Muhammad VI (1963–)

views updated

Muhammad VI

King Muhammad VI of Morocco ascended to the throne on 23 July 1999, becoming the eighteenth king in the Alaouite dynasty that has ruled Morocco since the mid-seventeenth century. He also receives the title of Emir al-Mu'minin, or commander of the faithful, a title that carries both political and religious connotations. He is known for having initiated a timid process of reforms in Morocco that led to the establishment of a limited constitutional monarchy.


King Muhammad VI was born Prince Muhammad ibn al-Hassan in Rabat, Morocco, on Wednesday, 21 August 1963. He is the eldest son of the late King HASSAN II, who was an Arab descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and Lalla Latifa Hammou, who descends from a prominent Moroccan Berber family. Prince Muhammad was enrolled at the Qur'anic school at the Royal Palace at the age of four, where he received a traditional religious education. Following the completion of his elementary and secondary studies at the Royal College and the achievement of his baccalaureate in 1981, he studied law at Muhammad V University's law school in Rabat, where he received his B.A. in 1985. His undergraduate thesis was titled "The Arab-African Union and the Strategy of the Kingdom of Morocco in matters of International Relations." In 1987

he obtained his Certificat D'Études Supérieures (CES) in political science, and in July 1988, he was awarded a Diplôme des Études Supérieures du Doctorat in public law. Shortly thereafter, in 1998, he embarked on a short period of practical training under the guidance of the then-president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors. On 29 October 1993 he obtained a doctorate in law from the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (France), with honorable distinction granted by his dissertation committee. His doctoral dissertation revolved around European Union-Maghreb relations. A year later, on 12 July 1994, he was promoted to the rank of major general in the Moroccan army. He also holds an honorary doctorate from George Washington University in Washington D.C., granted on 22 June 2000 for his efforts in expanding democracy in Morocco. His father's decision to educate his son in Morocco during his early formative years has been hailed by Muhammad VI as representative of his father's wish that he remain close to the interests of the country. As prince, he was entrusted by his father with numerous missions to several Arab, Islamic, African, and European countries. On 10 March 1983, he chaired the Moroccan delegation to the seventh summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi, India, and that same year chaired a delegation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. On 11 April 1985 he was appointed coordinator of the Bureaux and Services of the General Staff of the Royal Armed Forces. On 23 February 1989, he represented Hassan II at the funeral of Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

Muhammad VI has one brother (Prince Moulay Rachid) and three sisters (Princesses Lalla Maryam, Lalla Asma, and Lalla Hasna). On 21 March 2002 he married Salma Bennani (currently known as Princess Lalla Salma) and granted her the title of princess. They have two children: Moulay Hasssan, the crown prince, born on 8 May 2003, and Princess Lalla Khadija, born on 28 February 2007.


Ever since his ascension to the throne, Muhammad VI has made an attempt to publicly address the most contentious issues of Moroccan society, namely democracy, poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy, while maintaining his predecessor's stance on the Western Sahara conflict—particularly with a strong stance against Western Saharan and Algerian plans for the region—and trying to resituate European-North African relations to an equal footing while reinforcing Morocco's strategic alliance with the United States. During his first address to the nation following his father's death, Muhammad VI pledged to continue the country's development, reiterated his commitment to the idea of a unified Morocco that included the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara as part of its territory, and stressed the importance of Morocco's ties with other Arab and Islamic nations.


Name: Muhammad VI, King of Morocco

Birth: 1963, Rabat, Morocco

Family: Wife, Salma Bennani (Princess Lalla Salma, married 2002); son, Moulay Hasssan; daughter, Princess Lalla Khadija

Nationality: Moroccan

Education: B.A. (law), Muhammad V University, Rabat, 1985; Ph.D. (law), University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, 1993; honorary Ph.D. from George Washington University


  • 1983: Chairs Moroccan delegation to the seventh summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in New Delhi; chairs delegation of the Organization of the African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa
  • 1985: Appointed coordinator of the Bureaux and Services of the General Staff of the Royal Armed Forces
  • 1994: Promoted to major general in the Moroccan army
  • 1999: Becomes king of Morocco; orders creation of the Indemnity Commission to address abuses during the postindependence period
  • 2005: Launches the National Initiative for Human Development

Political Reform

Hailed by Western politicians as a young reformer, Muhammad VI seemed to give credit to these views by initiating a process of reforms upon ascending to the throne. Nevertheless, on the matter of democracy, he has often advocated the singularity of Morocco's situation and has specifically rejected all hints at any parallelisms between Morocco and other neighboring countries that underwent a democratic transition process, such as Spain, arguing that each country has to have its own specific features of democracy. Muhammad VI himself has defined his regime as a democratic executive democracy, reflecting the difficulties of an institution that poses as modern and progressive but hesitates when it comes to relinquishing its executive powers. Critics have argued that Morocco's path toward a greater liberalization was not born of a real democratizing interest on the part of the crown, but was rather forced on the monarch by the country's economic predicament first, and the increasing European Union (EU) refusal to grant loans because of Morocco's extremely deficient human rights record. Other critics have depicted Muhammad VI's reforms as a timid continuation of his father's democratically inclined policies of the early 1990s, rather than as a break with the past. Political reform, which had raised hopes among Moroccans as well as many of Morocco's Western allies upon Muhammad VI's ascension in 1999, has remained fragile and inconsistent throughout. Currently, it is still the king who exerts direct control over the Defense Ministry, foreign affairs, and the Interior Ministry, together with numerous other commissions.

