In what is viewed as an extremely unprecedented step in the Arab world, a Moroccan French-language magazine has published specific details of King Mohammed VI's salary as well as exact figures of the Royal court’s various expenses.
These new revelations are even more so disturbing, as they emerge against a background of promises made by the King when he came to power after his father’s 38-year reign. Among his first pledges to the Moroccan people, King Mohammed VI vowed to modernize Moroccan society and introduce a culture of accountability and transparency.
He also pledged to make the fight against poverty one of his priorities and embark on a series of political and economic reforms. Most powers, however, remain in the hands of the monarchy and his advisers, known as the Makhzen, and ordinary Moroccans have seen little real improvement in their daily lives.
According to a breakdown of the palace budget that has angered his poverty-stricken subjects, King Mohammed VI spends US$6.5 million a month on staff wages, US$174,000 on car repairs and over US$95,000 on animal feed.
Details of this extravagant spending - and may we emphasize, the first time that the finances of a Royal Arab household have been disclosed - explicitly show that the King costs Moroccan taxpayers US$260 million a year, 18 times more than Queen Elizabeth II...
The palace spends US$1.13 million on electricity and water, US$1.08 million on telephones and US$639,000 on petrol and fuel. The monthly clothes bill comes to US$218,000, while stationery alone costs US$110,000 …
It is significant to note that “democracy campaigners” have indicated that six million Moroccans - a fifth of the 30 million population - have to survive on around $1 a day.
The Moroccan Royal family's private wealth is estimated at $4-$5 billion by Forbes magazine, although other estimates place it as high as $20 billion.
These fresh revelations regarding the Royal family, printed in the Moroccan magazine Tel Quel, prompted the King's cousin, Prince Moulay Hicham, to call for Morocco's system of rule to be overhauled.
“Reforming the monarchy is the only way to ensure it endures,” said the prince, who has been banned from the royal palace in Rabat, since the two men fell out and now lives in America. Last month, Morocco's parliament, which is controlled by the King, went through the annual ritual of approving the royal budget.
An estimated 1,100 people work at the court of Mohammed VI, who succeeded his father, Hassan II, in 1999, just prior to his 35th birthday. He was once known as the “King of the Poor” for his early promises to reform Morocco's economy.
Shortly after he took the throne, the King addressed his nation via television, outlining the issues that were of concern to him at the start of his reign. The new King promised to take on poverty and corruption, while creating job opportunities and improving Morocco’s human rights record.
Speaking in the televised speech to the nation, the new monarch said, “We are determined to pursue the march of progress and development in favor of all Moroccans, especially the poor.”
In the second part of his speech, the King reminded his people that he was dedicated to the principles of “constitutional monarchy, the multi-party system, a free economy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and individual liberties.”
The young King accelerated the more liberal trends that started late in his father’s rule. In his first speech as King, he also promised the amnesty of nearly 50,000 prisoners and apologized for past political “repressions”. More significantly, he sacked the powerful head of the security forces, the infamous 'Butcher Basri'.
Furthermore, the new King created a controversial new family code, Mudawana, which granted women more power. This new family law has been in force since February 2004. It is said by the King to be in accordance to Quranic principles but has been opposed by religious conservatives. The new legislation grants unprecedented rights and protections for women concerning marriage, divorce and custody of children.
In 2002, the King married Salma Bennani, now Princess Lalla Salma, a computer engineer, whom he gave the title Princess, the first time a Moroccan sovereign's wife has been so acknowledged.
As aforementioned, King Mohammed VI has made economic development a priority; he has continued his father's policies of economic liberalization and privatization of state industries. Officials cite improved access to basic services in the country's shanty towns, and among the rural poor. However, some non-government organizations claim that in fact, little has changed beyond the statistics, with poverty still widespread and unemployment remaining high.
According to the Moroccan magazine, which gathered the figures from official records and broke a national taboo in publishing them, the King benefits more from his taxpayers than any other royal family or European head of state.
In Britain, for instance, the Queen's annual budget has been frozen at 7.9 million pounds (just over US$14 million) for the next five years, while Spain's royal family costs US$9 million and the Belgian monarchy US$7.6 million a year. France’s President Chirac has a budget of US$40 million pounds a year.
The King's monthly “salary” of US$45,227 compares with that of top Western company directors; but the total sum paid monthly to other members of the royal family is US$206,500.
Abdelhamid Amine, President of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, which has been campaigning for a minimum wage, praised Tel Quel for publishing the figures.
“People are angry to learn that there is such an enormous disparity between the rich and poor in our country,” he said. “They want to know how the monarchy can spend so much when so many people are living on less than $1 a day.
“We have continually campaigned for an agreed minimum wage of US$202-214 a month in industry and US$144 a month in agriculture. The legislation has been drawn up but never implemented.
“We have demanded constitutional reforms to limit the powers of the monarchy and create a properly democratic system. Everyone hoped Mohammed VI would change these things, but we are still hoping.”
Two years ago, a Moroccan magazine editor was sent behind bars for four years after he published a cartoon suggesting that the monarchy was robbing the country.
Tel Quel's Royal budget issue sold 35,000 copies, double its usual weekly circulation. A spokesman for the independent magazine said, “We've waited for some official reaction to the article, but so far there's been nothing. Not from the court, from the official press or from MPs. It's quite bizarre”.
The controversial article was accompanied by an interview with Prince Moulay Hicham. “The monarchy has to either dissociate itself from the old caliphal system or evolve from it,” he stated. He dismissed the idea that the monarchy was “sacred”.
The prince said, “Democracy and sacredness are not compatible. That's the whole problem with the Moroccan political system and a question which affects us all”.
Some 2.5 years ago, a Sudanese researcher and author, Dr. Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Effendi, urged Arab and Islamic nations in the Middle East to end “corruption” and reform government “practices” by becoming more "open and transparent" to their people and the world.
"Fighting corruption in the Arab world is like fighting capitalism in America or fighting Catholicism in the Vatican," he wrote in an August 2002 edition of Al Hayat.
Al-Effendi said “under existing Arab circumstances,” it's impossible to fight and eliminate “corruption” because that is “the foundation” of many existing regimes “and the main instrument” which allows them to survive. Much of the “corruption”, he added, was attributable to regimes which convey power and privilege on an elite few, such as family and friends.
© 2005 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)