New York, N.Y.
[Note: Transcript begins in progress]
FOUZIA RHISSASSI: --Moroccan academics have put at the top of their priorities, because it is impossible to talk about women’s rights, to talk about the promotion of women’s rights if those women’s rights are not incorporated in courses at all educational levels. And this is exactly what we’re trying to do right now, and by way of example, the UNESCO chair on women and her rights has been working for the last four years on a program entitled [inaudible], the incorporation of human rights in courses at all educational levels.
We are also trying to see what’s going on inside the classroom. That is to say, we are trying to pay due heed to pedagogy. What goes on inside the classroom when the teacher walked in, locks the door, and starts teaching? As I’m sure you know, after the horrible events of the 16th of May 2003 in Morocco [when terrorist attacks in Casablanca killed 44 people], we are becoming more and more careful. We are analyzing the contents of what our students are exposed to in their education and we are trying to eliminate whatever we feel is subversive or dangerous or detrimental to the promotion of women’s rights.
I would like to talk about an experience I had two years ago as dean of the faculty of the letters and human sciences [at Ibn Tofail University] in [Kenitra] Morocco. I kindly asked two colleagues from the department of Arabic language and literature, and I told them, “Please, I’d like you to do something for me, a very big favor: Go through the books that exist in the libraries in Kenitra and try to sort of put aside books that seem to you dangerous or subversive.” Obviously, I wouldn’t ask those teachers to read those books from covers to cover, but simply to look at the publishing house, the writers, the table of contents, the index, and I can tell you that we did a wonderful job because we came across extremely dangerous materials; materials, books that say that say women are deficient in reason, that they are less endowed than men, that they are the causes of [inaudible]; that is to say that they are the biggest threat Muslim societies could face.
Anyway, things have changed and women’s efforts— when I say women, I’m not saying that Moroccan women form one group. There are divisions of class, ethnicity, race, but there are different kinds of feminisms in Morocco. Anyway, these different kinds of feminisms, and their movements and their efforts, have grown root, and we, in 2002, we, the Moroccan government, with the help of, obviously, of King Mohammed VI, we revived the personal-status law and we have now a new family code, which establishes equality, not complementarity— equality between man and woman inside the family. I could obviously— and I think this is one of the most important points is equality, because in the previous personal-status law, a wife was supposed to obey her husband, and “obedience” was underlined. In the previous code, a woman needed a wali, which means a guardian or a tutor to be married. According to the new family code, a woman is free to give herself in marriage to anyone she wants, and I think this is revolutionary. It is really a revolution in more aspects than I could possibly indicate here.
Equality also has been established in divorce. A woman could initiate a divorce, and as I’m sure you know, before the man— the right was unilateral. A man can divorce his wife at will and there were often, I’m sorry to say so, the judges were there to serve as accomplices, and as a result of all this, wives and children very often found themselves thrown out on the street, and even when they tried to complain, the judges— there are noble exceptions— simply were there to ask them to turn back to their abusive husbands and get on with it.
I’m not trying to— there are other important points in this new family code. I would not like to monopolize the floor, but let me simply emphasize a point that could not be possibly overemphasized, is that this is a big achievement, but a lot more remains to be done, and the road is long and the task is not going to be an easy one; it will be a difficult and daunting task. But I think that the mission that Moroccan men and woman are going to embark on is very important, especially for women. We, at this juncture of our lives, feel that with the help of the international community, we are going to remake [inaudible] review our experiences through our own lenses. We’re going to rethink our lives with fresh minds and with fresh eyes, also. One thing I would like to underline is that you can only succeed by convincing, by making other people adhere to your points of view, not through provocation but through dialogue, and when problems arise, it is because people, generally speaking, talk past one another and not to one another. I thank very much for your patience. [Applause]
ABDESLAM MAGHRAOUI: OK, thank you all for coming and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak here. I was asked to speak briefly about the general reforms in Morocco, not just about the family code, and therefore my discussion will be very general. I started to write on Morocco only recently, about like 10 years ago or so, but consistently, I have been very skeptical about the democratization process that has been going on in Morocco since basically 1975. I have also been quite skeptical about the series of reforms that took place in Morocco in the late 1990s and even under King Mohammed VI. I must confess, however, that I am beginning to see signs of change of Morocco that are, I think, very encouraging and I see that Morocco actually has a great potential for change.
So what about all this change of attitude? Basically two very recent developments. One of them is what Professor Rhissassi described as the reform of the family code, a reform— that was in 2004. For me, that was really the very first sign that I started to think that actually Morocco could be moving forward with reform. It was a significant change. The code itself still has some incoherencies and there are problems of application, but it was very significant in the sense that it [inaudible] the gender relations, women issues, and family relations. It took it from the register of religion and the sacred and it put it into the register of law, and that is a tremendous transformation that of course, as Professor Rhissassi says, it’s going to take time. There are historical, sociological obstacles but it’s going to be, I think, a very successful one.
