How is the political elite produced in Morocco?

Source : Pixabay – Chengtzf

Normally, the concept of the elite is used to analyse groups that either control societies or constitute their upper layer. An elite is a select and powerful group of citizens and/or organisations. In a bid for social distinction from other groups. An elite is characterised by institutional and organisational arrangements that allow it to acquire, maintain and protect different forms of power and control[1].

As Morocco fears losing its political stability, the monarchy control the pace of the democratization process, even if watching over this stability could suggest, that it delays the democratic development of the country, the monarchy does not want to let go of its domination of political power, and consequently, which is behind the production of the Moroccan political elite.

So the question which arises is to know, how is the production of the political elite carried out in the Moroccan political system, in particular, since the establishment of the new Moroccan constitution of 2011?

Indeed, since the advent of King Mohammed VI, the Moroccan political regime is far from being what it was under the reign of King Hassan II, even if it still includes authoritarian elements or “authoritarian syndromes” such as Professor Michel Camau[2] would say.

Nowadays, we notice that the Moroccan political system finds itself, between political stability and democratic change at a low profile, to understand this situation, we will study the production of the political elites in the Moroccan political system. At first glance, it should be known that the determining factor in a democratic political system is the game of elections.

The Moroccan constitution between the centrality of elections and cooptation practices

When we study the constitution of 2011 we perceive certain formal ruptures. Indeed, more than Article 41 which “ostensibly” dissociates the religious status of the King from that of Head of State, more than the abandonment of the mention of the sacredness of the royal person, introduced by the French expertise of the first constitution of 1962, it is the question of the seat of sovereignty which turns out to have been decided in a clear manner and without the possibility of interpretation. Article 2 (paragraph 1) stipulates that “sovereignty belongs to the Nation which exercises it directly, by referendum and indirectly, through its representatives”.

This affirmation intends to establish the Moroccan monarchy in political modernity, by emphasizing the fundamental role of elections. Article 11 specifies in paragraph 1 that they are “free, sincere and transparent” and “constitute the basis of the legitimacy of democratic representation”.

However, despite the strength of these two articles, which pave the way for new forms of government and new mechanisms for the production of legitimacy, a careful reading of the constitution reveals grey areas. Indeed, the status of the commander of believers, with uncertain legislative implications in a society that unanimously believes in the superiority of religion over law. Added to this are the constants of the kingdom listed in article 19[3] on equality between men and women.

It has to be highlighted that the election seems all the more central as the King is bound, in the exercise of his functions, by his result. The king designates the government as an official of the leading party (article 47), and cannot terminate his mandate, except to run the risk of provoking new elections by dissolving the parliament (articles 51 and 96 to 98) and seeing the outgoing majority reinforced.

But one of the characteristics of the Moroccan political regime, which is more important, is expressed less in the organization of elections than in the practice of cooptation. Indeed, the issue on the doctrinal level of a reflection on the return of a representation based on historical legitimacy and “Moroccan duration” as Laroui[4] had remarked well, “a largely provoked amnesia made it possible to make the new regime the heir of a mythical Makhzen which would have been the political expression of an eternal Morocco”. Thus, the constitution outlines spaces where the nomination intuitu personae and cooptation appear as the appropriate modalities for their functioning.

The representations converge to reinvent the pivotal role of the King, not only as arbitrator in the management of the balanced but also as the producer of the authority of the nation in its plurality. In other words, as the expression of a different type of representation than electoral representation. What was openly assumed but not constitutionalized under the reign of Hassan II[5] has become constitutionalized under the reign of Mohamed VI.

This evolution is linked to the updating of the widely shared hypothesis, that the Makhzen[6]possesses this specific knowledge of the community, each time the demands of conflicting reforms necessitate the invention of instances of substitution for electoral representation.

The preeminence of royal power is no longer an issue discussed. Two reasons justify it, one traditional, due to the secular function of the Moroccan monarchy and its specific features, the other to the fact that royal power embodies state power. This is why, in Morocco, the King rules and the people would not understand that they did not govern[7].

The adaptability of clientelism, quotes and the carryover to legislation, has meant that the elite continues to resort to the institutions of the monarchy and the deep state to produce and reproduce their position and privileges.

Morocco in our opinion still in the democratic transition, the political elite established agreements on certain political matters and policy issues, allowing them to maintain institutional stability and consolidate a successful democratic transition. However, this approach favoured the concentration of power in the two coalitions, the monarchy and the traditional elite, and affected democratic consolidation. That is to say, that we are still in a phase of the neo-patrimonial State.

The neo-patrimonialism behind the fabric of the Moroccan political elite

We must already underline, that Neo-patrimonialism is an informal institution, which is defined as socially shared, often unwritten, rules that are created, communicated, and reinforced outside of officially sanctioned channels[8].

