After the Arab Spring with Fouzia Elbayed

Fouzia Elbayed, Moroccan women’s rights advocate and former Member of Parliament, addresses the 7th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.

Full Remarks

Hillel Neuer: Elbayed is a member of parliament in Morocco. She is the founder of the Network of Parliamentarians Against the Death Penalty and has written extensively about the need for prison reform in Morocco. She is a strong advocate for the rights of women, minorities, refugees, and migrants, and she’s connected also with Liberal International, one of our partners today.

Fouzia Elbayed: Thank you for giving me the floor — giving the floor to a Moroccan deputy in the opposition Liberal Party. I also want to thank you for giving the floor to the Arab world and to the North African region. 

First of all, I wanted to speak about the Arab Spring, or “the spring of the young.” This is the expression that young people invented, who took to the streets, who protested — sometimes violently — to demand change for greater freedom, dignity, for work, and for the sharing of wealth. This revolution took place without weapons, but under the auspices of the media with an expression that men “get lost” in Arabic.

And the intensity varied going from Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Yemen to Syria, where thousands of dissidents were killed. The protest movement spread and there were many victims, a civil war came about- in some places the situation degenerated, in other places the protest was peaceful .The reaction of the Moroccan regime, unlike other regimes, was very rapid and a new constitution was born and there were early elections. The new constitution was done in a participatory manner; all the different voices participated and this was done after a period of discussion in an atmosphere of openness- there was no criticism, there were no critiques- and this took place nowhere else in this way except for Tunisia, which seems to have followed the Moroccan example. 

We set up a convention which complies with international agreements, which applies international human rights laws, and we have a strict application of human rights laws and we’ve had a great deal of discussion of this. Islam is the religion of the state, but it has been stated that other religions are respected and this is sealed by international convention. We have re-examined religious areas since 2009 and we’ve done away with fatwa. We have moderate Islam and surfaced ideas were banished. Believers enjoy a balance and there is a historic past that proves this. The role of women is strong and we have addressed this quite often. We have a number of women in decision-making positions in the legislature, in the communities and in regions, and we have now acquired 30% representation by women. This is compulsory. Yesterday we opened the door for a new court where citizens can contest the text and there is the possibility of having a referendum in our new constitution. So with this new text that boosts freedoms, Morocco is moving forward on a more liberal and democratic path, more than any other country in the region. 

Moroccans are aware of living through a historic moment and they are very proud. There is a great deal of nationalist pride and a feeling of stability. And with this constitutional progress, we see other progress made in all areas. There is a broad consensus in the population, and as an opposition deputy we’ve considered that we can use the Constitution to deepen our democracy, and we have an organic law that we are working on right now in the legal committees, and we will be able to introduce these reforms in the constitution.

Now we have young people and women who have raised certain human rights questions, and this has had a very positive effect and we have incorporated that in our laws. We are against the death penalty, we have a group – and I am part of this group – which has encouraged this discussion. Discussion on abortion has been opened, and I have just sent an open letter to the Minister of Health to say that it is crucial to promote a law which grants women the right to have an abortion in certain cases when their health is at risk. And in all committees, there is a discussion on labor of young women and we are fighting against exploitation. 

We are reforming the legal system following a national dialogue that began a year ago. Legal experts and civil society contributed to this in a very dynamic way. Our legal arsenal, our civil and criminal codes are being revised, reviewed, and our organic laws as well, that will allow us to enshrine these laws. The work of commissions, and in particular my Commission of Human Rights and Legal Matters of the Opposition, has too much work. We have too many draft laws to deal with on trafficking, on organized crime. We have new bills concerning the magistrates and the judiciary, and we want to have true authority. We are working against corruption and bills have been filed in this regard. All of these deal with human rights matters, and these are some of the challenges that we have as we strive for greater democracy and as we strive to become a partner with the European Union.

Morocco is known for being a country that honors its commitments internationally. For example, in security matters, I will not hide a concern of mine about security and governance with a number of violent acts by fundamentalists. We have been working on a draft law on fundamentalism, to banish it, but the opposition abstained from voting on the anti-terrorist law. And we have security issues to deal with in the entire world, and the sub-saharan area has felt the brunt. We have seen a rise in violence. Circulation of weapons is another concern in our country and in the Maghreb region, and there is a risk of deterioration of the security of our region, of the regimes, and of gains in human rights. 

We must have a new idea of democracy that must satisfy liberals and idealists. We must move from a disciplinary and security oriented society to one that shows greater solidarity. We must join our efforts between civil society, human rights practitioners, and parliamentarians throughout the world to promote and maintain liberal democracies and liberal and democratic values. We are working to promote human rights so countries suffering from totalitarianism, who have had dictatorships, can move from primitive democracies to one that is more developed, and finally one that is advanced so that people will have greater liberties, and we’ll limit the properties of public authorities and we will make sure that their powers are proportional. We have a great deal to say in this regard as you can see but I’m going to respect the time you have set for my statement. 

Thank you. 

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