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A voice, or just a seat?

Women are now guaranteed seats on local councils in Morocco, but the question remains of whether it will translate into real power.

Still, Morocco remains scores of places ahead of fellow Arab states such as Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the last two of which remain tied at 126th place.

“I mean, it’s a tough neighborhood to be in,” said Jeffrey England, Morocco’s resident director for the National Democratic Institute, a U.S.-funded group that focuses on governance issues. “For the Arab world, Morocco probably has some of the best representation for women relative to its neighbors.”

Regardless of the number of women elected to local councils, critics say the problem remains investing the seats they hold — or any elected office — with real clout. In a country where much political power remains in the hands of the king and his appointees, some say electoral politics remains a sideshow.

“Moroccan people don’t have confidence in elections in general, in local elections, in national elections, because we’ve discovered progressively that the struggle between political parties is not a struggle to make Morocco better,” said Abdessamad Dialmy, a professor of sociology at Mohammed V University in Rabat. “I think that first we have to give some credibility to political action in general.”

But Moroccan officials and activists who have fought for the gender quota say the 27,000 total council members nationwide will make decisions of real consequence, issuing building permits and determining the course of construction and infrastructure projects in their regions.

“It’s not his majesty who’s going to manage the affairs of a little village perched on a mountain somewhere. It’s clearly the councils that’ll do it,” said Latifa Jbabdi, head of a national activist group called the Women’s Action Union. “This is not a symbolic change. It’s real.”

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