HomeDOCUMENTSMission Reports200428 APRIL - 1 MAY 2004: VISIT TO MOROCCO by the MEDITERRANEAN SPECIAL GROUP
28 APRIL - 1 MAY 2004: VISIT TO MOROCCO by the MEDITERRANEAN SPECIAL GROUP
1. At the invitation of the President of the Chamber of Representatives for the Kingdom of Morocco, Mr Abdelwahed Radi, the Mediterranean Special Group (GSM) of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA) visited Morocco from 28 April to 1 May 2004. The NATO-PA delegation, made up of 21 members, met with numerous Moroccan contacts in the cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech in order to enquire about the political, economic, social and security situation in the country and to examine further the future prospects for strengthening the Mediterranean Dialogue. As a reminder, a previous trip had been made to Morocco by the GSM in spring 1999, after which an initial report about the visit was presented.
2. Presided over by Mr Jean Michel Boucheron (France), the GSM delegation of the NATO-PA was greeted on its arrival at the airport by the Department of External Affairs of the Chamber of Representatives, which handled the arrangements for the programme and organised discussions and official meetings. As a result, the members of the GSM were able to meet a number of senior officials, including Mr Driss Jettou, Prime Minister, Mr Taieb Fassi Fihri, Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Mr Ahmed Taoufiq, Minister for Habous (endowments) and Islamic Affairs; Mr Mohammed Aoujjar, Minister for Human Rights, and Mr Oumar Azzimane, Chairman of the Consultative Council for Human Rights. The delegates also had the opportunity of speaking at length with the President of the Chamber of Representatives and to meet the leaders of parliamentary groups, as well as members from the Bureau of the Committees for Foreign Affairs, National Defence and Islamic Affairs. Finally, the delegation was able to discuss the current situation in the country with academics and representatives of the civil society in Rabat and Casablanca.
3. Morocco, which has been associated with the Mediterranean Dialogue since its creation in 1996, has always demonstrated a particular willingness to develop close cooperation with the Assembly. As such, Morocco enjoys the special status of Observer at the Assembly and takes part in the many activities organised by the GSM, particularly seminars and visits.
4. This second visit of the GSM to Morocco confirmed the importance that the NATO-PA devotes to maintaining regular and productive contacts with the Moroccan authorities. It also indicated the mutual and shared interest - in this context of the enhanced crisis in relation to terrorism and extremism - in strengthening a security dialogue with its nearest neighbours in the NATO area.
5. During these two days, the members of the Government and Chamber of Representatives concentrated on highlighting the recent political changes and progress made, as well as the specific difficulties encountered by Morocco in this period of upsurge in terrorist campaigns and religious fundamentalism. It is clear that Morocco is going through a delicate period of transition, made more difficult by in-depth reforms to State structures, as well as regional and international developments. Most of the interlocutors underlined the importance of this cooperation with Morocco and the support needed from NATO institutions in the struggle against terrorism.
I. STATE REFORMS: PROGRESS AND TRADITION
Reforms to institutions:
6. Moroccan contacts from the Chamber of Representatives and the Government unanimously expressed an enthusiastic opinion about the policy initiated during the 1970s by King Hassan II and continued today by his son. The main principles and aims of this reform - laid out in the revised Constitution for the Kingdom in 1996 - were presented to the delegation. This policy for modernising the State proposes an "original development model that meets the requirements of the modern world and is suited to the specific nature and tradition of the Marocan-Muslim society". The reform undertaken is based on the "principle that modernity and democracy are not possible without development" and aims at achieving the ultimate "consensus between the traditional bases and values of Moroccan society and the modernity of a competitive society within a globalised world". Within this context, President Radi stressed the increased powers and growing role of the Chamber of Representatives in the areas of political matters and legislation. He also pointed out that the Chamber exercises an effective control over government activities. On this matter, the Minister for Human Rights reminded the delegation that the recent general elections in 2002 - which were marked by a new spirit of transparency and a lack of interference by the administration in the electoral process - were considered to be one of the first "credible elections" the country had seen. He noted that this ballot had opened up the Chamber of Representatives not only to certain conservative Islamic parties, but also to a coalition of opposition parties - which demonstrated a genuine consensual political will.
7. Nevertheless, some representatives of the political parties represented in parliament told the delegation of their concerns with regard to the real balance of power, which they see as being unable to guarantee democratic functioning within Morocco's institutions. It was mentioned several times that the Royal administration still benefited from too much power that was too concentrated, which cannot be the case within a democratic system. The King appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister and the other members of the government at the proposal of the Prime Minister. He also presides over the Council of Ministers and can dissolve both chambers of the parliament. He appoints the magistrates and presides over the state body that appoints members of the judiciary. He also appoints half of the members of the Constitutional Council, as well as its chairman - and so on. Some representatives added that the frequency with which meetings of the Council of Ministers is held is not sufficient and is far from enabling the government to manage the public affairs, which is a power that probably devolves by default to the Royal administration. Some parliamentarians also informed the delegation that - in their opinion - the powers and role of the parliament were insufficient to enable a real and effective separation of powers.
