An Old Man's Advice to Moroccan Youth: Be a Light to the Arab World—Not a Shadow
Although I am only a crotchety old man, my heart goes out to all the youth of Morocco at this important time in Arab history. A long overdue revolution is sweeping North Africa and the entire Arab world. It would be like commanding water to flow uphill to expect Moroccan youth not to want a revolution in their own country—any revolution—just to be able to hold their heads up high to the rest of the world—especially to other Arabs.
But let's look not only at democratic tyrants to prove that corruption is endemic to all systems. Just take a look at the corruption of American democracy by Wall Street and foreign lobbies (to mention only two sources of corruption).
For, what young Arab-Moroccan is not proud of their fellow Arabs who have stood up to tyranny and stared it down in the streets of Tunis and in Tahrir Square—and are now facing bullets, tanks, and bombs in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen? And what young Moroccan is not concerned about the question he or she will inevitably hear from other Arabs—and even from his or her own future children:
"What part did you play in the Great Arab Revolution of 2011?" What young Moroccan today does not yearn to answer: "I made revolution, too." If I were young, I would want to be there making revolution with you.
But, if you will let a wizened old man have his say, this is what I would advise you:
1) when you make revolution, think first of what you are doing—because a lot of revolutions are regrettable affairs;
2) there is more than one thing about which to make a revolution; and
3) there is more than one way to make a revolution.
Let's start with the first point. The first Arab revolution of modern times was the Great Arab Revolt of 1916. This was a revolution against the arbitrary and corrupt rule of the Ottomans. Arab youth then joined with the British and French who were at war with the Ottoman Empire because it was allied with Germany in World War I.
Arab youth and their allies won. But what was the result? It merely allowed the British and French to carve up the Middle East with arbitrary lines and establish their colonial rule over it. Most of the rest of the 20th century has been spent on trying to throw off the results of the Great Arab Revolt of 1916.
The next great Arab revolution was the revolution of nationalism led by Gamel Abdel Nasser in the 1950s. That revolution was sparked by the dream of Arab unity that seemed to be well on its way with the joining together of several states into the United Arab Republic.
But the revolutionary dream led to humiliating defeats in the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, and the end of the dream of Arab solidarity. Instead of Arab unity, it eventually led to the regimes of Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria, and Muammar Gadaffi in Libya—all the regimes that today's youth are revolting against.
Don't condemn several future generations of Moroccan youth to trying to dig themselves out of the hole you might be digging now.
So, this crotchety old man has this piece of advice to today's Moroccan youth: Don't go off digging a revolutionary hole that you will regret. Remember that when you dig a revolutionary hole, you drag the whole country into it with you. So, think before you make revolution: Don't condemn several future generations of Moroccan youth to trying to dig themselves out of the hole you might be digging now.
This brings me to the second point, which is that there is more than one thing about which to make a revolution. Reading over a multitude of press reports, opinion pieces, and blogs, this old man is impressed with the paucity of reasons and goals for revolution in Morocco. They seem to come down to one single goal—get rid of the king's powers—and one simple demand—turn those powers over to elected politicians.
Now, if Morocco's king were as tyrannical as Ben Ali, Mubarak, Bouteflika, or Gadaffi, I would certainly applaud your goal—and even wish that I were young enough to join you. But Mohammed VI is not a tyrant. In fact, he has been a reforming king, and his goal all along is to make the country into a modern and democratic nation.
There will be more reforms and changes to make Morocco more democratic, just, and respectful of rights. That has been his policy since becoming king, and he proved it again on March 9th. While to the rest of the world, "The King's Speech" refers to a movie, in Morocco it means the speech in which the King said he meant what he has been saying since 1999. It isn't often that a nation gets a leader who actually means what he says.
Therefore, the fact is that Moroccan youth have little but an entirely abstract argument to make to justify their revolution to take away the power of the king in favor of elected politicians. Yes, there is also a serious corruption issue, and it has to be addressed. But, the naïve assumption—that getting rid of the king's powers and turning them over to politicians will solve the problem—is ridiculous. While the idea—that democracy will be less corrupt than monarchy—may have been a tenable hope in the long-ago 18th century American and French revolutions, experience since then amply proves that even the best democracies refuse to take second place when it comes to corruption.
Remember: Ben Ali was elected president of Tunisia five times, and Hosni Mubarak was elected president of Egypt in democratic elections four times. Merely being able to vote for them was no defense against tyranny and corruption. But let's look not only at democratic tyrants to prove that corruption is endemic to all systems.
hat I mean by a positive revolution is this: rather than following the course of the Great Arab Revolution of 2011, by blindly demanding a change of government, why not try to lead the Arab Revolution?