The second change that really attracted my attention when I started to see Morocco as potentially interesting is really, what is going on in human rights issues. By the end of the year 2004, there were public hearings organized across Morocco about human rights violations that took place since basically 1956 to 1991. The public hearings were open for the first time; Moroccans had firsthand accounts and testimonies from people who were victims, and their families.
And again, of course, critics, rightly, I think, so, said, “Well, look, I mean, this was a really— this is a commission that was established by the king and therefore, really, there are limits to how far it can go in terms of [inaudible] human right violations.” Others pointed out that if the names of the violators of human rights could not be even mentioned, well, then what is really the purpose? I still think that it has really created more enthusiasm in Morocco, and it’s implicitly or explicitly recognized or acknowledged the state’s responsibility [inaudible] Morocco’s responsibility of what happened, or what happened in the past. So I think, for me, these two events— both the reform of the family code and the human rights issues— really caused some major significant change.
But those are not the only issues where Moroccans actually are really making progress. Some areas that are less sensitive but not, you know, well-publicized, such as the reform of the textbooks, this is very important and significant. Moroccans are beginning to look at what kids are actually learning in schools. They are trying to teach values of human rights, respect for women, recognition of the Berber identity and culture, and they are even going to start now in some 350 schools. This is just like a big pilot study, and it will be generalized in Morocco.
And finally, this is very significant, because it shows that Morocco is recognizing the diversity, the cultural differences that exist within Morocco, that there is no ideological basis for organizing the community. Basically we are all— should recognize our differences and we can live together, and that is very significant.
Morocco also undertook a series, I think, of constitution and legal reform to liberalize social relations in terms of protection for child labor, protection for women’s rights, of course, and other issues that are really very important. Again, there are also problems with applications; it cannot be applied across the board. It will take a lot of commitment and education, but for me these changes are really very encouraging.
There are other areas where I wish Morocco would make more progress, and that is in the political arena. The political sphere is still— political institutions, political parties, and the parliament are still not considered as the real representative or legitimate. The relations between the monarchy, the state, and the government is still pretty ambiguous, who is really in charge of what, and I think it will take some serious commitment and constitutional reform to clarify, what is the role of the monarchy? What is the role of the government, and what is the role of the state? And this is something that we see coming out in the media. People are talking about these issues and, I think I will not be surprised if, in the near future, we see some serious constitutional reforms. So, I am sure you all have a lot of questions to ask, so we will just stop here and we will be happy to address some of them tonight. Thank you.
ISOBEL COLEMAN: Let me just ask the first question: You both touched upon reform of the curriculum and you spoke specifically about taking out things in the curriculum that might be undermining the status of women in the society, and, Dr. [inaudible], you mentioned a range of other things you think need looking at and the curriculum. Curriculum reform tends to be the hottest topic in many countries; it really strikes at the heart of what the next generation is learning and being taught and the cultural values of the society. I’ve just returned from two weeks in Saudi Arabia. Curriculum issues are at the top of everyone’s agenda. Could you tell us a little bit, both of you, what you think is the backlash to some of the changes that have happened, if there is the backlash? Where is the resistance strongest? Where is it coming from, in terms of curriculum changes, and what progress do you see?
RHISSASSI: A very interesting question. I know that curricular changes are important everywhere, but one thing is crucial is the [inaudible] course contents. You have to pay attention to the teaching staff at all educational levels before paying attention to the books themselves, because what happens— and it is— I reiterate what I said earlier, it is a question of pedagogy, because very often teachers— I talk about Morocco— the majority don’t receive any training. They have their B.A. or their M.A., sometimes even a Ph.D., and then they are exposed to students and so many dangerous messages could be imparted to students, especially when there is no evaluations— when there is no peer evaluation, when there is no student evaluation. So a class becomes a one-man show or one-woman show, but it is a one-man show. There is no interaction.
What is very important, I think, before changing the curricula, is to discard certain ideas. When I say discard— like what is taken for granted. What is taken for granted? I call it the “taken for grantedness.” [Laughter] A case in point: I mean, you talk to students and you say, “Well, what do you think? Express a point of view. What is your personal point of view?” And you are faced with nodding heads, but mute students. I’m talking about female students. And they tell you, “Well, we’re not supposed to raise our voice.” And I say, “Who tells you that? Who says that?” The person is saying that is saying something which is wrong. And the implication is that the teacher, who has more power, has advised them not to raise their voices in public.
So this has been taken for granted. So what the teacher says in class has the status of a natural law, and it is digested and accepted as such by the students who, if you are not careful, are going to perpetuate the same attitudes and the same forms of thinking and the same forms of behavior. So get rid of the “taken for granted” from students, from our female students’ minds, and try— we are trying; we are doing our best to inculcate in their spirits, you know, critical ways of thinking: how to think, how to express a point of view, how to have an opinion, how to rethink, how to put things into question, how to challenge, how to listen— also very important. We have now important listening courses where students listen because in countries— why this emphasis on listening— sorry, I’m taking too much time— because we are cultures, we have an oral tradition. [Laughter] Our people do not listen. They give the impression that they are listening, but they do not because they want to speak. That’s why I insisted on communication, because we talk to one another, but we don’t communicate very often, with a few notable exceptions.
