Democratization in Morocco: Decentralization or Redistribution of Power?

By Sidi El Baroudi

Informal rules in political contexts are bound to be confusing, especially when considering institutions within the context of a democratizing country. Let’s take the Moroccan monarchy as an example. Moroccan culture specifically has a rich history concerning informal rules dominating institutions, exemplified by Douglas North’s frequent mentioning of the informality surrounding North African bazars called suqs in his book Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. As defined by Helmke and Levitsky, informal institutions are “socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels”. Even though this detailed definition provides a versatile starting point for balanced discussions on informal institutions, it is still vague enough to be confusing. Cases in which informal rules are created by the elimination of written formal rules, show a shortcoming in the abovementioned definition.

For example, constitutional reforms resulting from the Arab Spring forced Moroccan King Mohammed VI (M6) to give the democratically chosen representatives in the cabinet more power. Nevertheless, these politicians feel the urge to shy away from sensitive topics that technically fall under their responsibility since the reforms. This political “anxiety” for sensitive matters that used to fall under monarchical rule is exemplified in the case of royal taxi permits in the kingdom. Regulation of the taxi market was assigned to the ministry of transport after the constitutional reforms. However, elected politicians did not feel confident enough to use their newly acquired constitutional rights and amend the royal dominance – the king decides who gets how many taxi licenses – in this market.

So, is the rule underwriting royal dominance socially shared and unwritten? Yes! But, is it also created and communicated outside official channels? No. In fact, just a few years ago it was an official rule. This example shows that this definition of informal rules does not apply to characteristic processes of democratization, in which officially created undemocratic rules persist after their abolishment.