I just returned from a trip to Morocco sponsored by the State Department and Legacy International. No, this is not a travelogue. And I didn't ride on camels or play tourist.
My Republican colleague, Rich Galen and I met with political leaders, new women members of parliament, young activists and social service organizers. We had a wonderful dinner with Sam and Sylvia Kaplan at the ambassador's residence in Rabat and met with embassy staff and the Consul General in Casablanca. We met with business leaders, went to a shelter for unwed mothers, and visited new business startups.
In our 10 days we came away with a myriad of impressions. But, first and foremost, it is hard to escape how important a developing and evolving political system is to a successful future in North Africa and throughout the Middle East.
If there is a testament to the main thesis in the important book, Why Nations Fail, it is that continued political progress, ownership, and transparency will have serious positive repercussions. A nation's success is due less to their climate, inherent wealth of natural resources, access to ports or even leaders but, rather, the stability, openness, and democratic nature of their political system.
On the positive side, King Mohammed VI moved very quickly after the Arab Spring exploded in 2011. He gave a strong address to the nation in March, announced a new constitution and new elections. Morocco was already making progress, encouraging more participation by women and young people. In the 2009 local elections 3,400 women were elected, about 12 percent. In the November 2011 elections a quota system was instituted for women and they now hold 67 seats out of 395 in Parliament. Although the voter turnout was about 45 percent and the rate of illiteracy exceeds 50 percent, progress was made.
The key, of course, is to ensure that the legislative, judicial, and executive branches have real power to impact the nation. This is an ongoing process, combining the concern for stability as well as change, maintaining a growing economy, and improving the lives of the people.
Rich and I spoke at the new Mundiapolis University just outside Casablanca to several hundred students and faculty. We had a several hour discussion with a very impressive group who were pushing for greater power and responsibility, more involvement in decision-making, and a jump-start to education, insuring a more civil society.
The king is popular and the strong Muslim bond has been a key to a stable nation. But there is no question that change is sweeping across these countries and the continued progress with government, from local to national, will be critical.
Involvement by others from around the world to encourage further democratic reforms will continue to sow the seeds of responsible change. It was a pleasure and honor to be a part of the program.