Morocco in the 1990’s

By | December 12, 2021

In the first half of the nineties there was a cautious but progressive opening of the regime towards the opposition in Morocco, accompanied by amnesty measures for the numerous political prisoners, mostly Islamist militants detained without trial. In 1995 the return to Morocco of two eminent opposition figures, first the leader of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) ‚Abd al-Rahman Yūsufī, then, after 28 years of exile and a death sentence in absentia, of one of the founders of the National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP) and of the USFP itself, Muḥammad al-Baṣrī, confirmed the intentions of king Ḥasan iito open a dialogue with the progressive forces, involving them in the political life of the country. Nevertheless, the negotiations that took place between the end of 1994 and the beginning of 1995 for the formation of a government of national unity failed, strongly conditioned by the mistrust of the opposition for a regime in which the practice of electoral fraud had long been widespread. Only in 1996, an agreement was reached that led the opposition forces to vote in favor of the constitutional amendments proposed by the court and submitted to a referendum in September. They envisaged the creation of a bicameral Parliament with greater powers of control over the executive, consisting of a House of Representatives, elected by direct suffrage, and a House of Councilors elected indirectly.

Between 1996 and 1997 the regime undertook to suppress the demonstrations of social protests that exploded with a certain violence in universities and urban centers with the request for work, services and improvement of living conditions; in a country where the illiteracy rate is one of the highest in the Maghreb (around 56 %) and huge income disparities generate dramatic social inequalities, the regime has always feared that the country’s slogans could take root. radical political Islamism, suffering a sort of Algerian contagion.

The political elections of November and December 1997 did not cast a single winner: the four opposition parties of the Kutla front (Bloc) won 102 of the 325 seats available for the House of Representatives, and of these 57 went to the largest left party, the USFP, which thus became the first party in the country; the right-wing government bloc, WIFAQ, secured 100 seats, while about a hundred were held by the center parties. In December the indirect elections for the House of Councilors saw the success of the parties gathered around the WIFAQ (166 seats), while just 44 seats were won by Kutla.

A few months later, in March 1998, the socialist Abderrahman Yūsufī was called to lead the first center-left coalition government of Morocco, which concretized, for the first time in the 37- year reign of Ḥasan ii, political alternation and a discreet renewal in the ruling class. Despite the limited room for maneuver – some prominent ministries remained under the direct control of the monarch who reserved the right to appoint six members of the government, including Driss Basri, the immovable interior minister, the country’s true strongman – the Yūsufī government engaged in a reform program that included greater spending on health and education, generally showing greater sensitivity and attention to human rights in an attempt to mitigate the regime’s traditional authoritarianism.

In foreign policy, Morocco strove to get out of isolation and strengthen his position at the regional level, while remaining outside the Organization de Unità africaine (OAU) in protest against the admission of the Sahrawi Arabian Democratic Republic proclaimed in 1976 by the Frente Polisario, the national liberation movement of Western Sahara. At the end of the 1980s, thanks to the construction of a defensive sand wall that almost entirely circumscribed the disputed territory running from the Algerian border to the Atlantic, Morocco started the colonization of Western Sahara by encouraging the transfer of Moroccan citizens. The Sahrawi forces, isolated in the desert strips between the wall and the Mauritanian border, continued to engage the Moroccan forces with sabotage and disturbance. During the 1990s, the negotiation efforts initiated under the aegis of the United Nations remained unsuccessful: despite the agreements reached for a ceasefire in 1991, the referendum for the self-determination of the Sahrawi people, originally scheduled for 1992, was repeatedly postponed due to the differences between the Morocco and the Frente Polisario regarding the definition of the electoral body and the very number of the Sahrawi population. For Morocco 2015, please check

Traditionally close to Western countries, especially the United States, Morocco was one of the first Arab countries, the second immediately after Egypt, to establish direct relations with Israel in September 1994, just a year after the mutual recognition of the two countries ; in 1997, however, the Arab League, to which Morocco adheres, interrupted all negotiations of its member countries to start normal diplomatic relations with Israel in response to the decision of Prime Minister Netanyahu to proceed with the construction of new Jewish settlements in Har Homa (Jerusalem East).

A further strengthening of relations with the countries of the European Union, strongly desired by re Ḥasan ii, was hindered in 1994 – 95 by a dispute over fishing rights in the Mediterranean, resolved only by the agreements of November 1995 ; during the same period, contrasts with Spain worsened, which suspected Morocco Prime Minister Yūsufī once again claimed sovereignty in April 1998.

On the death of Ḥasan ii (23 July 1999), his son, the crown prince Sīdī Muḥammad, who became king Muḥammad vi, ascended the throne.

Morocco in the 1990's