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October 23, 2002:

Reforming Morocco
Expatriate Prince Moulay Hicham '85 calls for change at campus conference on the Islamic world

Second in line to the throne of Morocco's Alawite kingdom, Prince Moulay Hicham Ben Abdallah '85 has spoken out forcefully about the need to reform his country's political institutions, including the monarchy itself, calling for "a new form of politics, apolitics of truth — open, frank, transparent — that encourages participation throughout the population." On September 27 he spoke about Islam, democracy, and governance at a conference on campus that brought together scholars and journalists from across the Islamic world. To view the entire conference, go to Last winter Moulay Hicham temporarily left theworld of Moroccan politics and moved back to Princeton with his wife and two young daughters. PAW's Kathryn Federici Greenwood interviewed him at his Princeton home, which he has owned since his junior year.

Can you tell me what you will address at the conference?

My approach is to talk about the discursive tradition in Islam. Islam is for Muslims a divine message, which is indivisible and cameas a whole. But beyond that Islam is also how Muslims have lived their religion in given times and places. So Islam is also a question of historicity. Every Muslim and every area of the Muslim world has a different relationship to the scriptures, to the Prophet, and to the holy places in Islam. So it's not a monolithic corpus. Islam is a historical, discursive tradition. So my approach is to treatIslam from this angle and also with regards to the particular questions: How do Muslims view democracy? How do Muslims view politics?

I will also look at the possibilities for democratization in the region. I do it from the perspective of a Muslim who's been involved in politics for the past 10 years. I've been both involved from within the monarchy and I have also been involved from withincivil society. My talk is not entirely academic, but it's certainly thoughtful and intellectual, from the perspective of a militant practitioner.

Can you summarize the reforms you've called for in Morocco's government and institutions?

My positions are on the record. They have been known for the past 10 years. My principal approach is to look at reform not in terms of the monarchy giving uppower, etc., but in terms of the monarchy rationalizing its position, rationalizing its role in society in view of the new changes, which are both internal and external. I would like to see the monarchy construct a new national pact in which its role would be more one of symbolic importance, of arbitration, and of ensuring the equilibrium of the country. This new role would make it withdraw from thedaily running of affairs, which would be left to a government coming out of a parliament based on universal suffrage. So, separation of powers, clarification of who does what — It's a very complex transformation. It's not an easy one. And it's got a lot of dangers and a lot of risks associated with it.

But there are also a lot of risks associated with not making these changes. And we've seenthe history of Europe and the history of other monarchies. So my preferred term is one of rationalization. Rationalize the role of critical actors.

What are the dangers and risks for not making changes to reform the monarchy and its role?

First of all, as I said, the failure to reform will have its own costs. There are economic costs. You can't address problems of underdevelopment; you can'taddress socioeconomic problems unless everyone trusts the political system. These are costs. But there are also risks for the institution. If this institutional lethargy persists, it might expose the monarchy to dangers. These dangers are social upheaval and unrest. We've seen it in other countries. Why have you decided to take a break from Moroccan politics?

Because there was too much focus...