Roger’s Rules

The Other King’s Speech

Not George VI mastering his stutter but Mohammed VI of Morocco spreading sweetness and light. Late last night, Glenn Reynolds linked to an eyebrow-raising column by Jennifer Rubin from The Washington Post called “A king, a speech, and a new constitution for Morocco.” The title ought to have had an exclamation point and the pop of a champgne cork, for it is the most verdant of Arab-spring proclamations. After noting some of the gloomy news emanating from Syria and Libya, Ms. Rubin turns to CNN’s report on King Mohammed VI’s speech about Morocco’s new draft Constitution that will be put to a vote on July 1.

It sounds splendid: “One Moroccan observer,” Ms. Rubin reports,  “said the new government structure was similar to Spain — a monarch remains, but power is devolved to a democratically elected parliament, protections for minorities and women are concretized, and powers are spread to the judiciary, the parliament and to local government.”

Sounds good, eh?  There’s more.  The King spoke of his role in helping to ensure “the protection of the faith and guarantees the freedom of religious practice.”  The italics are Ms. Rubin’s, I assume, and they’re warranted.  This is, after all, an Islamic country. And yet here we have its leader acknolwedging “the various components of our unified, rich and diverse national identity — including the Arabic Islamic, Berber, Saharan, African, Andalusian, Jewish [emphasis added] and Mediterranean components.”  The King also noted that the draft Constitution “provides for equality between men and women in all political, economic, social, cultural and environment-related rights” [“environment-related rights”? Well, never mind], guarantees “the conditions for a fair trial,” freedom of the press, and devolves political power to local authorities. According to Ms. Rubin,

The constitution and the speech explode several myths: diversity isn’t possible in a Muslim country; tribal and ethnic divisions make a nation state problematic if not ungovernable; Islam and the secular rule of law are incompatible; and human rights will inevitably be sacrificed if democratic reforms expand in a Muslim country.

It would be nice to close the book right there. All the couples get married, peace, prosperity, gender equity, and a commitment to the Green Revolution reign supreme. James Madison would be proud. It’s so nice, in fact, that I recommend you stop here, pour yourself a glass of that champagne we opened earlier, and enjoy a tranquil moment . . .

Finished?  It’s hard not to be impressed by the flock of emollient phrases in the King’s Speech: the “commitment to all human rights,” “equality between men and women,” etc., etc.   But before we celebrate the shattering of those “myths” Ms. Rubin enumerates, let’s ponder some of the countervailing phrases in that speech. I’m thinking in particular of the King’s reference to “the pre-eminence of international covenants . . . within the framework of respect for the Constitution, and for the Kingdom’s laws which are derived from Islam.”

Which “international covnenants” do you reckon the King had in mind?  A friend pointed out to me that one such covenant that  Morocco signed in 1990 was the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.  This declaration, signed by 54 Muslim countries, was an alternative to the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was at odds with Islam on many points. The Cairo Delcaration has lots of nice phrases, too. How’s this, for example:

Article 18:

a) Everyone shall have the right to live in security for himself, his religion, his dependents, his honour and his property.

b) Everyone shall have the right to privacy in the conduct of his private affairs, in his home, among his family, with regard to his property and his relationships.  . . .


Article 19  has more sweet-sounding declarations:

a) All individuals are equal before the law, without distinction between ruler and ruled.

b) The right to resort to justice is guaranteed to everyone.

c) Liability is in essence personal.


What’s not to like? It’s so pretty that I think you should pause again for another glass of champagne.  When you’ve finished, that, however, you should think about the last two articles in the Cairo Declaration:

Article 24: All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari’ah.

Article 25: The Islamic Shari’ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.

Has King Mohammed VI scrapped his country’s allegiance to the Cairo Declaration? Not that I’ve heard. Perhaps Morocco’s new Consitution, supposing it passes, is a step in that direction.  Or perhaps it is just more human-rights talk, emitted  as the phrase “liberté, egalité, fraternité” was emitted during the French Revolution: a pleasant-sounding motto that could front for just about any unpleasant reality: vide the rubric “People’s Democratic Republic of . . .” I remember the philosopher J.L. Austin on a certain species of (specious or ingenuous) argument: “There’s the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back.”

Jennifer Rubin thinks we’ve just  seen a number of myths about Islam “explode.”  It would be nice, for a change, to be able to associate that sort of explosion with Islam instead of the kind we’ve gotten used to.  Perhaps she’s right.  Being a cautious chap, I think I’ll hold off celebrating for while.