So, pedagogy is something crucial in countries everywhere— everywhere. It’s, I think, a universal phenomenon and we are trying to tackle, to come to grips with pedagogical issues, and it is via pedagogy that you can create— if you have the pedagogy of liberty, you can infiltrate values of liberty and freedom in people’s minds, so pedagogy is very important.
MAGHRAOUI: Yes, just a very quick word on the political aspects. There is actually a national commission for the revision of the curricula in Morocco, and there are really different levels of resistance to the change. One is political. Sometimes these commissions can be very political. There might be different views within it, so there might be some resistance to changing the curriculum. The other— most of the time the problems are simply a question of capacity and competence: the money is not available, people are not familiar with this transformation; this is something knew, how are you going to do it? So a lot of these issues are also involved. But I think that it will take political leadership, definitely. I mean, it will take— for example, the minister of national education will have to take a clear stand and that the reform of the curriculum is top priority, it requires [inaudible], it requires these policies and these strategies, and that’s what’s going to do it.
COLEMAN: Thank you, I know that there are lots of questions here today, and if you can just get my attention and Steven’s attention, we’ll get a list together of people who would like to ask questions. And try to keep your questions short, and please make it a question.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. The topic is “Morocco: Model for Arab Reform?” So there’s a question: is it a model? I’m prompted to ask, why, after thousands of years— or a thousand years ago, Morocco and the region were the center of civilization and learning and then stopped being so? Why is this democratization or change happening now? Why hasn’t it happened sooner? Is it an out-birth of democracy? Why in Morocco and not in other places? And what is the prognosis for elsewhere in the Arab world?
RHISSASSI: Big question. [Laughter]
MAGHRAOUI: These are all very important, significant questions. Frankly, I think the word “model” is too premature to be used in the case of Morocco. There is still a process that is there [that] is unfolding. There are still too many issues to be resolved. And even if Morocco was [inaudible], I would hesitate to use the question of model for another country. What’s going to work in Morocco will not necessarily work for Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Algeria. I mean, in Morocco, it is a monarchy that still has that aura of symbolic legitimacy and arbitration power. In Egypt, it might be the military who can arbitrate, or in Saudi Arabia it may be a council of tribes. So it’s very hard to think of Morocco is an institutional model; it’s going to be a different dynamic.
Morocco’s push for democratic reform or changes really was happening in the early 1990s. This is something that started— I think King Hassan [II]was feeling he wanted to prepare better or more [inaudible] Morocco for his son. To be frank with you, it was like he wanted to leave some kind of institutional legitimacy for his son to come to power. Progressive for other Arab countries, it seems like— you know, what is going on in Lebanon, in Egypt, or in Iraq. Maybe [inaudible] will make some new points.
RHISSASSI: I would like to add a few elements of information. Why now and not earlier? Well, I think that history comes in here. Morocco was under the French protectorate, and the French were not really interested in educating women because [the French colonial administrator] General [Hubert] Lyautey determined that educating women would be very dangerous because we will be touching on the culture, we will be destroying the traditions. So the French were not really interested. They created [inaudible], which is called [inaudible] which means the school for an elite, an elite institution, and women didn’t really have access to these [inaudible].
Now, the nationalists were not much better, I’m sorry, than the French, because the nationalists, the Party of the Istiqlal, the Istiqlal Party, tried to instrumentalize women’s education to political purposes. I mean, somebody like [inaudible] did his best, and even in his book entitled [inaudible], he really was a defendant, an advocate of women’s rights, women’s education, but education that rested itself on women being good wives and good mothers and raising good nationalists.
So these things are happening now because people are educated— not all of them, unfortunately; there is still a high illiteracy rate in Morocco. We are thinking that, by 2010 or ’15, we will put an end to literacy, and I can tell you the efforts to have this materialize have been really intensified and many things are being done. So this is one. I think a country cannot possibly aspire to democracy or sustainable development without education.
So Morocco’s really come a long way from the 1960s and the 1970s where there was hardly anything, absolutely nothing. Now we have to talk about curriculum. Many things are happening now. There is a proliferation of gender courses, even at the secondary level. There is a proliferation of— a course of gender studies and multidisciplinary approaches at the university level, and there is dissemination also of this knowledge, of feminist knowledge. We published a book, for example, and we published immediately a simplified version of that book that could circulate in primary and secondary schools. [It] is not done in an automatic way— we need money, resources— but when we can do it, we do it, and also with the help of the media. You can’t do anything without relying on the media.
