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Why Al Qaeda Doesn't Like Morocco and Why Moroccans Are Fighting Back

My home country of Morocco has always been a focal point of sweeping trends in North Africa and the Middle East. And so it was last week, a week before the assassination of Usama Bin Laden, when a deadly attack in the historic city of Marrakesh killed 17 people, including numerous Westerners. 

There are clear indications that Al Qaeda planned and executed the attack. It was yet another reminder not only that Al Qaeda continues to terrorize the civilized world, but also that Morocco stands at the front lines of the conflict between civilization and barbarism -- and between the backward path of theocratic tyranny and the forward path of political moderation and reform.

The Arab region is in a state of great flux, with some regimes falling and others at the brink of collapse. Morocco remains comparatively calm by contrast -- and that should come as no surprise. The political reforms which Arab young people all over the region have been calling for are already underway in this North African kingdom, and even among those who have taken to the streets in recent weeks, few are calling for the overthrow of the government. For reasons which I will explain, the majority of Moroccan reformists feel vested in a process of improving the system from within. This dynamic, in turn, goes a long way to explain why Al Qaeda continues to target Morocco.

Unlike other Arab countries which have long stood in a state of war with their own citizens, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy that has committed itself to a process of reform ever since the current king, Muhammad VI, assumed the throne in 1999. 

It is instructive to observe that days after the terrorist attack in Marrakesh, many of the country's Islamists came together to express their support for the king. This is indicative of the fact that there is an elected parliament in which all ideological strands in society, including Islamists, have a constructive role to play -- making the Al Qaeda phenomenon that much more abhorrent, even to those who share some of the Islamist ideology that has animated extremist groups. 

In the years to come, countries like Egypt in which new governments are emerging will face their own challenges in managing Islamist political designs -- and there will be much that they can learn from the Moroccan political example.

Over the past two months, the king has also accelerated the process of domestic reform, calling for a new constitution that would strengthen the judiciary, individual liberties, and human rights, as well as strengthen the power of parliament vis a vis the executive branch of government. These crucial changes, which the people overwhelmingly support, pose a serious threat to Al-Qaeda in the Arab region. Where there is a true and sustainable partnership between an Arab government and its people -- a phenomenon that is yet to be seen in Egypt or Tunisia -- jihadist groups like Al Qaeda lose all legitimacy and have no space in which to breath. 

Small wonder, then, that Al-Qaeda is targeting Morocco today -- and small wonder that Moroccans have been turning out in droves, taking to the streets, to protest the jihadist phenomenon.

The reforms now underway in Morocco are also part of a broader continuum of moderation and progressivism in Moroccan history. My country is a melting pot of religions and cultures, with a long history of bringing together Arabs and Berber, Muslims and Jews. It is understandably a target for extremists, as well as a friend to reformists.

Ahmed Charai is publisher of the Moroccan weekly magazine L’Observateur as well as the French edition of the Foreign Policy magazine. He sits on the board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Ahmed Charai is publisher of the weekly Moroccan newspaper L'Observateur as well as the French edition of Foreign Policy magazine. An expert on Morocco and North Africa, he sits on the board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and on the board of directors of Search for Common Ground in Washington. He is a member of The National Interest's advisory council.