Moroccans vote on new constitution
Published 01/07/2011 | 05:32
Moroccans are voting on a new constitution that the king has presented as wide-ranging reform, even as activists maintain it simply perpetuates an autocracy.
Like all referendums in the North African country, the measure is likely to pass, buoyed by King Mohammed VI's continuing religious and political legitimacy and a huge media campaign.
Morocco, like the rest of the Middle East, was swept by pro-democracy demonstrations at the beginning of the year, protesting a lack of freedoms, weak economy and political corruption.
The monarch, however, seems to have managed the popular disaffection by presenting a new constitution that guarantees the rights of women and minorities, and increases the powers of the parliament and judiciary, ostensibly at the expense of his own.
Protests have continued nevertheless and the February 20 pro-democracy movement has called for a boycott and insists that the new constitution leaves the king firmly in power and will be little different from its predecessor.
Their voices have been drowned out, however, as nearly every political party, newspaper and television station has for the past several weeks pressed for Moroccans to vote in favour of the constitution.
On the eve of the referendum, a pro-democracy demonstration of a few hundred people was swamped by thousands of government supporters who travelled in for the occasion wearing matching T-shirts supporting the constitution.
The activists had to take refuge in a petrol station under the protection of police while they were hounded by the raucous pro-government demonstrators who threw eggs at them and called them "traitors" and "agents".
During the weekly prayers on June 24, imams in the mosque read out sermons issued by the government urging Moroccans to vote yes as an act of faith.
In cities around the country, banners paid for by local merchants exhort people to come out and vote, a practice seen throughout the Arab world when governments call a referendum and local businessmen want to stay in the good graces of officialdom.