To try to answer your second question, could Morocco be a model for the Arab world, well, I think it is becoming a model because several Algerian delegations have visited Morocco, and I think they are trying to draw on this Moroccan experience. And we need models. We need models. I mean, we are involved in gender studies, and I think when I talk about proliferation of courses, the courses owe much of the impetus to what’s going on in other universities because, to be efficient sometimes, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You adapt success stories to your own specificities, and there is nothing wrong with that, being a model. We need role models and we need positive role models for women. So I hope— I hope and I think— I tried to say it yesterday very briefly— I hope that other Arab-Muslim, Berber-Muslim worlds will take on this example, Morocco, as a model. It deserves to be taken as a model. [Applause]
QUESTIONER: I’d like to ask about the change in procedures on marriage and divorce, change in personal status. Does this mean that both are now matters registered in civil courts or is the qadi [judge] now, or the imam [religious leader] out of the picture? I mean, that’s a very major step, if so. And with regard to the earlier question about resistance, was the ulama [community of Muslim scholars] unified against these changes and had to be overridden by the king or the government?
RHISSASSI: Thank you very much. The qadi is still there— qadis are there. But what is urgent now is their training, is the training of those judges and qadis. And I can tell you one thing: to be quite honest, if we don’t train the judges and qadis, nothing will happen. If we don’t train those who are going to— who are in charge of the implementation of the law, nothing will happen. I have been— I think two months ago, I was talking to men judges in Fes, and to my great surprise, they had not read yet the new family code. So training is very important, but when we talk about training, you have to train the judges, you have to train also the police, you have to train all of the people who work inside family courts. So it’s [an] encompassing task. And the second question?
QUESTIONER: The ulama.
RHISSASSI: The ulama. Some ulamas lashed out in violent criticism of the new family code, so there was resistance. There was resistance. But women’s NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and women academics and activists were telling them that this reform is everybody’s business. It is not only the business of theologians and ulama— I should have my own say, my colleague and the history department should have his or her say. So the commission that worked on the revisions was multidisciplinary and also multilingual, and I think it helps a great deal. So it was multidisciplinary and multilingual.
RHISSASSI: I’ll just add very briefly that the laws themselves are ambiguous and leaves a lot of discretionary power to the interpreter, and therefore judges tend to interpret the law the way they want. So the issue is, if the judge is confronted with a woman who knows her rights, was educated, and going to demand a different interpretation, it is going to change. If she doesn’t know, he’s going to apply his interpretation of the law. And my sense is that, in Morocco, we are going to go through a transition period where those who are educated and know their rights are going to get better deals than those who do not know their rights and are not going to speak up.
COLEMAN: Next question?
QUESTIONER: I was just going to follow on with a question of what is happening in the religious sector, and what is happening with the followers of the different sects of religion, and how is it been affected by the new family code?
RHISSASSI: Again, it is an important question. The general framework is there, but the details of the question are being studied. They are being studied, researched, and defined. So as my colleague just said, you know, there is this important law, but we are working out the details of it, and you have to work at them for them to work, and this needs time. It needs a great deal of time. That is the only thing I could stay at this stage.
MAGHRAOUI: Yes, but— sorry, could I just add something? Historically, there was a lot of Jewish communities in Morocco and they always had their own code, their own civil laws, and so there was no interference from sharia, or the Islamic law, with the Jewish community or with the Christian community, so they have their own, basically, court system. There is no—
UNKNOWN: And now?
MAGHRAOUI: Yeah, today. Yes, it has always been the case.
QUESTIONER: I thought it was interesting that in the promulgation of the law, which really was rooted on universal principles of human rights, but also reinforced as being consistent with Islamic values, that the king, in one of the promulgations I saw, had various provisions of the law specified and then underneath the Quranic versus or justifications, that it legitimized this in the eyes of the adherents of Islam. And I thought to myself— and I’d love your view on this— that, in this way, it too could be a model because the Quran is so often used as an impediment to women’s progress, that here there was a real attempt to say, this is consistent, and in that respect could it perhaps also [have] helped efforts in other parts of the Arab-Muslim world?
RHISSASSI: Thank you. That’s exactly what I meant. I agree with you 100 percent. In this respect, it could serve as a model because when you read the clauses of the law, you are struck and impressed by this beautiful alliance, or beautiful marriage between Islam and human rights and universal rights. In his first speech— King Mohammed’s— the speech was punctuated with Quranic verses. So, the implication being that it is not a difficult task to reconcile Islam and modernity, to reconcile Islam and human rights, and that in essence, Islam is egalitarian. It was an invitation to people to read the text in the light of equality— gender equality. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: I have two questions, please. Evidently, change is not going to occur in all three branches of government— legislative, executive, judicial— at one time. Where do you see the movement beginning in terms of Arab reform and [the] women’s movement? That’s number one. And the second thing I’d like to know, if possible, if you were to— aside from that prediction, if you were to base a structure of democracy and progress— is there any particular country or society that he would like to see the Moroccan society move along?
RHISSASSI: Thank you. Let me begin with the second question, your second question. I think that it’s very, very difficult to say right now that there is an ideal democratic state that one would like to follow.
QUESTIONER: I’m not talking about ideal.
RHISSASSI: Democracy? I thought— well—
QUESTIONER: I was talking about role models.
RHISSASSI: Role models?
UNKNOWN: [Laughter] That’s an ideal.
