Jesse Jackson calls Morocco reforms ‘wave of the future’
By George E. Curry
Although Tunisia, Egypt and other troubled hotspots in the region have been shaken by popular uprisings, Morocco has been able to avoid turmoil by expanding the rights of its citizens and giving them more say in their future, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson said in a speech Aug. 15 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Rabat, Morocco’s capital.
“Morocco has responded with wisdom and achieved excellent results: It met the Arab Spring uprising by expanding democracy — a new constitution, a renewed commitment to human rights, a commitment to economic growth and social unification,” Jackson told his audience. “That’s why Morocco today is stable, your democracy is maturing, and you are building institutions to govern your future political, economic and social life.”
Jackson said Morocco, a country of 32.6 million, of whom 99 percent are Muslim, is a “great untold story.”
He explained, “The media covers violence and bloodshed and war every day. But I submit that peaceful, nonviolent resolution of conflicts, sustained economic growth — these are the waves of the future that also deserve media coverage.”
Morocco has maintained strong ties to the United States, becoming the first nation to recognize U.S. independence in 1777. The country describes itself as a constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and a social monarchy.
According to news accounts, in response to Arab Spring unrest throughout the region in early 2011, King Mohammed VI introduced a series of changes that included constitutional reforms and early elections. During his five-day visit to Morocco, Jackson described King Mohammed as “a young, global-minded and wise leader.”
Despite the establishment of the National Council on Human Rights by King Mohammed, more than a dozen human rights activists complained of continued human rights violations in a private meeting with Jesse Jackson Aug. 12. They alleged the use of police violence to quell peaceful demonstrations, official corruption, lack of transparency, prison abuse, delays in fully implementing the new constitution and failure to assure freedom of expression.
An even larger issue facing Morocco is the longstanding dispute over Western Sahara, with the country claiming about two-thirds of the area as its southern provinces and the Algerian-backed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which is pushing for an independent state, at war with Morocco over the territory after it was vacated by Spanish colonists and Mauritanian occupiers.
The United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991 with the expectation that a referendum would be held to help settle the matter. But the referendum never materialized, and the U.N. is still struggling to negotiate a settlement.
The dispute began more than four decades ago, yet Jackson remains optimistic.
“When differences and conflicts arise, reasonable people can work it out peacefully and not fight it out with violence,” he said. “If Blacks and whites in South Africa could work it out; if East and West Germany could work it could, then surely Morocco and Algeria can work it out.”
Using examples from the period of slavery through the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed Black youth killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., Jackson talked about how the United States is still struggling to perfect its democracy.
“From those places, today the son of a Kenyan father is now the U.S. president, the single most powerful man in the world, accompanied by 42 African American members of the U.S. Congress, a member of the U.S. Senate and Supreme Court, and thousands of mayors, state legislators and local elected officials,” Jackson said.
He urged Moroccans not to underestimate the power of one individual to bring about sweeping change, citing the cases of the young Chinese student who risked his life at Tiananmen Square by bravely standing in front of a column of military tanks, Rosa Parks’ decision to challenge segregated seating on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, Dr. Martin Luther King’s lifelong struggle for equality and the self-martyred man in Tunisia who ignited the Arab Spring.
“The value of democracy is appealing and healing — often poetic,” Jackson stated. “It raises a high chin bar for human relationships — between the governor and the governed, and between each other. Its strength lies in its resiliency — it bends but does not break.
“(It’s) the yardstick that challenges traditions of tribe and race, and gender and religion. In a real democracy, everybody is somebody. All are included and none are excluded. A minority of one matters in a democracy.”