The situation on Human Rights:
8. On this topic, the Minister for Human Rights, Mr Aoujjar, emphasised the genuine political will that exists to take a critical look at the past. He also noted a new impetus for the promotion of Human Rights within the country. There has been the creation of an "Equity Commission" responsible for rehabilitating the memory of persons who have disappeared and for compensating people who have been the victims of arbitrary detention, currently chaired by a "former leftist detainee". There are also reforms to the judicial system underway, the development and growing participation of NGOs in the political life of the country, the promotion and institution of mandatory education about "Human Rights", as well as a moratorium on the death penalty1 - all of which demonstrates a new approach in this area.
9. Reiterating that Morocco was in the middle of a transition phase, the minister stated that certain abuses were still being reported and that the reports of some NGOs (Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) were still denouncing Morocco for practising torture, with conditions for detention lending themselves to great criticism, cases of hasty trials and punishments considered to be disproportionate to the crimes committed. Also, these organisations - followed by numerous associations and local political parties - have urged the Moroccan authorities on several occasions not to give in to draconian temptations in the wake of the attacks that have affected the country badly (the attack in Casablanca on 16 May 2003 killed at least 44 people). Acknowledging that some of these abuses still persist, Mr Aoujjar stated that they were linked to an exception situation involving the fight against terrorism and fundamentalism. He refuted allegations suggesting that the situation regarding the respect of fundamental rights had worsened in recent months. He also explained to the members of the GSM that there were no more political prisoners in Morocco and that his country disputed the description of "political detainee" for prisoners whose crimes had been demonstrated.
10. On the subject of the conflict in the Western Sahara, the minister deplored the situation of the many Moroccan prisoners of war, some of whom had been held for over 25 years.
11. Referring to an interjection by Mr Erdem (Turkey) regarding the humanistic nature of Islam, Mr Aoujjar added that the Muslim religion had always enshrined the notion of respect for human dignity and tolerance and that contrary to certain preconceptions, Islam and human rights were not incompatible, on the contrary in fact.
Reform to the family code:
12. Reform to the family code is a major element in the policy for modernising Morocco. All of the people the delegation spoke to on this topic talked about the real debate that this reform has caused in political circles, as well as within society itself. The civil society had been sharply divided by a stormy debate between modernists and conservatives.
13. The Minister for Habous and Islamic Affairs stated that after two years of work, the Committee charged with drafting this new code had been able to present the draft consensual code to the King - in his capacity as Commander of Believers - for his approval. This intervention and the royal arbitration have effectively made it possible to avoid a split within society over this revolutionary reform, as well as an ideological confrontation between traditional and modernist religious beliefs. Indeed, the code institutes some extremely innovative measures in the area of equality between men and women, the equitable right to inherit and divorce, to name but a few. According to the minister's own expression, this new code perfectly embodies the spirit of Moroccan reforms: "the quest for progress while respecting tradition" that changes and developments to this country render imperative.
14. According to the academics the delegation met during this visit, this reform has set off a genuine transformation of Moroccan society. On this point, it is understandable that a project of such size and scope should raise hesitations among the people, as well as strong criticism from the conservative and traditionalist fringe of society. Not only does this reform affect existing relations between people, but it also regulates relations between people and the State. As was the case with academics, representatives from the civil society stressed the importance of providing guidance for this reform, which has to be explained and applied in all regions of the Kingdom. This is because there is wide disparity between the countryside and the towns, as well as the high level of illiteracy that exists in Morocco (50% of the population overall and mainly in rural areas).
The role within the family, women's status and rights:
15. Clearly this reform will give Moroccan women new status and numerous important rights. Women are now permitted to marry without "guardians", which was previously impossible. The disowning of a wife now has to be ruled on by a judge and no longer decided unilaterally by her husband. Noted in particular is the relinquishment of the rule for "the wife to obey her husband", as well as the new right for the wife to ask for a divorce and to maintain custody of her children as a priority. Even though progressives regret that polygamy has not been banned by the code - essentially for religious and traditional reasons - polygamy is now subject to conditions that make it difficult, such as obtaining a permit from the courts to be able to taken a second wife. The main advance of the code in terms of family rights is the institution of joint responsibility for the family, shared between the two spouses and no longer the sole responsibility of the father.