Just take a look at the corruption of American democracy by Wall Street and foreign lobbies (to mention only two sources of corruption). That makes all the corruption in Morocco that has so far been brought to light by WikiLeaks, etc., seem pretty petty by comparison.
So, the advice of this old American on my second point is that, if the revolution is about corruption, don't allow it to be sidetracked into a revolution about dividing up the king's powers.
I can assure you that democratically elected politicians are just as easily corrupted as the king's advisers—maybe even more so. Rather, use your revolution to aim directly at the corruption—naming the corrupters and how they are stealing from the government or the people. Attack the corruption, not the king. For, if you simply aim at the king, the corrupters will still get their way with the democratic politicians you elect after the revolution is over.
Finally, we come to my third point, which is that there is more than one way to make a revolution. The old idea of revolution had just one goal: "throw the bum out." Unfortunately, that is about all that the revolutionary youth of Morocco seem to be demanding—at least as reported in the press and stated in the blogs.
If the king gives up a substantial amount of power—i.e., removes himself from the picture by becoming merely a ceremonial king—the revolution will be deemed a success. Speaking bluntly, (after all, that is what crotchety old man do best), this is so petty that I can confidently predict that you will be ashamed of it in future years.
"But if we do not demand more powers from the king, how shall we have a revolution?" I hear you ask.
Well, this is where we have to get beyond the idea of simply shifting the distribution of power at the top. All that that kind of revolution accomplishes is to exchange one set of bums for another set of bums. In the end it is purely negative and only benefits politicians and journalists. If there is only change at the top, the revolution may as well never have happened—at least as far as ordinary people are concerned.
What is needed, therefore, is a positive revolution. What I mean by a positive revolution is this: rather than following the course of the Great Arab Revolution of 2011, by blindly demanding a change of government, why not try to lead the Arab Revolution? If Moroccan youth take this approach, you will have much to offer other Arab nations and peoples struggling to find their own path to: freedom under law, economic growth, and societal stability. For, if Moroccan youth think about it, Morocco is a great model for other Arab countries to follow. For the past dozen years,
- Morocco has been following a path of increasing respect for human rights, democratization, and economic growth;
- Morocco has a stable society that neither wants nor expects disruption;
- Moroccans have strong national feelings while at the same time reaching out to Arabs everywhere to increase economic, social, educational, and cultural ties;
- Moroccans have a strong sense of personal dignity, respect for Muslim values, reverence for tradition, and societal purpose.
These are exactly the values, goals, and personal dispositions that Arabs in other states, such as Tunisia and Egypt, who have just toppled their tyrannical leaders, will need in order to establish stable and free societies in their stead. Moroccan youth should be saying to them: "Come, look at the Moroccan experience: we have something good to offer you on the way to the future we all desire." Now, this would be a real contribution to the Great Arab Revolution of 2011. It would also be real and useful leadership that the Great Arab Revolution of 2011 desperately needs in order to not go the way of so many previous revolutions.
So, what is this old American's advice to Moroccan youth? Be leaders not followers.
If you will look upon your own country, its history, its traditions, and your own characters a little more honestly, you will find much more to offer other Arab peoples than just copying the them in toppling governments. Think on just this one thing for a minute: Is it not true that if any of the leaders toppled in North Africa in the past few months had followed the example of Mohammed VI over the past twelve years, would there not have been a greater revolution without all the violence?
I know that this sounds so contrary to most assumptions that it will shock many young Moroccans. But, really, does not the history of Morocco over the past dozen years, present the best example of what other Arab nations and peoples should follow—after they come out of their own "years of lead"? Of course, there have been mistakes, and maybe it could have gone quicker. But there are many lessons Morocco has learned, and it is these lessons that your fellow Arabs in other nations most need today.
If the revolutionaries of Tunisia, Egypt, and all the other Arab nations undergoing revolution right now are ever to get the kind of jobs they want, they will need peace and stability, investment, and economic growth. Big ideals are nice, but what is most valuable are the lessons learned in real efforts to achieve them. That is what Morocco has to offer.
So, here is your opportunity, Moroccan youth. Stop complaining about what you have, and start leading with it. Don't just ape the others—prepare yourselves to help them when they need it most—after the revolutions are over.
Moroccan youth can—and should—be a light to the Arab world, not a shadow.