RHISSASSI: I think that there are so many important democracies that are doing very, very good things, but my problem— perhaps more the problem— my problem is defining democracy, and I would like to start with some helpful working definitions of democracy. I think to be able to answer your question, you and I have to disagree on what democracy is. It’s just like those concepts which are very elastic, and concepts behind which you have three floating concepts. I think this is something that we have urgently to attend to. Concepts, especially like this one, have to be, in my humble— have to be understood or apprehended in the same way by everybody, because otherwise, there is no possibility for communication to take place. We cannot possibly open channels of communication if democracy means this to me and this to you. Otherwise, every one of us is going to use this concept as a slogan for liberation and do whatever he or she wants to do with it. So working definitions are more than essential; they are vital. They are really, really vital.
COLEMAN: Do you want to answer that first part of the question?
MAGHRAOUI: Yes, very quickly. I think that this separation of power is definitely an important one between the executive, the legislative, and [inaudible].
RHISSASSI: [Inaudible]--for liberation, and do whatever he or she wants to do with it. So working definitions are more than essential; they are vital. They are really, really vital.
COLEMAN: Dr. Maghraoui, do you want to answer this part?
MAGHRAOUI: Very quickly— I think that the separation of power is definitely an important one between the executive, the legislative, and judiciary. It’s something that Morocco has to work on and that’s— I would associate that with any democracy, not a specific one. I mean, I think the monarchy will always have a role, a prestigious and symbolic role, and even power. I think that religion in the public sphere is going to be different from a liberal democracy. Religion is going to be recognized, institutionalized. It is going to play a role. Now being the case, what kind of rights should individuals have once it is established, where religion plays a role in public life?
So it’s not going to be some secular, liberal democracy. I mean, we all recognize that. Religion is going to play a role. I mean, that is the history, and so be it. I mean, if religion can play as a check against authoritarianism and abuse, so be it. But it’s an attempt to protect, to make sure that those who are not religious or have different religion are protected as citizens.
QUESTIONER: Can I follow up Abdeslam’s statement? Both of you spoke eloquently about the kind of consensual nature in which religion has been taken into account in these reforms, particularly with the family code. But of course, as we all know, in Islam, nobody has the monopoly over the interpretation of what the Quran can— other things— how, in Morocco, do you suppose to incorporate Islam— of course, there is a group that interprets it differently, namely the PJD [Justice and Development Party]. The reform— and including groups that have alternative visions of Islam in the public sphere. How is that going to work?
RHISSASSI: It is working; it is working right now, because I think that we have the king, who is the chief [inaudible], the chief of the faithful, of the believers, so religious issues are in his hands right now.
QUESTIONER: So reform— if you want to reform you need a king. [Laughter]
RHISSASSI: No, I was—
QUESTIONER: It’s a very serious question. I think it’s very important for Moroccans that—
RHISSASSI: It is; it is a very important question.
QUESTIONER: --that he has religious legitimacy.
RHISSASSI: He has religiously legitimacy, but I think things perhaps are not going— are not— will not go on like this, and what we need, I think, are people doing what I am trying to do but I don’t have the means and I am not qualified: perspective studies. We don’t have that. What will Morocco be like in 20 years time? I would very much like Morocco to have people able to answer these questions: What would the situation of women be like in 16 years’ time? So it is working now because of this particular— because we are working under specific conditions.
MAGHRAOUI: Oh, thank you. The question of interpretation is a serious problem in Islam and Muslim societies. That is, various groups or various individuals have the right to interpret the Quran their own way. They have to qualify, they have to be, of course, learned scholars, they have— they have some requirements. However, for all purposes, I mean anyone can say, “Look, I know the Quran; I can interpret the way I want.” And I think one of the challenges is how to institutionalize a religious authority within a religion where institutions have not been established in that source. I mean, and that’s really going to be the challenge. I think that, in Morocco, there was a reform of the religious field, and this was the perfect [inaudible] is to rationalize, institutionalize religious authority in a way that does not have to control speeches— I mean, mosques for political purposes, but also to give us some kinds of institutional authority that no one can abuse.
RHISSASSI: May I simply [inaudible] that I think that in Islam, the discourse— the prevalent discourse right now in Morocco is that nobody has the right to subordinate another one and that’s— we are all accountable before god. Actually, these are not— you know, it’s a dialogue between you— a daily one between you and your god. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: How long do you think it will be— I lived in Morocco [for a] couple of years back in the late 70s— how long do you think it will be before the Jewish community, which was very strong at one point and still are, I assume, will not have a separate court— will be incorporated into the whole government of country and they will be all the same people in effect, if you understand what I am asking? Because they have very definitely been isolated, and as Jewish community in Morocco, is still a very special group with their own courts and laws, et cetera.
MAGHRAOUI: Can I say something [inaudible]?
MAGHRAOUI: Actually, that’s not that Jewish community had their own courts and system was not to isolate them, but rather to give them their own civil rights. That is, you can be Moroccan citizens, but you can practice your religion, you can marry, you can divorce your own way. Since the civil code is religious, to force this code on religious— on the Jews— will have been a greater injustice in my sense. So the fact that the Jewish had this court system was more of recognition— is one of the traditions within the Ottoman empire that religious communities continue to practice their own civil rights, so I am not sure if I understand you when you say that they have an excluded or not incorporated.
