On the face of it, the changes in the Moroccan constitution that were approved
in a referendum on July 1, 2011 are significant, even far reaching, with the
government claiming that voter turnout was twice that of the 2007
The masses, led by the “February 20 movement,” did in fact
take to the streets earlier in the year, but King Muhammad VI remains popular,
as evidenced by his decision to advance the parliamentary elections from
September 2012 to November 25, 2011.
The king explained that he was eager
to see a new government that would implement the new constitution.
amendments grant more powers to the prime minister, but the new constitution
also establishes the king’s undisputed status as the head of state, the
commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the supreme religious leader. (The
new constitution grants freedom of worship, and notes that the Jewish minority
is among the minorities entitled to this freedom.) According to the new
constitution, the prime minister is appointed by the king, but must be selected
from the party that won the largest representation in parliament. The king may
dissolve the parliament only after consulting with the constitutional court,
half of whose members he will appoint.
The United States hastened to
welcome the changes, but it would be an error to call Morocco a constitutional
monarchy such as exists in a number of European states (Britain, Sweden,
Belgium, Norway, Spain and Holland). Indeed, the movement that led the mass
demonstrations in Morocco rushed to criticize the changes, but it is not
expected that its leaders could mobilize sufficient support to undermine the
king’s authority significantly.
IN A related regional development, the
committee appointed in April by King Abdullah II of Jordan to propose amendments
to the Jordanian constitution of 1952 submitted its proposals to the monarch on
August 14, 2011 in a well publicized ceremony with foreign diplomats in
attendance. The main proposed changes concern several central issues, though not
the king’s status and his political powers.
A series of amendments to
articles 15-18 of the constitution involve freedom of expression and freedom of
association. According to the proposed amendment to article 33, which concerns
certain powers of the king, the parliament would ratify the king’s decisions on
declaring war, signing peace agreements, and signing treaties and conventions
that involve changes to the country’s borders and its sovereignty.
proposed amendment to article 42 of the constitution states that a serving
minister cannot hold citizenship other than Jordanian citizenship. In other
words, in the future a Jordanian minister would not be able to hold Palestinian
citizenship. An amendment to article 54 eliminates the Speech from the Throne as
an alternative to presenting the government’s policy for the parliament’s
approval. This can be considered a limited concession by the king and a
strengthening of the parliament’s status. An amendment to article 55 would allow
ministers to be tried in court while in office. The parliament could also demand
that the state prosecutor interrogate a minister.
The proposed amendment
to article 58 contains an important and interesting change: establishment of a
constitutional court with nine judges, whose chief justice is appointed by the
king. The court would monitor the legality of laws and regulations, and its
rulings would be final and in the name of the king.
The amendment also
states that only formal state institutions would be permitted to turn to the
constitutional court: the cabinet, the senate, and the parliament, as well as
the chief justice of the court if an appeal is submitted to him, and that an
ordinary citizen would not have the right to apply directly to the court
An amendment to article 71 broadens the right of
citizens to appeal the results of parliamentary elections, and they would be
able to present a petition to the court and not just to the parliament
Another significant change, proposed to article 73, would
eliminate the king’s ability to postpone elections because of “force majeure.”
The proposed amendment to article 110 would establish a security court that
would handle crimes of treason, espionage and terrorism.
welcomed the proposed changes, noting they reflected political and judicial
maturity, and highlighted in particular the significance of establishing a
constitutional court. In addition, the king mentioned the proposal to lower from
30 to 25 the age of eligibility to run for parliament as a step that would
encourage the younger generation to become involved in politics. The king
further noted that he expected that the proposals would be approved within a
month, thus allowing progress toward reform of two important basic laws, the
election law and the party law. The reform of these laws constitutes an enormous
challenge to the Jordanian royal house, which has always relied on an election
law that tilts election results in favor of the Hashemites in the population, at
the expense of the Palestinians.
A reading of the proposed amendments to
the Jordanian constitution reveals that they do not constitute a real erosion of
the king’s political powers regarding appointment and dismissal of prime
And indeed, the Jordanian opposition, and in particular the
Islamic Action Front (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood), hastened to
point out this weakness. On the other hand, a public opinion poll by the Al-Quds
Center for Political Studies in Amman – albeit conducted in June, before
publication of the proposed amendments to the constitution – revealed that 71
percent of the 1,200 respondents wanted changes in the constitution, although
40% were opposed to establishing a parliamentary government based on a
parliamentary majority and preferred the existing system, in which prime
ministers and ministers are appointed by the .
At this stage, King
Abdullah is steering the process of reforms with a steady hand, but the handling
of the election and party laws, a political minefield, is still underway.
Furthermore, Abdullah’s ability to mollify the protesters will depend to a large
extent on external influences. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
will lend support to the movement in Jordan. Changes to the status of the
military and the security apparatus in Egypt or in Syria will encourage a demand
for similar change in Jordan. The process has begun, but it is not yet
over.The writer is the director of Institute for National Security