Morocco is not Tunisia or Egypt or Yemen. It has steadily and coherently worked to enlarge opportunities for its people and reduce conditions that undermine stability – whether through programs to reduce poverty and its drag on economic and social development, or to empower women and to encourage youth to take greater ownership of their future. This solid record of accomplishments has been referred to as the “Moroccan exception.”

A great deal of real and tangible progress has been made in Morocco to allow for popular expression through a flourishing civil society and free elections. Current efforts to address the needs of the poor through projects like the National Human Development Initiative and affordable housing programs continue to contribute to raising the standard of living of the most disadvantaged sectors of society. And while much more remains to be accomplished to advance further political reforms, the King's latest effort to undertake a thorough overhaul of the judiciary to ensure its independence is yet another progressive step forward that distinguishes Morocco from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa where regimes have been slow to rebuild a positive relationship between the State and the people. 

Some analysts lately have pointed out that the King of Morocco enjoys popular legitimacy and support in the country by virtue of his role as the Kingdom's religious leader and his responsibilities as Commander of the Faithful. While this is true, it is not the whole truth. In fact, the King’s legitimacy in Morocco is, as importantly if not largely, the result of his efforts to redefine the citizen-State relationship through the kind of steady reforms that are lacking elsewhere in this region. Morocco has never held itself out as a model for others and has not undertaken these reforms in order to offer anyone any lessons. Reforms in Morocco are Moroccan inspired and have been the product of a consensus between the monarchy, political parties, civil society, and the people themselves through a process of dialogue and public debate. 

While Morocco’s experience and the specifics of its ongoing process of liberalization may not be possible for other societies in the MENA region, there are certainly some lessons to be learned here. The international community, particularly the United States, should note that long term peace, prosperity, and stability in the Middle East and North Africa will require encouraging the kinds of reforms that Morocco has been implementing for more than a decade. Morocco didn’t wait for a crisis to begin its progressive policies. Morocco confronted similar challenges by making choices that promote both stability and democracy. Those who wish to promote peace, freedom, growth, and prosperity in the region would do well to recognize and provide meaningful support to those already on the right road and seek their quiet advice and counsel on how best to help those who are struggling to move forward without destabilizing their countries. 

Edward M. Gabriel served as U.S. Ambassador to Morocco from 1997 to 2001, and currently advises the government of Morocco.