MOROCCO BELIEVES IT has a great deal to offer the world in 1993. It sees itself as a bulwark against the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in North Africa, a pillar of the Arab Maghreb Union and the wider Arab world, a keen advocate of improved cooperation between the Maghreb and Europe, and a promising pupil under the tutelage of the IMF and World Bank.
Morocco would like to believe it is all this and more. The contrast with neighbouring Algeria is there for all to see, according to Rabat. While the embattled regime of Algeria's head of state, Ali Kafi, is faltering in its attempts to haul Algeria out of the mess resulting from a botched transition to a multiparty system, King Hassan wins fulsome (if selective) praise at home as the architect of the new, improved Moroccan democracy, offering the kind of firm government and continuity about which Algerians can only dream.
The self-congratulation is certainly as strong as ever, but is any of it justified? Sceptics, who include opposition leaders and Sahrawi separatists, paint a far less flattering picture. They argue that while Morocco's political crisis may be less vivid than Algeria's, it is no less real. King Hassan's critics see Morocco's expanded profile in Europe more as a desperate search for favour than the beginnings of meaningful integration. The coming year, they argue, far from being one of triumphant consolidation, will reveal some disturbing home truths.
On the domestic front, much will depend on the legislative elections scheduled for 30 April, the culmination of a process which King Hassan began with the dissolution of parliament last February and continued with the promulgation of a new constitution (Morocco's fourth since 1962) in September.
Hassan boldly described this as "Morocco's passport into the world scene". But beyond boosting the prime minister's role, its main purpose was to confirm the king's political and religious supremacy. Of more interest was the bizarre referendum which followed, where by the reckoning of the minister of interior, Driss Basri, 99.96% of voters backed the constitution despite an opposition boycott campaign.
Elections, which are supposed to take place every six years, were originally scheduled for 1990, but were postponed on the grounds that the referendum on the Western Sahara should take precedence. King Hassan now rejects that argument, however, and has pressed ahead despite the mild reservations expressed by the UN and the much fiercer objections...