If they are incorporated within the current system, they will lose their rights, so are we better off as Jews in Morocco to maintain my own court system.
RHISSASSI: No, it just that the word exclusion, I think that judging from experience and I think that, when we say Moroccan, we are talking about obviously Arabs, Berber, Christian, Muslims, Jewish people. This is exactly what we mean by cultural diversity. It is, I can— at the talking about education, Jewish literature we are teaching now with the help of a professor that I’m sure you know [inaudible], and others. We have— we are trying to raise Moroccan writing, Jewish Moroccan writers to great levels of visibility, and we have an important project in this respect. I don’t want to go into the details of it here.
QUESTIONER: You both have mentioned and alluded to the role of the press in helping to inform the public about the family code and some of the other advancements that you pointed to so helpfully. My question is, what is the press doing in Morocco itself, and then moving to the issue of, is Morocco— does Morocco have something to teach the rest of Arab world? The rest of the world, period? Is there international press coverage, and if yes, how does this happen on both levels? And if no, what is something like— what could the Council on Foreign Relations, what could Vital Voices do to help the NGOs and the leaders and people who are actively working behind the scenes get the word out?
MAGHRAOUI: Well, freedom of expression in Morocco, especially for the press, is fairly a recent phenomenon and therefore naturally, you know, there is a problem of professionalism, there’s problems of ethics, and problems of how to protect your sources, access to information. All sorts of issues that you really need to be codified and established before you can have serious press. I mean, for the time being, there are many voices. I mean, there are issues about the king where we’re forbidden about how much money he makes, what ways, but also some issues, we have— they are breaking the— a lot of taboos and that is a good sign.
However, there is really no professional independent press. There are a lot of rumors sometimes. There are all sorts of things and it’s difficult to, you know, to sort out what is really going on. My side, it’s very [inaudible] expression. It’s a new freedom; people are talking, but then the market, so to speak, will resolve the problem by eliminating the voices that are not useful or helpful or— so I think it’s a very important area. Definitel,y with their own education for women’s rights, on human rights, on the right of Berbers, or also some issues, the press is important component.
RHISSASSI: Very simply, I would say just like pedagogy and you don’t— you are not born as journalist, even a degree doesn’t make a journalist of you. You become— train. Training is very important. And to be journalist— to be Moroccan journalist should know that to be a journalist doesn’t mean to have the right to orchestrate life.
QUESTIONER: Can I ask a question of Dr. Maghraoui? You started out by saying that there is need for more change in the political sphere. And for both of you, there have been a lot of changes for women in this political sphere. I believe there is a quota now for women in parliament, it’s 20 percent, which, you know, there is greater female representation in the Moroccan parliament than there is in the U.S. Congress. And some critics have said, “Well that’s fine, but the parliament isn’t really powerful anyway,” so it is sort of window dressing to— throwing a bone to those who want reform and to promoting women in the parliament is a good way to do that. Could you both comment on— could you follow-up your comments specifically on what you would like to see in terms of greater political reform, in clearing up some of that ambiguity as you mentioned between in monarchy and the parliament, and then could you also speak specifically about the role of women in parliament?
MAGHRAOUI: I think there has to be some kind of constitutional reforms where the status of the monarchy is really clearly defined. The role of the government is clearly defined and there is clear separation of powers. I mean, it’s extremely difficult to move along the democratic path if there is no such provision of power.
The current parliament is not just— it’s not really window dressing. I mean, it has some capacity, it has independent commissions. They do look into, you know, some scandals of corruption, but it’s very limited. Most of it’s a problem of— is really a question of legitimacy. I mean, Moroccans simply don’t really think that they are represented. I mean, the parliament is some kind of game— political game between the political elites. They are corrupt. They speak on [inaudible], but it’s not a serious avenue or institution for representation. And that— that’s a real benefit to the extremist elements of the Islamist and otherwise, because as long as there are no credible political parties, as long as the parliament does not have prerogatives that are very clearly defined, the Islamists— I’m talking about the extreme fringe of the Islamists— are benefiting from this situation.
So, therefore, I would love to see, you know, clear constitutional reforms, political commitment at the top of the line— I mean from the king himself say, “Look, we have to separate these— to make separation of powers.” I think there has to be some kind of— some transparency in accounts [inaudible] in terms of economic affairs. There’s a lot of ambiguity there as well. Who is investing where and that’s create problems for economic reforms and also to build up political parties. Political parties are not very representative; they have been the same elite for 30, 40 years. There has been no serious renewal. This has been very much connected— family connected, and that has to change.
RHISSASSI: Yeah, I think is the— having women in parliament is definitely very important. But it is not enough to go back to the problem of representation, because what is important is to have women in parliament, who do genuinely represent women’s needs and aspirations. So if they— if you don’t have that, then it’s sheer window dressing. And we— you do this very own example, system of quotas, because the international eyes are on you and you try to meet certain needs. I think it is window dressing to a bit— to a certain extent. But it is, nonetheless, an important correction action. It is a kind of— it is important [inaudible] to take, provided you go further. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: Nancy Kamel from Vital Voices. With all of this exciting change momentum, do you have any concern or fear that there would be pressure from external governments or forces to block the changes that might go on or try to influence them?
