Blog Political Science and Public Administration


Eva Østergaard-Nielsen (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)


A growing number of states offer their emigrants extended channels for political participation from afar. Studies of these policies generally agree that processes of democratization are central to changes in relations between states and their expatriates. During processes of political transition towards liberal democracy, states relax (or reformulate) their attempts to control dissidence among their emigrants by meeting their demands for political rights and platforms for dialogue on issues of interest to both parties.  But what about the transnational politics of political regimes that are not liberal democracies? Or those with political transition processes that have slowed down or stalled? What happens when hybrid regimes or liberal autocracies engage in a process of more inclusive policies towards their citizens abroad? 


The case chosen to highlight these dynamics is Moroccan emigrant policies during the period 2005-2009. At the time, more than three million Moroccans were estimated to live outside of Morocco (710,000 in Spain).  Since the 1990s, the Moroccan government has launched a number of initiatives to intensify and institutionalize a more inclusive and transparent political dialogue with its emigrants in tandem with processes of political reform in Morocco. However, I argue that in the case of Morocco it is important not to assume a zero-sum relationship between the power of the state and the Moroccan civil society abroad. More inclusive policies towards an increasingly vocal and counter-hegemonic emigrant civil society abroad may also be part of a controlled liberalization in which the homeland political regime asserts itself in the transnational realm. 


Through document analysis and qualitative interviews in Morocco and with emigrant representatives in Spain, I analyse the establishment of the Council for the Moroccan Community Abroad in 2007 and the renewed debate on introducing external voting rights for emigrants. The Council included emigrant representatives from all over the world and, importantly, its establishment was preceded by a series of meetings among emigrant associations in various EU-member-states (Al Monada). During these meetings, emigrants, many of whom were known for their critical opposition to the Moroccan regime, debated the need for a more inclusive and transparent dialogue with the Moroccan authorities. Once established the Council led a series of important debates on reform of emigrant political rights, but was also strongly criticized by emigrant representatives for being controlled by the Palace. 


The analysis shows how the Council for Moroccans Abroad could be interpreted as a result of political liberalization in Morocco spilling over into more inclusive transnational relations with emigrants. However, a more critical interpretation would emphasize that the attempts to set up more inclusive political institutions for transnational dialogue with emigrants were tempered by autocratic resilience of the Moroccan regime and bore traits of controlled liberalization. As a result Moroccan outreach policies were not univocally welcomed among Moroccan emigrants but also provoked contestation among emigrant leaders weary of the lack of progress in terms of both political changes in Morocco and in emigrants’ opportunities for transnational political participation. This is an ongoing story of negotiation, construction and reformulation of the transnational political spaces between Morocco and Moroccan migrants in Spain.  


For more information, see Østergaard-Nielsen, Eva, Political liberalization and contestation of transnational relations between Morocco and Moroccan migrants in Spain’, in Peter Mandaville and Terence Lyon (eds) Politics from afar: Transnational Diasporas and networks, Hurst/Columbia University Press, 2012, pp. 69-87