TOWARDS THE END OF HIS REIGN, Hassan II of Morocco informed his eldest son and heir that “the throne of the Alaouite monarchs is their horse-saddle.” His point: A king has to be ready for action. Hassan had learnt this early on. In 1958, three years before he succeeded his father, Mohamed V, Hassan crushed a rebellion in the Rif mountains of northern Morocco, turning its green plateaus orange with napalm and killing several thousands. His approach foreshadowed the strategies he would employ throughout his 38-year reign: ruthlessness, repression and fear.
When Hassan died, in 1999, the country breathed a sigh of relief. Abdellatif Laâbi, Morocco’s greatest living poet—who, between 1972 and 1980, was jailed for his peaceful cultural activism and routinely tortured—noted at the time that “the political game had opened up considerably, and it seemed likely that its rules would be decided collectively and no longer, as in the past, by a single man.” A few months after he took the throne, the new monarch, Mohamed VI, addressed his people on national television, promising to be the “king of the poor” and to usher in a new era: of greater freedom, especially for women; better employment; and more transparent governance.
Fifteen years into his rule, Mohamed VI has instead surrounded himself with rapacious cronies, and earned the sobriquet “His Majetski” for his playboy lifestyle—which includes spending millions of dollars on family holidays. His Majetski’s personal fortune is estimated at just over two billion dollars, largely the result of his near monopolies over three key sectors of the economy: phosphate mines, citrus farms and real estate. While he inherited the first two from his father, he fixed his grip over the last himself. As confirmed by leaked cables from the US consulate in Casablanca, dated December 2009, His Majetski owns a piece of every major real-estate project in the country: “While corrupt practices existed during the reign of King Hassan II … they have become much more institutionalized with King Mohammed VI. Institutions such as the royal family’s holding company, Omnium Nord Africaine, which now clears most large development projects, regularly coerce developers into granting beneficial rights to ONA.”