- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

Picture this: It's fall, it's election time and political ads and debate dominate the airwaves. Hundreds of legislative seats are up, and party control of the legislative branch is at stake. Yet on this Election Day, 52 percent of the voting-age population cast ballots (in our last midterm elections, turnout was 36.4 percent). The results are soon out, with few reports of voting irregularities; the majority party in the lower house retains control, and according to one leading newspaper, "leaders from across the political spectrum welcomed the election as fair and transparent."
Pipedream? Well perhaps for us. Our elections are some weeks away. But not for the Kingdom of Morocco, which last weekend completed that very historic and successful step on the road to becoming one of the most democratized countries in the Arab world.
Parliamentary elections occur almost daily in some part of the world, rarely meriting more than cursory mention on the foreign page of the largest papers. Why should we care when some country a world apart in distance and culture, undertakes a process that for us is so routine, with results that would seem to hardly matter?
We must care if for no other reason, than that in a region where we may soon be at war, this Arab nation's monarch is determined to take his people down a path of multiculturalism and political and economic reforms that squarely align Morocco's values with our own. Consider these remarkable facts about the Sept. 27 parliamentary elections:
Although much of Morocco's population can't read, more than half actually voted aided by a laboriously developed system that ascribed visual symbols to each of the 26 political parties on the ballot.
While several of its neighboring nations discourage the education of women, Muslim-Arab Morocco set aside 30 seats in its lower house expressly for women, ensuring them a meaningful policy-making voice. At the same time, one could (and some did) vote for the Islamic PJD party, which chose the ballot box in its quest for popular support.
The results translate real partisan and policy differences into governing stability: The Socialist Party of current Prime Minister Abderrah Youssoufi was the top vote-getter. A conservative and a center-right party have come in second and third, respectively, ensuring a vocal opposition. The Islamic PJD has doubled its seats giving fundamentalists a voice, to be sure, but also a stake in preserving the institution it emanates from. The balance of seats go to a variety of small parties whose leaders generally echoed Party of Progress and Socialism spokesman Nabil Benabdallah, telling the Associated Press he thought the election "was honest, clean and really opens the road for democracy."
Perhaps most important, the vote is hard and tangible evidence of King Mohammed VI's commitment and ability to deliver reforms that give all Moroccan citizens Arab, Bedouin and Jewish a voice in its affairs and a stake in its economy. As an advocate of such values, his message to a following of tens of millions is that they are not inconsistent with the teachings of Islam or the daily practices of a devout Muslim.
Always our longest ally the first country to recognize the United States and to sign a bilateral treaty with us Morocco is now one of our strongest in the Arab world. Taking a moment to acknowledge this step forward is well in order.

Edward M. Gabriel was ambassador to Morocco from 1997-2001 and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

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