UNKNOWN: If there are pressures to block the changes, like some Arab country?
QUESTIONER: Or to influence them.
MAGHRAOUI: I mean, I think that— I mean, the process of reform in Morocco really was independent from what has been going on during this whole debate in Washington about the democracy issues. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t— there was no external pressure. It’s begun in France under [former President Francois] Mitterrand. You know, he started really to talk a lot about issues of human rights— publication of a book. So it’s a little bit independent from what has been in the current debate on democracy, and it’s a blessing in a way so Morocco has already been— you know, already launched its reforms before talk of about the, you know, democratization in the Middle East. And I don’t really see any pressure to— I mean, from France or United States to reverse course.
UNKNOWN: But not necessarily just states, what about fundamentalists in other region, other areas, other states?
MAGHRAOUI: Oh, I see. Like a backlash. Of course, there is always the threat that something— you know, terrorist attack will happen. I think that’s Morocco’s best protection against something like that is really more democracy rather then less because a terrorist attack creates a problem for security. The absence of democracy creates a problem of instability. I’d rather live with the question of security than the issue of political instability where you might have civil war and chaos. I mean, that’s my take on it.
QUESTIONER: Dr. Maghraoui, where do you see the hope for serious political change? Are there institutions in place? Are there groups of young people? Is there a leader, a moderate leader? Because, as we all know, women’s like don’t necessarily lead to democracy. They may lead to women being more comfortable, but they don’t lead to political change. And by democracy, I would say— I would define that as various political parties that truly represent people. How can that change occur if the only change that happen so far has come from top down?
MAGHRAOUI: OK I think it’s quite accurate that the change came only from top down. I mean, there has been a long history of the work by civil society. And for me, the most interesting story about Morocco is that the push for reform came not from political parties, but from civil society: human right groups, women, Berber [inaudible] in itself. And the king, I think, is responding— or the respondent to these— to these concerns.
And when I say that I am concerned about the absence of political reforms, that’s what exactly I mean. There are really— the political parties have not been on the front in terms of demanding reforms either because of they have been co-opted, or because they are ideologically not interested in democracy, or for one reason or another they have not played the dynamic role that was expected of them. And although civil society can accomplish a lot [inaudible] women issues and children, labor right, and all sorts of things, there is a limit where you need political change, and for that you need strong political parties, you need strong parliamentary system, and that I thinks it’s— we are getting there. We are going to see that, well, human rights has been resolved. The issue— women are making progress. Child labor are being restricted and yet they say, no, really we cannot speak of democracy and that’s a problem.
I think it’s going to take again the leadership of the— basically who will have— the king would have to basically say, “Look, I am [inaudible] of my power. This is a very difficult thing to do.” But [inaudible] well, OK I’m getting [inaudible] so that has to be some kind of, you know, dynamic [inaudible] by political parties, but as long as he is the only voice or the only [inaudible] I think it’s going to be difficult.
QUESTIONER: Are there charismatic— are there other leaders that you look to? Are there other voices— particular stars in the firmament within Morocco who you look to for the future?
MAGHRAOUI: I don’t think I— frankly, if I think about [inaudible], there are no stars in terms of [inaudible] stars. There are lot of people who are [inaudible] a lot of the time and [inaudible] that’s actually not a bad thing. I rather would, you know, many people with equal ways and prestige rather than one single person. That tends to create an aura of the leader and authoritarian tendencies around one single person. So it’s not really absence of the figure; it is the absence of institutions that [inaudible] the problem.
RHISSASSI: This is true. Right now, I mean the— all political— existing political parties are almost compelled to revise what they are doing and to come out with decent agendas and because it’s really— I mean, it’s— the programs are similar— identical and very often, with a few noble exceptions, it’s sheer phraseology— [inaudible] phraseology. The programs leave much to be desired, and in a country like ours, I think it’s a shame to have that number of political parties we have. We will reach— it’s 36 political parties and the programs are, you know, [inaudible], you know, really identical. [Laughter]
UNKNOWN: Following the previous questions, you mentioned the groups in civil society and you mentioned the Berbers and women’s groups. You haven’t mentioned next-generation leaders or young leaders. Are there such groups and are they focused at all on the political process and democratic reform?
MAGHRAOUI: I don’t know of any. [Inaudible]
RHISSASSI: All political parties have women’s or [inaudible] for young people. OK? But these young people— I am talking of the political parties I know best— are very often, they are left to shift for themselves, which means that— organizing political parties suffer generally speaking from organizational problems. Even when new issues are touched on, it’s sporadically, OK? Haphazardly. And, you know, these issues are dropped. That’s why they are trying now to really put certain thing in the question. If you are going to be interested in youth, what program are you going to offer to them? What is your program for those people? It’s not simply a question of creating a [inaudible] or a bureau for the young, it’s a question of programs and objectives and the ways to achieve— attain those objectives. Thank you.
