New media central to Moroccan political debate
By Rachid Jankari for Magharebia in Casablanca – 16/11/11
Despite their initial reluctance, Moroccan politicians are increasingly harnessing social media to get their messages across to the public.
The new media has grown into an integral part of the political landscape. The phenomenon, however, is not entirely new. A number of political campaigners have been running internet sites since the early 2000s.
Morocco has more than two million internet subscribers, 13 million internet users and 35 million mobile phone customers. In spite of the maturity of the technology market and the extent of internet access, the use of information and communication tools in politics is not the norm.
Only a handful of government officials use Facebook and Twitter to communicate their activities on a daily basis. They include Trade Minister Ahmed Reda Chami and Youth and Sport Minister Moncef Belkhayat.
The same goes for parliamentarians. Few MPs have dared to step into the digital world to communicate to internet users. They include Khalid El Hariry, of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Brahim Zerkdi and Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) Secretary-General Nabil Ben Abdallah.
"Of course, Moroccan politicians want to be present in the new media, but they are constrained by the resources, practices and mindsets of traditional media communications," active tweeter and blogger Houda Chaloun said. "The result: they're heading straight for failure."
Chaloun added that social media sites are not "simply tools" but "a state of mind and a new way of getting the message across".
"The use of social media by politicians in Morocco is still in its earliest infancy and something of a 'cottage industry'. This is a new medium with its own rules and etiquette, which politicians have not yet fully assimilated; either that or they have failed to keep up with these new technologies and the opportunities they can bring in terms of mobilising people," explained Marouane Harmach, an ICT consultant and director of the Consultor company.
A regional drive for political change in the wake of the Arab Spring has propelled social media into one of the chief means of promoting and defending political causes to the broader public.
The pro-reform February 20 Movement was able to take full advantage of ICT to communicate their demands, provide live coverage of the demonstrations and promote their view via blogs, podcasts, Twitter and Facebook.
Civil society, however, is not to be outdone. A group of NGOs, working in partnership with the Moroccan Human Rights Organisation (OMDH), recently created an online election monitoring centre for the upcoming parliamentary vote. Launched in late September, Marsad.ma will enable the public and observers to post alerts directly online about the conduct of the ballot, set for November 25th.
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