The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

Liberal outcomes through undemocratic means: the reform of the Code de statut personnel in Morocco*

Francesco Cavatortaa1 c1 and Emanuela Dalmassoa2 c2

a1 School of Law and Government, Dublin City University, Glasnevin, Dublin 9, Ireland

a2 Department of Political Science, University of Turin, 10124 Turin, Italy


The 2004 reform of the family code in Morocco has been held as one of the most significant liberal reforms undertaken in the country, and has led scholars and policy makers to argue that this demonstrates the democratic progress Morocco and the King are making. At the same time, the role of the women's movement in getting the reform approved has seemingly confirmed that associational life is crucial in promoting democratisation. This paper, building on theoretical work questioning the linkage between a strong civil society and democratic outcomes, argues that civil society activism does not necessarily lead to democratisation, and may reinforce authoritarian practices. Far from demonstrating the centrality of civil society, the process through which the new family code was passed highlights the crucial institutional role of the monarch, whose individual decision-making power has driven the whole process. Authoritarianism finds itself strengthened in Morocco despite the liberal nature and outcome of the reform.


* The authors are very grateful to the anonymous referees for their very helpful comments. We also wish to acknowledge the DCU Career Start Programme for the financial aid provided to carry out the field work for this article. Finally, both authors wish to thank the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark, for the support received during Francesco Cavatorta's sabbatical there in 2008/9.