Morocco also has a deep historical bond with the Jewish people: the king's grandfather Mohammed V protected 200,000 Moroccan Jews from the Nazis during World War II, and nearly one million Israelis have Moroccan roots. The inauguration this week, after restoration of Fez Alfassiyine Synagogue, is a "lesson from Morocco to the 21st century" according to the Islamist head of government of Morocco.
And while the Moroccan kingdom has often been touted as an “exception” to broader regional trends, it has much in common with other Arab dynasties today. In several Gulf states which we have recently visited, native citizens tend to share the feeling of relief that they were spared the upheavals of the past two years. (This trend may not apply to increasingly polarized Bahrain, home to the bloodiest monarchical clampdown on protests thus far and still a place of widespread tension and discontent.) In Saudi Arabia, by far the most religiously conservative of the monarchies, a new liberal stream is emerging and making itself heard—the opposite of the situation in Tunisia and Egypt. In Jordan as well, where Westerners began to foretell that a revolution was imminent during new protests toward the end of last year, civil peace largely reigns. Following last month’s parliamentary elections, the widely discussed “horse-trading” among political parties is indicative of a popular engagement with the political process.
Why, then, do calls for new Arab democratic projects continue to emanate from the West? In Washington in recent months, conferences have convened in support of “prospects for democracy in the Gulf” and other parts of the region. They sometimes spotlight opposition figures from these countries who do not necessarily speak for the broader population. Americans generally lack sufficient contact with the region to gauge the pulse of the body politic—as evidenced by the fact that few expected the wave of revolutions that began in Tunisia. Going forward, more should be done to take majority views into account.
Ahmed Charai is publisher of the weekly Moroccan newspaper L'Observateur and president of MED Radio, a national broadcast network in Morocco, MEDTV network and chairman of the board of Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya Arabic daily newspaper. As an expert on Morocco and North Africa, he sits on the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He is a member of The National Interest's Advisory Council.
Joseph Braude, a Middle East specialist, is author, most recently, of The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World (Random House, 2011). His Arabic-language commentary, "Letter from New York" ("Risalat New York"), airs weekly in Morocco on MED Radio.
Image: Flickr/scossargilbert. CC BY 2.0.