16. Behind these initiatives and revolutionary advances, there is a genuine will for Moroccan society to develop and to train people's minds to accept a new type of relationship for women and family management. It would appear certain that this unusual and innovative experiment based on a modern interpretation of the Koran is, for the Arab-Muslim world, the sign of new thinking about Islam and modernity - and is already a prime example in the matter. Nevertheless, women parliamentarians have raised concerns as to the implementation and actual uniform application of these new provisions. It seems that the more traditional rural areas will certainly have serious difficulties in accepting and applying the code, all the more so since this reform has not yet been accepted by a conservative section of the male population.
17. Despite the modification of some legal provisions, such as the abolition of the principle of marital permission to exercise a business activity (the commercial code used to forbid women to carry out any business activity without permission from their husband), some legal texts still seem to favour legal inequality and segregation between men and women, in particular certain provisions in the criminal code, the personal status code, employment code and nationality.
18. Nonetheless, women parliamentarians stressed that many positive initiatives have made it easier for women to take part in political life and encourage women to be represented in senior positions. For example, the current legislature has 12% of women representatives and Moroccan women have recently been appointed as ambassadors. The situation for women in Morocco remains very precarious, especially in rural areas, and numerous abuses are still being recorded, such as discrimination, marital violence, abuse of minors, the exploitation of girls, sexual harassment in the workplace and a lack of access to education (illiteracy is dominant amongst women), etc.
II. RISE IN EXTREMISM AND INTERNAL SECURITY:
19. It was clear to the delegation that notwithstanding the close historical and natural link between Islam, Royalty and the State in Morocco, it is a country that has definitely taken an option for a strategy of fighting against extremism by way of "de-politicising religion". Indeed, even though there are currently some religious-based parties (the Justice Party being one of them) represented in parliament, the principle remains that religious organisations may not set themselves up as political organisations.
20. A number of the people the delegation spoke to pointed out that Morocco, just like the countries in the West, had been a victim of terrorism and was still a highly vulnerable country and a preferred target for acts of terrorism. The Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs underlined the fact that being a country with a strong religious tradition facing numerous structural and economic problems, Morocco represented the ideal location for extremist indoctrination. He expressed his concern over the small groups of terrorists and extremists that seem to develop in certain areas of the country - in the South in particular. He added that the proximity of countries such as Nigeria, Libya and Mauritania, as well as the difficulty of exerting effective control over Morocco's land and sea borders - partly on account of poor relations with its neighbours - made Morocco a high-risk area for the establishment of terrorist structures.
21. As far as regional cooperation in Magreb was concerned, the minister expressed regret over the fact that the conflicts opposing certain neighbouring countries were prejudicial to the development of any real regional entente. He emphasised that on account of the fighting in the Western Sahara the frontier with Morocco remained closed as the result of a unilateral decision taken by Algeria. He explained to the delegation about the recent proposals made by Morocco to resolve the conflict in the Western Sahara, which offers a higher degree of autonomy to this region within the border of the Kingdom of Morocco.
22. The minister also reminded the delegation of Morocco's tradition of tolerance and reiterated that Morocco is "not just a country producing terrorists, but is first and foremost a victim". It turns out that many of the terrorists of Moroccan origin have in fact grown up and been brought up in Europe (France, Spain, etc. ) or have been trained in other countries such as Afghanistan or certain Arab countries. It is a fact that the threat today is inside our societies and that the effort towards regional and international cooperation is all the more necessary.
23. The Moroccan authorities explained to the delegation just how much the hindering and violent message of the terrorists contradicts the message of peace and tolerance contained in the Koran. It is important that the Western world be aware that Islam is compatible with modern ideas, democracy and tolerance. Obviously terrorists use religion for political purposes. The Minister for Habous and Islamic Affairs confirmed that one of his main tasks is to contain this phenomenon by re-establishing the principles of "morals and religious ethics".
24. Taken generally, Moroccan officials declared that it was crucial to address the causes of the rise in terrorism. At the top of the list of causes stated is the lack of progress in resolving the conflict in the Middle East. The recent worsening of the situation in the Middle East was put forward by many people as being the result of "the existence and application of double standards, as well as the impartiality of certain powers involved in resolving the conflict. This state of affairs generates serious frustrations among Arab populations, as well as uncontrolled nationalist reactions". In the opinion of the President of the Chamber of Representatives, regional and international integration and cooperation are required, as well as joint efforts to resolve the causes of the conflict in the Middle East, which together could re-establish confidence and constructive dialogue.
