I received an invitation a few days ago from activist Wadad Malhaf of the February 20 reform movement asking me to join the Facebook page “Pledge of allegiance to freedom and dignity,” which was launched by activists on the social networking site and has already received significant attention.
To briefly quote an excerpt from a message published on the page:
In conjunction with the traditional ceremony of allegiance and loyalty [to the Moroccan King], in which the hypocritical elites bow and kneel…another ceremony will be held for the first time. It is a ceremony for the citizens, men and women, who reject that such a farce be held in their name. During the ceremony, those citizens will declare their allegiance to the nation, dignity, equality and social justice ...
I accepted the Facebook invitation immediately and without hesitation. The title of the page indicates its content, reveals the objectives of its creators and aligns with the positions and convictions of a large segment of the Moroccan people regarding an issue that has become the subject of unprecedented debate in the political scene in Morocco. Opinions have ranged between calls for shortening the duration of the allegiance ceremony, cancelling it altogether and defending the preservation of this ritual.
As a matter of fact, this debate would not have gained such momentum and resonance were it not for the heavy stone thrown by the February 20 movement into Morocco’s stagnant waters. This prompted the people to voice their longing for freedom and democracy, and their rejection of tyranny and despotism, which they have experienced in various forms over the decades. Today, circumstances and a firm conviction call for an urgent cessation of such a ritual, which perpetuates slavery and servitude. This must be done in line with the “modernization of the state” rhetoric, and the requisites and content of the new, flawed constitution.
I recall an interview I conducted with Robert Menard, the former president of Reporters Without Borders, in Dubai in 2004, on the sidelines of the Arab Media Forum. I asked him his opinion about the press and freedom of expression in Morocco under the new king. At the time, the independent press was being muzzled. Some newspapers were closed, others fined. Some journalists were arrested; others went on hunger strikes in protest of the decline of freedoms. Menard said that “modernity does not mean the people seeing the king riding a jet ski, or newspapers publishing pictures of him next to his wife. Modernity is the saturation of democratic values, which you [in Morocco] are still far from.”
It is as if the man were implicitly saying: Why have you held on to superficialities, and missed the essence?
In terms of form, the rituals of allegiance are accepted by those who allow themselves to be humiliated. Those who dress in white robes and red fezzes are required to exaggeratedly and excessively kiss the king’s hand, which involves repeated bending, often to the point of bowing. In terms of content, the concept of allegiance cannot be easily understood. To those who defend it, the ceremony is seen as the signing of a contract between the ruler and the ruled, a charter of loyalty expressing the natural contract between the king and his “subjects” from the perspective of the guardian. Thus, the Sultan’s scholars’ desperate attempts to justify this ritual and bring an element of holiness to it comes as no surprise.
Morocco’s minister of religious endowments and Islamic affairs has said that the pledge of allegiance to the king is similar to the pledge of allegiance that Muslims made to Prophet Muhammad under the shadow of a tree in al-Hudaybiyah. The minister forgot, or overlooked, the fact that the Prophet Muhammad did not put his personal business interests above those of the people, as the king does, amassing a fortune while the people get poorer. Also, the people never touched the Prophet’s hems like those pledging allegiance to the king, and the Prophet never acted in an unfair or unjust way. Therefore, this analogy is unfair, underestimates the minds of the people and is a blatant attempt to use religious authority to justify political legitimacy.
In this sense, pledging allegiance — in the Moroccan context — is not justified legally in Shariah law, nor is it consistent with what Ibn Khaldoun said in his well-known book, Muqaddimah. It is just an annual occasion to legitimize the existing system, and an assembly to practise collective hypocrisy that satisfies the ego of the Sultan and those who adulate him, with the exception of a few left-wing factions, independent figures and the banned Justice and Charity group.
These political groups — including those that belong to the democratic front — have not yet developed a clear position on this issue, but rather attempted to avoid dealing with it and the unnecessary embarrassment that it may bring them. Some believe that the king — who is a modest man, as those who know him closely say — is more inclined toward abolishing these rituals, and that “the guardians of the temple” around him are most keen to maintain the “pledge of allegiance” in its current form. They consider the abolishment of the allegiance and loyalty ceremony — which crowns the Fête du Trône celebrations — as a deprecation of the crown’s prestige or power. They have also stood firm against efforts to reduce the king's authorities in the new constitution for the benefit of the prime minister.
Thus, they stripped the constitutional amendment bill of its essential meaning, and denied the country, once again, the opportunity to transition to a real parliamentary monarchy, in which the king prevails but does not rule.
In conclusion, if the king really believes in modernity and democratic values as he claims in his speeches, he must break his silence and break away from the guardianship of his entourage, who only seek power and wealth. He must publicly declare his rejection of such shameful rituals, and end them for once and for all. When it comes to the dignity of the people, there is no middle ground between pride and humiliation.