As I prepare to leave Fes I know I will return. The story of Morocco is compelling and the people gracious.
What I have seen and heard from people — including a wonderful gentleman and military officer whom I met — indicate to me Morocco is on a path that might, if maintained, far advance this Maghrebian (westernmost) state in the Arab world toward sustainable development and democracy, in sharp contrast to failed states of the Mashreq (Arab east).
The secret of Morocco’s success has much to do with the monarchy and the broad support it has among the people.
Moroccan intellectuals at home and abroad, however, may shrink from fully embracing the monarchy due to the republican virus that has brought immense misery and ruin for Arabs wherever republicanism prevails — as in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Sudan and elsewhere.
When I point this simple reality to Moroccans with whom I have spoken at length, there is ready acknowledgment of how well the Alaouite dynasty has served the people.
It is a paradox in our time that monarchy can provide stability to a society torn by internal divisions, or in transition from the old world to the new. In the Arab world, monarchy — with the exception of the Saudi rulers, given their bigotry and sectarianism derived from their Wahhabi cult masquerading as Islam — has a better record of relatively benign rule.
Morocco’s dynasty claims descent from Muhammad through the marriage of his daughter Fatima to his cousin, Ali. In traditional Muslim society, such a claim binds the ruler to the people in a special way of mutual respect and affection.
For Arabs, Islam is custom sanctioned by religion as doctrine. This does not hold for non-Arab Muslims, and problems arise when non-Arab Muslims, such as Pakistanis or Malays, pretentiously strive to outperform Arabs as fake Arabs.
In Morocco, Islam as both faith and custom tends to be more relaxed, more liberal, more accommodating than I have found anywhere else in my travels through Muslim-majority countries.
Again, this has to do with the relatively enlightened nature of dynastic rule. Everyone here is familiar with Mohammed V’s reply to Vichy (pro-Nazi) French officers and their German colleagues when they demanded Moroccan authorities hand over Jews in the country: “There are no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccans.”
Though the country had fallen under French rule in 1912, when independence came in 1956 Mohammed V did not break with France. The French links were maintained, strengthened and became strategic, reminding me of how India was similarly built on the legacy of Britain’s rule after August 1947.
And later through the turbulent decades of republican fever and Pan-Arab nationalism unleashed by Egypt’s Nasser during the Suez crisis of 1956, Hassan II — on succeeding his father Mohammed V in 1961 — kept Morocco steady and sufficiently distant from the ruinous politics of the Arab east.
Mohammed VI is a businessman, western-educated and, like his grandfather and father, he understands Morocco will prosper as long as his people do not go hungry, have work, and their passion remains moderate between the old world and the new pressing upon them.