think this has started once Mohammed VI succeeded King Hassan II. Mohammed VI has been hardly trying to gain the sympathy of the Moroccan low class through commercializing the image of the king who is by the people and for the people; that is a king who is not into protocols as when he goes and shake his subjects’ hands; a king who doesn’t mind sharing some of his private life with his subjects like when he makes his wedding broadcasted on national TVs breaking by that the long established rule in the Alaouite dynasty which never shew a King’s wife; a king who cannot help letting some of his subjects without something to eat like when he, himself, goes and gives his subjects the basic necessary foodstuff in occasions like Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. All this can be understood as an attempt from the king to stay away from the circle of the Makhzen that has been strongly associated with the King.
The battle will certainly continue either by the February 20 Movement or by another side because the social and economic conditions which led Bouazizi to self-immolate himself are the same which led more than 20 Moroccans to set themselves alight during one year and perhaps more is yet to come. The Makhzen is still there, poverty is still there, the lack of freedom, justice, opportunities is still there, holding power and wealth in the same hand is still there, tyranny is still there, absolutism is still there and the only worry is whether February 20 movement will stay there to face up this big mountain of corruption or no.
To finish with, here are  three equations which may help point the way out to a better understanding of the goals of the February 20 Movement.
  • Makhzen = a state ▬►Feb 20 Movement ≠ the state ▬► anarchy.
  • Makhzen = a central authority ▬► Feb 20 Movement ≠ central authority ▬►reforms.
  • (Makhzen = the state = the system = the regime = the government = the King) ▬► Feb 20 Movement ≠ (the Makhzen + the state + the system + the regime + the government + the king) ▬►Revolution.

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