Groomed for kingship – that was how his father described the man now celebrating ten years as King of Morocco. Mohammed VI took the crown on the death of his father in 1999. Hassan II had ruled for 38 years, and had carefully prepared his son to follow him.
Continuity and change is the phrase; King Mohammed represents tradition, but has brought deep change to Morocco. In 2004, he introduced important new family laws despite protests from Islamic radicals, giving women many of the rights enjoyed by men. In 2003, the King freed hundreds of political prisoners, a move widely welcomed but tempered by his refusal to condemn the organs of state which had jailed them. The monarch retains immense power in Morocco, with parliament serving as no more than a rubber- stamp. Human rights’ agencies criticise archaic powers of law and order, which the King has shown no desire to reform. Morocco’s popularity as a tourist haven was shaken by terrorist strikes in Casablanca in 2003. Some 45 people were killed and more than 100 injured in suicide attacks on Western targets. The King made several highly-public visits to survivors in hospital. In his role as defender of the faithful in Morocco, Mohammed has led an ambitious programme of religious tolerance to tackle growing Islamic fundamentalism during his early years on the throne. The King has also had to face natural catastrophes. A powerful earthquake in February 2004 on the Mediterranean coast killed more than 600 people and left 15,000 homeless. Morocco has enjoyed economic success over the past ten years, with tourism and public works’ projects improving the lives of many. But more than four out of ten are still unable to read or write and the gap between rich and poor remains vast. Mohammed himself illustrates the point: his family fortune is ranked seventh in the world by Forbes magazine. As he celebrates his first years in power, Mohammed can point to many successes. But as he enters the next chapter of his rule, the King knows there is much to be done.