OPINION | Regional Reforms in Morocco: From Exaltation to Oblivion
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OPINION | Regional Reforms in Morocco: From Exaltation to Oblivion

By Ángela  Suárez Collado and Raquel Ojeda García

OPINION | Regional Reforms in Morocco: From Exaltation to Oblivion

Image Attribute: Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate Province, Morocco, PnP!/Flickr Creative Commons

In a speech to the nation on 3 January 2010, King Mohammed VI announced the creation of the Consultative Commission on Regionalism (CCR) with the objective of entrusting this organ with the task of preparing a project that would lay the foundations for a future plan of decentralization (see Benyahya 63, Yaagoubi 12). He asked the Committee to set a model of advanced regionalization for all of the country’s regions, based on four fundamental aspects: a strong commitment to the nation’s sacred and immutable values (the unity of the state, of the nation and of the territory); the principle of solidarity; a balanced distribution of resources between powers and local authorities, central government and the institutions concerned; and the adoption of an extensive devolution within the framework of an efficient territorial governance system based on harmony and convergence.[1]

This initiative must be considered as the third phase of the Moroccan decentralization process initiated in the mid-seventies (Osman 101-05). The region appeared for the first time in 1971 as the means to respond to the country’s needs regarding development and growth. That regional model turned out to be economically inefficient, but very politically useful for controlling peripheral dynamics through the renewal of local elite networks. It was not until the mid-nineties that the region received legal recognition as a territorial collectivity in the 1992 constitutional reform. The second regional reform was part of the 1996 constitutional revision and 1997 regional law, which established sixteen regions with a weak capacity for legislative initiative and a limited number of powers. Another important element of the 1997 law was regional decoupage, explicitly delimited with the idea of breaking the country’s old cultural, historical, linguistic and tribal identities. In both regionalization processes, Moroccan regional policy was defined more by the development of a policy of deconcentration than by a decentralization policy of power,[2] because of the limited transfer of human and financial resources from the state to the regions. The dominant idea in both models was the necessity of a centralized state to ensure the maintenance of political control and the country’s territorial integrity, cohesion and homogeneity, to the detriment of the region, which was left without political and economic power (see Ojeda 25-28).

Following the official discourse, regionalization had to be considered part of the institutional reform initiated by the Monarch after ascending to the throne, in which good governance was the main objective, “the key to democracy and development,”[3] which had to be achieved through different transformations: reform of the judiciary, advanced regionalization, extensive devolution and a new social charter.[4] The need to implement these wide-ranging reforms, announced on different occasions by the Palace, was connected to both foreign and domestic pressures: in the international arena, the European Union requirements imposed on Morocco in the framework of the European Proximity Policy, the 2007-2013 EU-Morocco Action Plan and the Advanced Status agreements (see Fernández Molina and Bustos 8-9); and in the national arena, the pressures emerging from the need to find a solution to the question of Western Sahara (see Ben-Meir 93, and Zoubir 162), to provide a political framework where the proposal of an Moroccan Autonomy Plan could be credible and admissible (see Kausch 1), and to find a solution to two other major problems in the system: its inability to reproduce new elites to replace the traditional ones and the discrediting of the institutional political sphere (see Tozy 6).

The creation of the CCR generated intensive activity among institutional and non-institutional political and social actors. As in the seventies and nineties, political parties and important sectors of civil society attributed a democratizing power to the regionalization process. That expectancy provoked a significant number of activities and debates all around the country focused on this question, and contributed to the reform of the Moroccan regional system being considered the greatest political project of Mohammed VI’s reign. In fact, the King himself had encouraged the participation of social and political forces among the Moroccan population as a whole, and he had asked the CCR to take their proposals into consideration. Over the fourteen months the CCR spent doing its work, several social and political actors, such as political parties, trade unions and associations, governmental institutions, such as governmental offices, control agencies, national development agencies and other national institutions, as well as different international organizations, forwarded a total of 124 written and oral proposals to the Commission.

However, public attention to the reform decreased once uprisings erupted in North Africa and spread to Morocco, despite the fact that on 9 March 2011, two weeks after the first demonstrations, Mohammed VI again placed the regional reform on the political agenda, proclaiming the creation of an Advisory Committee for Constitutional Reform (CCRC). Meanwhile the King’s announcement was seen in Morocco and abroad as a strategic response to pre-empt a popular uprising in the country promising reform from the top; for him it was simply continuing the implementation of his regionalization plan (see Ottaway 2). Notwithstanding, the CCRC and the constitutional reform focused the attention of political parties, organizations, associations, institutions and citizens on other issues such as the role of the monarchy, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. At that time, democratization was more important than decentralization for them. Thus, from that moment on, regionalization and decentralization became residual demands, and only the Monarchy kept the regionalization process at the center of its concerns.


[1] Speech to the nation, 3 January 2010

[2] Decentralization” refers here to the transfer of competencies and resources to local elective authorities, while “deconcentration” refers to administrative decentralization.

[3] Speech to the nation on the 10th Anniversary of the Day of the Throne, 30 July 2009.

[4] Speech at the opening of the Parliament, September 2009, speech on the 56th anniversary of the Revolution of the King and the People, August 2009 and speech to the nation on the 10th Anniversary of the Day of the Throne, 30 July 2009

This article is an excerpt from a research paper, titled - "The Effects of the Moroccan Advanced Regionalization Process in Western Sahara" published by eScholarship for TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 5(3),

Download The Paper - LINK

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