In short, the changes of 2011 will bring the separation of powers formally without affecting the power of the King, let alone the possibility of change at the top of power. Thus, the power structure remains intact: all powers and decisions start from the top and are delegated and granted. In Morocco, it should rather speak of a “prolonged transition”[9], which would reign in Morocco a “process which lasts for years”. Indeed, the alternation was therefore an alternation in the government and not an alternation in power, because in Morocco the power and its legitimation reside in the person of the King, for that reason you can’t talk about the alternation of power in Morocco.

In reality and despite the new constitution of 2011, the Moroccan monarchy has deployed a strategy of withering away and marginalizing political parties, while perpetuating a multi-party system that serves to maintain and consolidate its leadership. The multiple elections that have punctuated the political history of Morocco have provided a framework for the expression and renewal of the partisan field, carefully controlled by the Monarchy and devoid of any truly competitive dimension when it comes to the issues of appropriation of power. Political formations in Morocco have a more front-facing role in the service of the monarchy more than other functions, that is to say, to channel and regulate the political system on behalf of the monarchy. These political parties have agreed to continue to play the game of integration or co-option at the risk of weakening their social foundations and increasing their popular discredit; for the monarchy, to secure the support of partisan structures through a certain electoral legitimacy, to guarantee if not its hegemony at least its stability and survival[10]. It is the real cartography of current Morocco.

In The Commander of the Faiths The Moroccan Monarchy and its Elite, the American political scientist John Waterbury[10] presented in 1975 an analysis of the Moroccan political regime where the King “buys” the loyalty of the notability. The latter playing on clan, family and personal rivalries between them, all the notables of the country ended up becoming dependent on the Monarchy to maintain their positions.

The protesting political elites were co-opted in exchange for positions in the senior civil service, at the head of state enterprises or various ministries. In this context, the King distributes favours and privileges, rents and lands against submission and allegiance.Ben Barka had already observed the existence of two conceptions of power in Morocco: “the conception of a modern, democratic and progressive state”[11] and the conception “of a theocratic and feudal regime which would like to maintain or resuscitate medieval structures of traditional Moroccan society “[12].Thus we are still witnessing the preeminence of the modernized traditional elite.

Modernized traditional elites dominate the Moroccan political elite

The “Moroccanization” of land in 1973 where land belonging to foreigners (a majority of French colonial ) was redistributed to Moroccans in exchange for allegiance and loyalty constitutes an exemplary case. In this context, Rémy Leveau[13] published the Moroccan fellah defender of the throne where he explained, similarly, how Hassan Il relied on the traditional elites (especially rural) to put the parties of the “national movement” out of play, and strengthen the foundations of its power by using traditional symbolic resources. In doing so, the monarchy continued to exercise control over the democratic arrangements.

As soon as a popular protest movement emerges in Morocco which claims not only more equity but profound changes in the political class, that is to say, in another way the renewal of the elite, the ruling class will take a series of measures aimed at preventing the mobilizations from producing an immediate effect like what happened with the movement of 20 February[14]. Preventive measures to defuse potential social discontent has targeted the impoverished working classes over increasing subsidies for basic foodstuffs. The movement of unemployed graduates has received promises of public service hires. Moreover, once the call for demonstrations was launched, intimidation measures against its promoters and their family circle multiplied, so that they gave up and called off their demonstrations.

Thus will be inaugurated a monarchical initiative of constitutional revision (the new constitution of 2011) and innovations of the reform process for the maintenance of the monopolization of constituting power, through a new constitution based on a democratic symbol. But the country gives the impression of moving forward and at the same time stepping back in terms of Human rights.

Consequently, the elite of yesterday is that of nowadays, with symbolic retouching proved the elite production machine in Morocco is almost blocked, and far from being an effective mechanism for democratisation. In this context, elections impede democratic transition and reproduce old political regimes, at the local level and therefore at the national level.

The success of political and constitutional transformations, therefore, depends on the prior existence of a healthy political and social environment and democratic practices, which are prerequisites for an effective election. While changes in Morocco do not take place just when there is an internal threat, that could destabilize the political regime in place. We could already say, that talking about the production of the new political elite in Morocco, is a pipe dream.

Many observers believe the role of Tunisian civil society was decisive in the success of the democratic transition in the country. However, in the case of Morocco, the stranglehold of the monarchical power on the Moroccan political system slows down without any measure to the development of a dynamic civil society for the production of elites.

