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Time for a Moroccan Model?

This past weekend, Morocco’s Foreign Ministry sponsored a conference on the Arab Spring and constitutional reforms. While I was part of a small and bipartisan delegation of Americans who could accept their last-minute invitation to the two-day affair, there were a number of current and former ministers and other officials from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Libya and the European Union.

Morocco is a pretty tolerant place, and while its government was as surprised by the Arab Spring as its fellow Arab countries, its government did quickly conclude the time for significant constitutional reform was sooner rather than later. Admittedly, the fact the King appointed the constitutional reform panel in a top-down approach says a lot about Morocco’s point of departure, though his efforts appear sincere. The speakers addressed a number of issues, ranging from broad discussions of principle about what makes an Arab constitution work, as well specific discussions of various proposals.

There were a few interesting points, however, to the weekend:

  • The only people to bring up Israel, the United States, and the Palestinians were Yahya al-Gamal, Egypt’s former deputy prime minister; and Gilles Pargneaux, a socialist EuroMP from France. Gamal was a self-parody, declaring that Mubarak was simply a puppet of Israel and the United States, and  had the president only listened to him, he might have survived. Pargneaux threw out his Palestinian talking points reflexively, with little realization the audience didn’t care. Pargneaux doesn’t represent all Europeans, of course, but as much as he represents a dominant European intellectual current, he came off poorly.
  • In contrast, the officials who had something truly at hand—Tunisian political leaders, the new Libyan justice minister, Moroccan officials, Jordanians– recognized what is going on in their countries has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict and weren’t going to be sidelined by the same-old rhetoric.
  • No Turks attended. While Western diplomats still talk about a Turkish model, today that model is replete with anti-Semitism, noxious anti-Western rhetoric, and Islamism. Given Yahya al-Gamal’s commentary, it might seem natural that Turkey and Egypt form a partnership to provide the core of a new rejectionist, anti-Western, and pro-Muslim Brotherhood bloc, but the Moroccans (who will be seeking a seat on the UN Security Council) perhaps provide both an indigenous and, from the perspective of Western national security and Middle Eastern peace, more responsible model. Rather than throw out lame lines about how Turkey is a partner for peace and make Ankara the key partner for talks about the formation and development of new governments, perhaps it’s time for Secretary of State Clinton to call a meeting and debate the merits of the Turkish model versus a Moroccan model. If Washington’s goal is a new order that is liberal and recognizes the region’s myriad problems can’t be solved simply with anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-American rhetoric, perhaps Turkey isn’t the way to go and Morocco is.