Human Rights Abuses

Muhammad VI's democratic credentials have been blemished by persistent accusations of human rights abuses, documented by international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others. Following in the path of Hassan II, Muhammad VI has taken steps to address the decades of political violence and repression that followed independence. The postindependence years, known as the black years (in Arabic, al-sanawat al-sawda; in French, les années de plomb, or the years of lead), saw the incarceration, torture, and assassination of thousands of political opponents to the regime, mostly leftists and Islamists. In August 1999, Muhammad VI ordered the Royal Advisory Council on Human Rights (Conseil Consultatif des Droits de l'Homme, or CCDH) to create an independent Indemnity Commission (Commission d'Aribtrage) to indemnify former victims of state violence. On 30 September 1999 former leftist political prisoner Abraham Serfaty returned to Morocco, and on 27 November the family of Mehdi Ben Barka followed. The king's initiative found a quick response among former political prisoners, who on October 1999 set up the Moroccan Forum for Truth and Equity (Forum Maro-cain pour la Verité et l'Equité; al-Muntada al-Maghribi min ajl al-Haqiqa wa'l-Insaf). The forum has since demanded that a more extensive process ensue, resembling truth and reconciliation commissions in other parts of the world. On 7 January 2004, Muhammad VI appointed Driss Benzekri, the forum's first president, as head of the newly formed Justice and Reconciliation Commission. Following the example set by Chile and Argentina, Morocco eschewed punishment for the perpetrators—the CCDH eventually granted amnesty to torturers and to all those responsible for secret detention centers—and instead focused on the process of uncovering the truth about detention and torture.


[W]e strongly adhere to the system of constitutional monarchy, political pluralism, economic liberalism, regional and decentralized policy, the establishment of the state of rights and law, preserving human rights and individual and collective liberties, protecting security and stability for everyone. We reiterated our commitment to complete our territorial integrity, in which the issue of our Saharan provinces is central. We look forward to the completion of the referendum of confirmation [that Western Sahara belongs to Morocco], sponsored and implemented by the United Nations. Our religion is one of moderation, openness and clemency. It calls for peace, co-existence, friendship and the protection of human rights bestowed on humans by God, human rights which have been approved by international conventions, and which Morocco was in the forefront of signing. If Morocco belongs the Arab and Islamic worlds, its geographical position at the top of the continent of Africa, overlooking Europe from the north and America from the west, obliges us to pursue the policy of our blessed father—characterized by openness and dialogue—by strengthening relations with our African brothers and links with our European and American friends for the benefit of our region and the whole world, within the framework of compromise, respect and the endeavor to establish security and peace.


Under Muhammad VI, freedom of the press continues to be restricted through legislation that bars explicit criticism of Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or Morocco's territorial integrity. Among the best-known episodes is that of Moroccan journalist Ali Mrabet, editor in chief of Demain. In 2003 he was found guilty of insulting the king's person and undermining the monarchy, and was sentenced to four years in prison because of the publication of several caricatures and interviews in Spanish newspapers, suggesting that one of the king's palaces was to be sold to foreign developers. Following a hunger strike, Muhammad VI officially pardoned Mrabet in 2004. In 2005, Mrabet was found guilty of libel after having characterized Western Saharans in Tinduf as refugees instead of using the official term, captives of the Polisario. The Casablanca bombings on 16 May 2003 led Morocco's parliament to enact strict antiterrorist measures. Following the bombings, several waves of arrests have targeted members of Islamist organizations not loyal to the royal institutions.

Economy Muhammad VI has to confront myriad socioeconomic problems that revolve around poverty (which affects between 15% and 35% of the Moroccan population at different levels), unemployment, high illiteracy rates—particularly among females and in rural areas—and underdevelopment of rural areas that fuels massive migration to urban centers. On 18 May 2005, King Muhammad VI launched the National Initiative for Human Development (NIHD), which he characterized in his address on the occasion as a "large-scale mobilization … in the effort to achieve sustainable development." This initiative initially targeted 360 rural communities and 250 urban districts considered to be most in need. Among its objectives are the extension of basic social services and infrastructures, the creation of jobs and regular income, and the upgrading of social services for the poorest sectors of Moroccan society. In his speech, the king acknowledged that poverty and marginality affected considerably large sectors of Moroccan society and cited the creation of urban bidonvilles (slums), illiteracy, social exclusion, and unemployment as the country's most important challenges. He also admitted to the state's responsibility in carrying out the modernization of society while acknowledging the importance of civil society in establishing social networks that guaranteed the viability of economic reforms. With this initiative, Muhammad VI situated social issues at the forefront of Morocco's political priorities. The initiative is a notable shift from a top-down, single-sector tradition in dealing with poverty to a community-driven approach. Analysts have pointed out that among its most positive aspects is the expressed will to include civil society and local authorities in the process, although critics argue that the lack of specific guidelines regarding the inclusion of the NIHD in the general economy of the nation is one of its weakest points. Similarly, although the initiative could contribute to the dynamization of local networks and the strengthening of local authorities, its top-bottom hierarchical structure might make it difficult for political power to be adequately transferred to the local sphere, thus hurting the chances of reform programs to succeed. The initiative has the blessing of the World Bank, which approved a US$100 million loan to support it on 12 December 2006.


Muhammad VI has endured criticism as well as praise for his efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights in Morocco. The world's perspective on Muhammad's reign may ultimately be determined by the extent of the reforms he institutes, and by the ongoing state of the social problems that afflict his country.


While Muhammad VI will certainly be remembered for the steps toward democracy and social reform that he has already taken, the bulk of his reign as king of Morocco is still before him. Only time will tell what his overarching legacy will be.


Slyomovics, Susan. The Performance of Human Rights in Morocco. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

"'Whatever I Do, It Will Never Be Good Enough': An Interview with King Mohammed VI of Morocco." Time Europe 155, no. 25 (26 June 2000).

                            Vanesa Casanova-Fernandez

About this article

Muhammad VI (1963–)

Updated About content Print Article