In addition, the Moroccan power uses a carrot and stick approach to control the institutions of civil society and subordinate them to the state. The regime appoints loyalists as heads and directors of civic institutions, or other figures capable of managing civilian organizations, in a way that serves the interests of the political regime. The modernized traditional elites are represented by the sons as their fathers, they evolve at the crossroads of economics and politics. They assume proximity to the central power, that is to say to the palace. This elite is diverse by its origins, Makhzenian families, families of provincial notability, large religious families, families of the Istiqlal party, and by its type of linking to the Makhzen[15].

Although, few members of these modernized traditional elites play an important role in the naturalization of Moroccan neoliberalism. They openly assume their link to the palace, they are explicitly part of this double relationship to power made up of legality and allegiance, even claiming the primacy of the latter. The members of these modernized traditional elites feel liberal and see themselves as Makhzenian. Most of them claim to be apolitical by the desire to distance themselves from political parties.

It is very likely, that the elites who prospered under the autocracy will resist normalizing the distribution of wealth and the democratization of political life, while the democracy will remain incomplete. As Charles Tilly observes, “In general, people who have been treated fairly by their government and/or play a direct role in the affairs of the government derive greater satisfaction from politics, and display a greater willingness to bear the weight of the common good[16].

The Moroccan constitution reflects the will of the constituent to preserve the achievements of the traditional monarchy, by founding the legitimacy of independent Morocco around the triptych God, the Nation and the King. Morocco post-1956 until today has always been concerned with combining modernity and tradition. One cannot help but think here of the famous formula of Eric Hobsbawm, “the invention of tradition”[17].

It concludes that elections have failed to induce genuine political change in Morocco; however, was been used as an instrument to reconstitute the existing political system. And besides, we are witnessing a stagnation in the production of the Moroccan political elite, in another way, the elections in Morocco only strengthen the elite of yesteryear which stabilizes the Moroccan political regime in terms of change. Thus, one could conclude that the constitutional changes in Morocco are only made to gain more support from Western powers and donors.

We still live the recycling of traditional political elite system with colours of modernity and liberalism. 

Mahmoud El Aallaoui, PhD in international relations based in Morocco

[1]G. William Domhoff, Reviewed Work: The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills. Contemporary Sociology, 35(6), 547–550.

[2]Michel Camau et Vincent Geisser, le syndrome autoritaire, Presses de science Po, 2003. The book talks about syndromes as symptoms that constitute a form of government.

[3]Article 19: “Men and women enjoy, on an equal basis, the rights and freedoms of a civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental nature, set out in this title and in the other provisions of the Constitution, as well as as in international conventions and covenants duly ratified by the Kingdom and this, in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution, constants and laws of the Kingdom. The Moroccan state works to achieve parity between men and women.To this end, an Authority for parity and the fight against all forms of discrimination has been created. “

[4]Abdellah Laroui, Le Maroc et Hassan II. Un temoignage , Quebec, Presses Inter Universitaires et Casablanca, Centre Culturel Arabe, 2005, p.41.

[5]Hassan II , la mémoire d’un Roi : entretiens avec Eric Laurent, Paris, Plon, 1993, p.51.

[6]The Makhzen constitutes a form of heritage power, the characteristics of which Max Weber has defined, taken up and developed by contemporary authors.

[7]Hassan II, Le defi, Mémoires, Albin Michel, Paris, 1976, p.154.

[8]Luc Sindjoun, « Les pratiques sociales dans les régimes politiques africains en voie de démocratisation : hypothèses théoriques et empiriques sur la paraconstitution », Revue canadienne de science politique, vol. 40, No. 2, 2007, pp. 465-485.

[9]Jean-Noël Ferrié, « Fin de partie: l’échec politique de l’alternance et la transition prolongée ». in Annuaire de 1Afrique du Nord 2002, tome XLII. Paris, CNRS Éditions. pp 307à 320.

[10]John Waterbury, The Commander of the Faithful: the Moroccan Political Elite: a Study in Segmented Politics, Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 1970.

[11]Mehdi Ben Barka, Déclaration in, Le Monde, 28 mai 1960.


[13]Rémy Leveau, Le fellah Marocain defenseur du trone, Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, 2 edition revue et augmentée, 1985.

[14]Desruest Thierry, « Moroccan Youth and the Forming of a New Generation : Social Change, Collective Action and Political Activism », Mediterranean Politics, 17 (1), 2012, p. 23-40.

[15]The “makhzen” designates, in current and familiar language in Morocco, both the Moroccan power and a system of nepotism and privileges of large families based on their proximity to this power.

[16]Charles Tilly, «Inequality, Democratization, and De-Democratization», Sociological Theory 21, n° 1, march 2003, p.41.

[17]Eric Hobsbawm, The invenlion of tradition, Cambridge University Press. 1992.

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