Moroccan king's reform pledges draw high praise
Morocco's King Mohammed VI drew praise at home and from key allies France and Spain Thursday for his promise of sweeping reforms, but some Moroccans warned they wanted to see concrete results.
Political parties said his address late Wednesday pledging reform was historic and opened the way for a modern Morocco that could be an example to the Arab world, being shaken up by a pro-democracy revolt.
"It is a quiet revolution and a real social project for Morocco in the 21st century," said Abdelouahed Radi, president of the first chamber of parliament and a senior official with the Socialist Union of People's Forces.
"Morocco is entering political modernity through the big door. The king will remain the avant-garde of the Arab Muslim world," he said.
Opposition Islamist Justice and Development Party lawmaker Saad Eddine Othmani said the king had responded to expectations, including from the youth who led pro-reform protests on February 20 joined by thousands.
Unrest broke out after the demonstrations, leaving six people killed while scores were arrested. Other protests followed and the "February 20" movement has called more demonstrations for March 20.
"It is an historic speech, a big project of which the expectations are great," Othmani said.
Among the reforms announced by the king in his address, his first since the protests started, were that the prime minister would be popularly elected, and not a royal appointment, with real powers.
He also pledged "expanded individual and collective liberties and the reinforcement of human rights in all dimensions" and spoke of the "will to set up an independent judiciary."
He underlined a "firm commitment to giving a strong impetus to the dynamic and deep reforms... taking place."
The monarch set up a commission to work on constitutional revisions, with proposals to be made by June and put to a referendum.
Head of the commission, respected constitutional law expert Abdeltif Menouni, told reporters that his team would carry out wide consultations, including with associations, parties and the youth.
The king had "outlined some areas for reform but at the same time he has told this commission that it could tackle other areas of reform," he said.
"There will be a revision of the constitution like independent Morocco has never seen. There will be, in fact, a new constitution," he said.
France hailed the king's move as "responsible and brave", with a spokesman describing announcements concerning justice, women's rights, pluralism and Moroccan identity as "significant and exemplary".
"We are convinced that is a major speech for Morocco and for all the region, particularly in the current context," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero hailed the "wide-ranging reforms" which he said Spain welcomes "very positively."
"This is a very good path, these democratic reforms widen political representation, so that it is a government of maximum executive powers," he said.
But some Moroccans and civil society groups were more cautious, saying they wanted to see what proposals would be offered.
"We want a constitution that breaks with the one we have now, a real separation of powers and a more powerful prime minister who can be held accountable," Naima Glaf, a manager, told AFP.
Moroccan Association of Human Rights president Khadija Ryadi said: "We prefer to wait for the proposals of the commission, even though we think that certain points of the royal speech are important and new."
"One must not forget we want a new constitution and not a revised text," she said.
The first Moroccan constitution was promulgated in 1962 and it has been revised several times, most recently in 1996.
© 2011 AFP