QUESTIONER: You both have talked about the need for improving education as a critical element of social reform, economic reform, and eventually political reform in Morocco. Morocco has very low literacy rates still for women. I believe it’s in the low 20s— 20 percent to 25 percent literacy— not illiteracy, but literacy for women. And it also has a fast-growing population, relative to other countries. Do you see how— if the government is going to really address the literacy question, at the same time trying to address that the [inaudible] question, changing how teachers actually teach and looking at curriculum— it’s a very ambitious educational reform agenda, and it’s one that will require some substantial resources.
Do you see those resources going into education? Where in the budget is it coming out of? I mean, I would imagine that to really tackle this you’ve got to have some pretty significant budget shifts and I just wonder if you could both talk about that?
RHISSASSI: I don’t know so much about the budget, but I know that Morocco is spending like above 7 percent of its balance, which is very high. It’s about 7 percent.
QUESTIONER: Seven? Seven?
UNKNOWN: Yeah, on education, which is already very high.
QUESTIONER: Seven percent? Seven?
MAGHRAOUI: I think it was [inaudible] high in comparison to other [inaudible] I have seen. I mean, those are tough questions. I mean, there are really, you know, difficulties of the social— I think that international assistance or aid in one way or another is going to be crucial to move forward in this area. The possibility that if the— that the conflicts up in the western side— if the Western Sahara conflict is resolved, it could shift some of the military budget to [inaudible] resources, and you know that’s the areas what I see.
QUESTIONER: Personal question once again. You know, I think if Morocco’s material resources are [inaudible] in the side of those who want to do anything about education, because we are trying to combat illiteracy, but we are confronted [with a] problem of lack of infrastructure in rural areas. There are no schools, so a considerable number of schools have to be built, and then it’s not a question of building schools, but also building and constructing the minds of those who are going to be there: the teachers. So the training of trainers, and I think that we don’t have the necessary money to do that.
MAGHRAOUI: Could I just follow up on that point? A few years ago, when I was in Morocco, there was an effort on the part of the economic sector— the business community to come together with the government recognizing that significant resources would be required, particularly for girls’ education, which is still lacking tremendously and particularly in the rural parts. Has anything come of that? Is there— we are in the era of public/private partnerships. Is there any demonstration of that kind of activity from the economic powers in the country?
RHISSASSI: Yes, hopefully things will— I mean, things are looking up. We have now— the education sector has two levels: secondary and superior, that is— has tried to establish links with the private sector, and more particularly with what we call [inaudible]. And the private sector— the private sector now is more than ready— more than ready to help as far as educational problems are concerned, but it’s— you know, nothing is happening right now, but it is— it is there. The will is there.
COLEMAN: Sorry, any other last questions?
QUESTIONER: The USAID— the [U.S.] Agency for International Development— has a program in Morocco. Are you tracking that program? Because it has many components in human reproduction and getting contraception out to poor woman, particularly the Berber women. Is that something you track? And I’d also love to know if the prisoners from the war [inaudible], if the Moroccans are still being held by the Algerians; and that, I assume, is so. Do you know about that at all? Thank you.
MAGHRAOUI: Yeah. I am [inaudible] from Moroccan prisoners held in [inaudible] in Algeria and there actually was this demonstration march two days ago or so in Morocco basically demanding that the oldest prisoners in Africa, you know, this far, they have been there for years. So they are still there.
UNKNOWN: They’ve become old men.
MAGHRAOUI: Yeah, and so some 30,000 Moroccans marched two days ago to demand their release from Algeria.
RHISSASSI: Yes, concerning the USAID, of course, they are doing many things, you know, micro-credits, and in rural areas and the actions undertaken have positive import, and the Moroccan press— the Moroccan press, Liberation [inaudible] and the [inaudible] have written a great deal about the impact— the positive impact of what’s the USAID is to when in certain rural areas.
QUESTIONER: Could I just follow up on that question is— how is the U.S. perceived in Morocco?
RHISSASSI: Well, I think, that’s a very big issue— problems of representation. Uh— [laughter].
UNKNOWN: Actually, we have someone here who did some focus grouping. [Inaudible]
STEVEN COOK: [Inaudible] did some focus grouping recently on Morocco and anti-Americanism there, and I’d like to introduce Craig Charney from Charney Research, who did that, and maybe he can answer that question.
CRAIG CHARNEY: Sure, Steve. We did that for a forthcoming Council study that should be released late April or early May. Essentially, we found that Moroccans, like other people in the Islamic world, feel somewhat ambivalent about the U.S., but the ambivalence right now leans towards the negative side. There is a great deal of anger over themes that are not very surprising, but people are upset because of what they perceive to be U.S. policies and what they have heard about U.S. policies in Iraq, in the war on terror, regarding Palestine, regarding the treatment of Muslims in this country since 9/11 and the attitudes of Americans since 9/11.
[Note: Transcript ends.]
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