Morocco King Pledges to Alter Constitution, Respond to Calls for Democracy

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, responding to calls for more democracy, pledged to create a committee to review the North African nation’s constitution by June and hold a referendum on the changes shortly after.

Speaking on television, King Mohammed promised to allow religious freedom and more transparent justice and said the prime minister would come from an elected party. The changes in Morocco come “in view of its progress in democracy,” he said.

Popular protest movements that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have spread to other parts of North Africa and the Middle East, with demonstrators in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq and Oman calling for moves toward democracy, improved living standards and the removal of autocratic leaders.

Rallies also occurred in Morocco, though they weren’t sustained and were relatively more subdued. Five people died when a bank was set on fire last month, according to the Associated Press.

Mohammed VI, called the King of the Poor for his efforts to raise Morocco’s living standards, has about $2 billion in assets, which placed him seventh on Forbes’ list of the richest royals in 2009.

National Language

Although he isn’t technically the head of state, King Mohammed has control of the country as both a secular and religious leader. He appoints the prime minister and his Cabinet, and has the power to overrule or dissolve the Parliament, which is elected.

The king also pledged to recognize the Berber language Tamazight as a national language, have a more equitable distribution of resources between the center of the country and rural regions and encourage greater participation of women in regional management and in politics. He said he would strengthen the powers of the prime minister, who will come from an elected political party, and promote free and fair elections.

Mohamed Darif, who teaches political science at the Hassan II University in Casablanca, said yesterday’s speech marked a break with an executive monarchy.

“The speech does not introduce a parliamentary monarchy, but it promises a balanced share of power between the king and a government elected by the parliament,” he said.

Abdelilah Benkirane, leader of opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party, said the king had “reacted positively to the demands made by the parties and young people.”

Morocco’s economy may expand 4.6 percent this year, compared with 3.3 percent in 2010, the state statistics office, Haut-Commissariat Au Plan, said earlier this month.

Tourism in Morocco accounts for almost 10 percent of gross domestic product. Revenue from tourism was the biggest foreign- currency earner last year, drawing 56.6 billion dirhams ($7 billion).

To contact the reporter on this story: Aida Alami in Cairo at aalami2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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