III. NEW PROSPECTS FOR THE NATO-PA DIALOGUE WITH THE MEDITERRANEAN COUNTRIES: THE CASE OF MOROCCO
25. The GSM was able to have a long discussion with the Minister Delegate for Foreign Affairs, Mr Taieb Fassi Fihri. The minister underlined the importance of the relations between his country and NATO institutions and in particular the Mediterranean Dialogue within the NATO-PA. Like the Prime Minister, he also reiterated the commitment and interest of his government in strengthening this cooperation. Convinced that Morocco has a major role to play in this dialogue, the minister also called on the members of the group to take the regional factors into account and the sensitivities that condition the success of this exchange. The minister also wondered about the future of this dialogue, which is hard-pressed by current events and in particular by the situation in the Middle East. He stated that he was concerned by the risks of a unilateral policy for resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Referring to proposals to strengthen and enlarge NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue - which should see the light of day at the forthcoming NATO summit in Istanbul - Mr Taieb Fassi Fihri indicated that his country hoped that a new political direction would enable an approach to the Arab-Muslim world to be developed taking account of the new challenges facing that region. In the minister's opinion, the time has come to find a better form of communication and cooperation that takes account of our joint concerns, such as the fight against illegal trafficking, terrorism, illegal emigration, etc.
26. After the Mediterranean Special Group's visit to Morocco, the President of the Chamber of Representatives, Mr Radi, has expressed to the Chairman of the GSM, Mr Boucheron, the strong will to further reinforce this dialogue with the GSM and the wish of his country to become an "Associate Member". It is hoped that the Assembly will examine the procedure required for Morocco to acquire the status of an "Associate Member" and therefore allow for the development of greater parliamentary dialogue commensurate with Morocco's aspirations.
27. At its meeting in Bratislava on 31 May 2004, the Standing Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly examined the possibility of offering the Moroccan Parliament the status of associate member. The Committee unanimously stated its very high level of satisfaction with regard to the very positive political developments in Morocco. According to the Committee, the progress made on all fronts in terms of democratic maturity, dialogue and cooperation with the NATO-PA and economic development give Morocco a very special place among the Assembly's partners in the Mediterranean region.
28. However, the Committee deferred taking a decision on the status of Morocco and several other countries, because it would first like to review the relations that the Assembly has with those of its members that do not belong to NATO. The Committee was of the opinion that taking this step was necessary at this stage, whereas NATO itself, which has just experienced the largest expansion in its history, is currently reviewing the prospects of the Partnership for Peace and the Mediterranean Dialogue.
29. The GSM is of the opinion that current events, as well as the proliferation of joint concerns relating to security with our Mediterranean partners, require overall thought about the development and context of the relationship that the Assembly initiated with these countries a number of years ago. With this in mind, we now have to rethink the context for this cooperation, which was initiated in 1996 in the form of "dialogue". It would appear clear that it would be in the interests of the organisation, the member states and partners to further open up these activities to our Mediterranean neighbours.
30. It is therefore now up to the Assembly secretariat to prepare a proposal that takes account of developments in the relations and partnership with non-member states of NATO so that a proposal for reform of current statuses can be presented at a future meeting of the Permanent Committee. Such a modification of statuses will enable the Assembly's Standing Committee o examine, at a later stage, the possibility of offering Morocco the status of associate member that the GSM believes is essential for the development of special relations and greater parliamentary dialogue with that country.
31. On behalf of the whole delegation, the Chairman of the GSM, Mr Boucheron, would like to thank the Chamber of Representatives, and in particular its President, Mr Abdelwahed Radi, for the warm welcome extended to the delegation, as well as the excellent organisation and quality of the programme laid on for members of the GSM.
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Chairman of the Mediterranean Special Group
Jean-Michel BOUCHERON (France)
Vice-Chairman of the Mediterranean Special Group
Mario PALOMBO (Italy)
Vice-Chairmen NATO PA
Pierre LELLOUCHE (France)
Giovanni Lorenzo FORCIERI (Italy)
Secretary General NATO PA
Members of the Mediterranean Special Group
Czech Republic Vlasta PARKANOVA
France Lo´c BOUVARD *
Stanislas BREZET (Secretary of delegation)
Germany Hans RAIDEL
Greece Vassilios MAGINAS
Roxani XEPLATI (Secretary of delegation)
Hungary Sßndor FONT
Iceland Gudmundur ┴rni STEF┴NSSON
Einar Oddur KRISTJ┴NSSON
Italy Paolo RICCIOTTI
Netherlands Bert KOENDERS **
Romania Ovidiu Cameliu PETRESCU
Alexandru MATEI (Secretary of delegation)
Spain Roberto SORAVILLA
Francisco RICOMA DE CASTELLARNAU
Turkey Vahit ERDEM
Erol Aslan CEBECI
Brigitte LEBLANC English/French
Martine SCHLEICH English/French
Michelle SMITH-LAMBEAU English/French
Alessio COLARIZI GRAZIANI. Italian
Paola TALEVI Italian
Martina NIEβEN German
International Secretariat NATO PA
Andrea CELLINO Deputy for Policy Co-ordination to the Secretary General
RaphaŰlle MATHEY Director GSM
* (Rabat only)
** (Marrakech only)
1 Sentence last applied in 1993.