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King Mohammed VI Calls for a Restart in Throne Day Speech

This week marks the 20th anniversary of King Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne. His message summarized both his pride in having moved the country forward while regretting that too much still needed to be done if the country was to achieve its potential. There is much to commend in the King’s speech, its brevity, vision, broad statements regarding actions and steps to propel Morocco forward, and his expression of personal angst regarding unfulfilled pledges.

After recounting the country’s achievements in modernizing its infrastructure and implementing key reforms, he said, “Let me say this clearly and frankly: what undermines this positive result is that the effects of the progress and the achievements made have not, unfortunately, been felt by all segments of the Moroccan society…Indeed, some citizens may not directly feel their positive impact on their living conditions, or in terms of helping them meet their daily needs, especially in the areas of basic social services, the reduction of social disparities, and the consolidation of the middle class.”

This uneven progress has been a consistent theme of the king’s speeches, calling for inclusive economic growth, a streamlined public sector doing its job of providing services efficiently, and building on the strong civic sense of Moroccans to have a better life. Yet, there is still a lack of sufficient momentum towards achieving the goals that he himself has set. This is clear in the failure of the government to carry through on promises made in the Rif region, leading to deadly demonstrations, or in reforming the educational sector to adequately prepare Moroccans for the market economy.

So when he exclaims “God knows how much I suffer personally when a fraction of the Moroccan people—even if it were just one percent of the Moroccan population—endures hardships and lives in poverty,” the 1% does not obviously include public officials and friends of the king who have been the targets of outrage and boycotts over the years yet still remain in power. But somehow, despite his message of reform and development, there is a disconnect with public officials, members of political parties in the House of Deputies, and leading private sector figures when it comes to equitable and transparent implementation.

He expressed the contradiction quite well. “As I said in last year’s address, there will be no peace of mind for me so long as we have not properly tackled the hurdles faced and found the right solutions to development and social issues. This, however, cannot be achieved without a comprehensive vision, without qualified human resources, or without meeting the conditions required to carry out planned projects.”

So, as he has done before when facing obstacles, the king said that he would create a special committee to assess and redefine Morocco’s development model. “I expect the committee to be totally impartial and objective, and to report on facts as they are on the ground, however harsh or painful they may be. And when proposing solutions, I want it to be daring and innovative.” So how will he ensure that this effort will be effective where others have failed, notably in the South where cronyism, corruption, inefficiencies, and distortions in public services were all called out, and yet conditions have only marginally improved there?

While the king intends to appoint people “who are able to feel the pulse of society, who understand its expectations and who have the nation’s best interests at heart,” this may appear as more of the same good intentions without change. What about youth, the marginalized, and women speaking for themselves and through elites or the notables in the NGO sector? How will those who struggle with health services, local officials, poor educational facilities, and sense a general decline in prospects for their children participate?

In prodding the government to take responsibility for change, he called out “Those who refuse to open up to the outside world in certain sectors—which I do not want to name here—arguing that it leads to lost jobs, do not care about Moroccans but fear, instead, for their own personal interests.” Reflecting the experience of the manufacturing sectors, he could claim that, “As a matter of fact, foreign investment in those sectors would boost state efforts, not just by creating jobs, but also by promoting quality training, attracting expertise, and showcasing successful experiences.”

To bring about this new resolve, the king recognizes the need to rebuild trust between citizens and the government. “The challenge of enhancing trust and consolidating achievements…is the recipe for success and a condition for fulfilling our ambitions. It concerns trust among citizens and trust in the national institutions that bring them together. It is about having faith in a better future.” He went on to say that “A new mentality is critical: The public sector needs an immediate three-dimensional revolution: a revolution in simplification, a revolution in efficiency, and a revolution in ethical standards.”

To underscore the task of moving the country forward, the king spoke of the need for social and regional justice, “to complete the building of a nation of hope and equality for all; a country where there is no place for blatant inequalities, frustrating behavior, rent-seeking, or time and energy wasting. Therefore, there must be a final break with such negative attitudes and conduct; we must uphold the values of hard work, responsibility, merit and, equal opportunity.”

Great speech, great themes, great hopes, but will there be any change? Will Morocco become, in his words, “a country that accommodates all its sons and daughters; a country in which all citizens—without exception—enjoy the same rights and have the same obligations, in an environment where freedom and human dignity prevail?”

King Mohammed needs all the help he can get. His agenda is on target and his instincts still clear and focused on the Moroccan people. How to get there given the systematic flaws in the government is the greater challenge.