Mohammed VI became King of Morocco upon the death of his father in 1999. He opened the political and economic systems, pushed for a greater inclusion of women in society and funded a major rehabilitation of Jewish heritage sites. In the early 2000's, he allowed political exiles, such as the Marxist-Leninist Moroccan Jew Abraham Serfaty, to return to the country. He freed political prisoners from the secret Tazmamart prison. Amazingly, he instituted the Equity and Reconciliation Commission, with the mandate to look specifically into forced disappearances and arbitrary detention between 1956 and 1999, during the reigns of his father and grandfather. The Commission made recommendations to the King regarding monetary compensation, psychological and medical care and social reintegration of victims. In addition, it recommended steps to memorialize human rights violations, guarantee their non-repetition, remedy their effects, and restore confidence in rule of law and respect for human rights.
The King has helped the country make major steps forward in promoting women's empowerment and gender equality. With strong support from Mohammed VI, in 2004 the Moroccan Parliament revised the family code for Muslims, by raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 for men and women, establishing joint responsibility for the family among men and women, limiting the terms of polygamy and divorce, and granting women more rights in the negotiation of marriage contracts, among other provisions. Jews have their own family law, overseen by a Jewish court. The King also led passage of a progressive 2018 law addressing violence against women.
Mohammed VI advanced the rights of ethnic groups and minorities. In 2001, he created the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture. In 2011, he pushed through a new constitution approved by voters. The constitution calls Morocco "A sovereign Moslem State, committed to the ideals of openness, moderation, tolerance and dialogue to foster mutual understanding among all civilizations; A Nation whose unity is based on the fully endorsed diversity of its constituents: Arabic, Amazigh, Hassani, Sub-Saharan, African, Andalusian, Jewish and Mediterranean components." For the first time, it made Tamazight, the language of the Amazigh people, an official state language.
King Mohammed VI rededicates Ettedgui Synagogue in Casablanca, 2016, TheMoroccanMonarchy @MoroccanMonarch
In 2012, King Mohammed VI embarked on a long-term rehabilitation project to preserve the cultural and spiritual heritage of Moroccan Jews. The project enabled 167 Jewish cemeteries with thousands of gravestones to be uncovered, cleaned up and inventoried. It also restored many tombs of Jewish saints. In addition to synagogues, former Jewish schools have been renovated, and the original names of Jewish neighborhoods have been reinstated. Funding from the palace helped refurbish the Jewish Museum of Casablanca and create new museums in Essaouira and Fez. The King required high schools to include Holocaust studies in their curriculum and primary schools to teach Jewish culture and history.
Moroccans Protest Diplomatic Recognition of Israel in Front of Parliament, 2020, by EFE/EPA
In December 2020, the King agreed to move toward full diplomatic recognition of Israel. This move was hailed by Moroccan Jews throughout the world, although the reception among Moroccan Muslims committed to Palestinian rights was mixed at best. As a first step, the two countries will reopen the Liaison Offices that were opened under King Hassan II in 1994 and closed down in 2002. Israeli airlines planned to operate up to 20 direct flights a week between Israel and Morocco, reflecting the potential for increased business ties and tourism between the two countries.
The US helped negotiate Moroccan diplomatic recognition of Israel as part of a package that included US Government recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory called the Western Sahara. This politically contested region was claimed by King Hassan II in 1975, when he organized the "Green March" that brought hundreds of thousands of Moroccan citizens, both Muslim and Jewish, into the Saharan territory to claim it for Morocco. For decades, the UN attempted unsuccessfully to hold elections among the native Sahara residents to determine whether the territory should be independent or an autonomous region of Morocco. The US became the only country in the world to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara, sidestepping the UN process. Moroccan Jews around the world, who love the Moroccan King and remain proud of Morocco, strongly supported this initiative.
André Azoulay, a Jew who grew up in Essaouira, has served as King Mohammed VI's advisor on economic issues and Jewish affairs, as he did for King Hassan II. He has guided the King's efforts to preserve Jewish heritage and build links with Israel and Jews around the world. Kivunim, which organizes gap year visits for graduating high school students to Morocco, interviewed André Azoulay about the King's efforts, with Azoulay's guidance, to preserve Jewish heritage in the following video:
Interview with Andre Azoulay, Advisor to King Mohammed VI