Morocco's King Mohammed unveils constitutional reforms

King Mohammed VI of Morocco King Mohammed VI has promised greater democracy for the people of Morocco

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Morocco's King Mohammed VI has announced proposals for constitutional amendments in a landmark speech.

The king said the measures would entrench democratic institutions and protect rights, though he confirmed that he will retain some key powers.

The reforms would give the prime minister and parliament more executive authority and make Berber an official language in Morocco, alongside Arabic.

The proposals will be put to a referendum on 1 July.

The king promised in March to introduce "comprehensive constitutional reform" after anti-government protests inspired by those elsewhere in the region.

'Historic transition'

Despite the pledge, thousands of pro-democracy protesters have continued to hold demonstrations.

Analysis

The proposals will be put to a referendum on 1 July.

That is a very swift timetable, which is bound to make the opposition think the king is trying to push through the reforms without proper discussion.

Initial response has been mixed - some welcoming the ideas, others suggesting they are purely cosmetic.

Many activists have been sceptical about the king's promises of change, saying Morocco's 400-year-old monarchy has a long history of enacting superficial reforms.

In his speech broadcast late on Friday on Moroccan TV, King Mohammed outlined his proposals and urged Moroccans to back them.

He said that if the reforms were approved, they would "constitute a decisive historic transition in the process of the building of the rule of law and democratic institutions, and in entrenching the principles and mechanisms of good governance".

An amended constitution would also guarantee "dignified citizenship and social justice", he said.

The independence of the judiciary and efforts to tackle corruption would be boosted, he added, and the reforms would guarantee freedom of expression and gender rights.

'Real revolution'

Start Quote

Before, we had an absolute monarch, now we have an absolute monarch that is a pope as well”

End Quote Elaabadila Chbihna Protester

But the king also said his own powers would be reduced "as much as possible", with the prime minister gaining the authority to appoint government officials and dissolve parliament.

According to the proposals, various national councils, including a youth council, will enable greater citizen participation.

The king said he would remain as the supreme commander of the armed forces, and retain control over security.

A new article within the constitution formalised his role as the highest religious authority in the country.

"The integrity of the person of the king should not be violated," he said.

"The new formula does not try to put a religious dimension to the person of the king but rather highlights political responsibilities."

The proposals were drawn up by a reform panel appointed by King Mohammed.

Driss Lachgar, minister in charge of relations with parliament, called the draft "a real revolution".

Moroccan customers watch a live broadcast from Rabat of a speech by Morocco's King Mohammed VI at a cafe in Casablanca, on 17 June 2011 Moroccans gave the king's speech a mixed reaction

He said it "laid the foundations for a parliamentary monarchy".

As the speech ended, cars flying Moroccan flags drove through the streets of the capital honking their horns, and young people marched along the streets banging drums and cheering.

But some activists were not pleased by the changes.

"Before, we had an absolute monarch, now we have an absolute monarch that is a pope as well," said Elaabadila Chbihna, an activist with the February 20 movement that has carried out weekly pro-democracy marches around the country.

Morocco has been facing severe economic challenges with high unemployment and rising levels of poverty.

King Mohammed, 47, acceded to the throne in 1999 following the death of his father, Hassan II, and now heads the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty.

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