Morocco has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most stable regimes in the region, but ongoing protests in the northern province of Rif have raised questions about the so-called Moroccan exception. The demonstrations erupted last year after the gruesome death of a fishmonger and have burgeoned into a mass movement for development, better governance and dignity — culminating in the death last week of the movement’s first “martyr,” Imad el Attabi.
Moroccan officials — and, indeed, the regime’s foreign allies with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo — have historically peddled the Moroccan exception, the idea that some unique set of characteristics protects Morocco against instability and makes it deserving of special support. The notion of exceptionalism stems in part from the monarchy’s religious legitimacy; the king is believed to be descended from the prophet Muhammad and is the “Commander of the Faithful,” keeping people loyal and the system stable. This was initially the case after Fikri’s death: Most Moroccans squarely blamed involved authorities, then police corruption at large, then the abstract “state” and so on. They blamed everyone but the king, who remained above the fray.