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Diaspora Engages with Moroccan Minister

by Sarah Alaoui

The Arab Spring has uprooted governments from Egypt to Yemen, but Morocco’s constitutional monarchy remains firmly in place, at least for the time being. Leila Hanafi, a Moroccan-American lawyer, says the recently amended constitution is one reason for the country’s stability — and its connection to Moroccans abroad.

Hanafi was among 65 people who gathered on a sunny Sunday morning on June 2 at the George Washington University Law School to hear the minister delegate to the head of government in charge of Moroccans living abroad, Abdellatif Mazouz, speak. The panel discussion, “Morocco’s Rule of Law Reforms: Toward an Evolved Perspective on Diaspora Engagement,” was a collaboration between the law school, the Alliance for Rule of Law Promotion and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ARPA), and the Moroccan Embassy.

Photos: Abdul El-Tayef/WPPI
Abdellatif Mazouz, minister delegate to the head of government in charge of Moroccans living abroad, speaks at the panel discussion, “Morocco’s Rule of Law Reforms: Toward an Evolved Perspective on Diaspora Engagement,” held at the George Washington University Law School.

“Many people asked me what the link is between development in Morocco and the role of the diaspora in the U.S.,” said Leila Hanafi, who moderated the discussion and is a representative of the Moroccan diaspora in the recently created Moroccan Intergovernmental Commission on National Dialogue. “The answer is the constitution.”

In response to marches by the pro-democratic February 20 Movement two years ago — or perhaps in an attempt to prevent Morocco from falling into the same turmoil as other countries in the region — King Mohammed VI put forward proposals for constitutional amendments in a July 1, 2011, referendum that was reportedly approved by 98.49 percent of voters. Five of the adopted articles in the new constitution directly target the Moroccan diaspora and its rights.

Minister Mazouz discussed the inclusion of diaspora engagement in the new constitution, underlining its potential as a “lever for development in Morocco.”

“We have always told our Moroccans residing abroad that they are ambassadors of Morocco in the United States and ambassadors of the United States in Morocco,” he told the audience, comprised mostly of Moroccan-Americans from around the Washington area. “However, there is insufficient knowledge about this Moroccan population in the U.S.”

Though the Moroccan diaspora in Western Europe is quite large and has been widely studied — particularly because of the colonial ties between the two regions — little is known about the Moroccans living in the United States.

Moroccan-American lawyer and representative of the Moroccan diaspora Leila Hanafi explains the importance of Moroccan diaspora engagement at a panel discussion with Morocco World News editor-in-chief and cofounder Samir Bennis, pictured to her left.

“We [Moroccan-Americans] are very much knowledgeable about what’s going on in the U.S., but there is an issue of access to information about Morocco such as what’s going on with the constitution,” affirmed Hanafi. “This may hinder the potential we have to play a role in the consultative process.”

Also noticing a gap in information, Morocco World News editor-in-chief Samir Bennis cofounded the English-language outlet a few years ago to inform the public about his country and its 33 million inhabitants.

“This is not my main job — I work full-time at the U.N. [as a political advisor]. I did it because I am engaged and committed to defending my country,” he said. “We can’t just sit around and say we have the best friendship in the world with the United States without doing anything.” For example, it is common diplomatic parlance to highlight that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States in 1777.

Mazouz stressed the need for the Moroccan government to engage with its diaspora in the United States, especially considering that the trade agreement between the two countries is even more comprehensive than the one the North African country has with Europe.

“Our people who are responsible in politics must enter a triangular relationship: one between the government of Morocco, the government of the United States and you,” he said to the Moroccans in the room. “We must put in place a mechanism that makes the diaspora in the United States a well-organized, active player.”

Many Moroccan-Americans in the audience seemed to agree that while the desire for engagement was very much present, what was missing was the mechanism to support it, whatever shape it may finally take. With the momentum building, they took advantage of the open format of the event to tell the minister their thoughts.

“I propose something that could target all of the needs we heard about today: engaging the diaspora more, furthering the economic friendship between the U.S. and Morocco, and also the democratization process and tackling the Sahara issue,” said Mohamed Belkhayat, a Moroccan-American who has lived in the United States for 30 years. “It could all be focused if we had a Dar al Maghrib [House of Morocco] such as our friends in Montreal and Paris do. A think tank, for example, with resident Moroccan-American scholars in Washington, D.C., to address the very issues we raised here today.”

From left, George Washington University Law School student Mohammad Shouman, Moroccan Ambassador to the U.S. Rachad Bouhlal, Associate Dean for International and Comparative Legal Studies at George Washington University Law School Susan Karamanian, Minister Delegate to the Head of Government in Charge of Moroccans Living Abroad Abdellatif Mazouz, and Moroccan-American lawyer and panel moderator Leila Hanafi attend a discussion on engaging the Moroccan diaspora.

Another Moroccan-American, Miloud El Aomari, told the audience about his initiative to showcase young Moroccan-American performers, the Moroccan Talent Expo, which took place in May and is preparing for another round in September.

“I didn’t have any support from the Moroccan government. Others were supportive including a Korean woman,” said El Aomari. When she even offered to take one of the young participants to South Korea to perform, he joked, “Now I have to learn Korean.”

Though the Moroccan-Americans in the community addressed their ideas and needs in a lighthearted manner, they expressed legitimate concern about engagement with their home country. Hanafi took the opportunity to announce the finalization of the Moroccan-American Community Call for Enhanced Rights, a document that compiles the voices and recommendations of the diaspora and will be presented to the Moroccan government.

“This will help promote the political, social and economic rights of the Moroccans living here, within the context of the constitution,” she said.

Even though that constitution has opened up Morocco’s political system, critics say too much power remains in the hands of the king and his coterie. Richard Rowson, president emeritus of the Council for a Community of Democracies, pointed out that the constitution was an important step in Morocco’s democratic evolution.

“One important thing I noticed about how the constitution was put together this time is that it resulted from a royal cabinet decision that it was the right thing to do,” he said. “However, this could be rectified in the future by preceding any cabinet decision with consultation with the people.”

Sarah Alaoui is a contributing writer for the Diplomatic Pouch.




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