- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

GENEVA — Warning signals about the fragility of the reign of Morocco's King Mohammed VI are increasingly reported by Western diplomats.
The continuing economic and political stalemate could eventually threaten the king, who recently celebrated two years on the throne as "descendant of the prophet and commander of the faithful," diplomats say.
After nearly 40 years of the oppressive reign of his father, King Hassan II, the political atmosphere has considerably improved, said Yunes Benkirane, a Moroccan journalist now living in Paris. "The people now can speak up, although carefully."
But he added: "With Mohammed VI in power, one cannot escape the feeling of fragility which has made him more likeable and human but also ill-prepared to face the future."
And the future, according to most Western assessments, appears full of pitfalls.
Although Morocco has managed to keep Islamic fundamentalism at bay, the kingdom's economic problems are being described by many as a time bomb.
The 37-year-old king remains popular but there is general disappointment with his socialist prime minister, Abderrahman Youssoufi, according to Western experts.
The king believes that his role is to reign while that of the prime minister is to govern. But according to Gilles Kepel, French author and specialist on Arab affairs, "the government's timidity has caused general disappointment."
Mr. Kepel said the Moroccan government is under increasing pressure to undertake economic and political reforms but is doing little about it.
"The fear of expressing one's opinion is gone and some newspapers are very critical," he said. "It is up to the government to follow this with democratic reforms."
Referring to the recent stirring among Morocco's Berbers following mass rioting in Berber-speaking areas of neighboring Algeria, Mr. Kepel said:
"In Algeria, the political problem of the Berbers is that their movement is limited to one region. The Moroccan Berbers believe that Morocco is a Berber country." Berbers account for about 40 percent of Morocco's 29 million people.
King Mohammed continues his reign surrounded by advisers of his late father. He is said to frequently bypass the government by issuing royal decrees, known as dahirs.
Although the ancient feudal etiquette at the court has not changed, some Western diplomats believe the king is capable of reforming the system.
Many of Morocco's problems are daunting. The kingdom's civil servants consume 53 percent of the budget. One in four Moroccans is jobless and 4 million people live on less than $2 a day. Outside urban centers, 90 percent of women are illiterate.
An influential elite controls the state apparatus, known as makhzen, and, according to one Moroccan journalist, some newly rich families spend more on dog food than an average Moroccan family spends on survival.
Said Aboubakr Jamai, editor in chief of Le Journal: "Undoubtedly the king has qualities with which he could build something.
"We are halfway across the river. Now we need free elections for parliament and a constitution based on a federal system."

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