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How popular is Morocco's king? Don't ask.

Over the last 10 years, King M6 has made many reforms. But he retains absolute rule.

Whatever the timing, Naciri said the decision does no damage to the king’s record of reform.

“He has been the principal author of reforms here for the last 10 years,” Naciri said. “We are a country that is in the process of constructing a new democracy. We need stability to do so and the king is the source of that stability.”

Even critics of the king agree the 45-year-old Mohammed VI broke sharply from the policies of his father, Hassan II, who maintained a grip on power by means of secret police, detentions and bullets in a period now nicknamed the “years of lead.”

Upon taking power in 1999, Mohammed VI fired his father’s fearsome interior minister Driss Basri, who oversaw some of the regime’s worst human rights abuses. The new king also set up an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to spotlight offenses committed under his father’s rule and dole out compensation to victims.

The young king released all the women from his father’s royal harem and took only one wife who — in a stark break with tradition — occasionally appears in public. In 2004, the king leant his support to a nationwide coalition of feminist groups that successfully pushed for legal reforms to vastly expand women’s rights of divorce, child custody and property ownership. The change to the family code, or Moudawana, has been held up as example by feminists across the Muslim world.

“The fact that the monarchy was willing to take this on seems like an incredible thing,” said Paul Silverstein, a Morocco specialist and editor at the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, D.C. “Morocco’s still an authoritarian state — it’d be hard to argue that it’s not — but it’s kind of a participatory authoritarian state.”

And other experts say measuring Morocco — a country that has applied for membership in the European Union — against repressive Arab neighbors isn’t the way forward.

“If you’re going to compare Morocco with other countries in the Arab world, you’re setting the bar very low,” said Abdeslam Maghraoui, a Duke University political science professor who specializes in Morocco.

Truly democratizing the country will require the king to make the unlikely move of handing much of his authority over to the parliament and judiciary, Maghraoui said. The monarch's seizure of the publications that dared to publish the poll on his popularity shows just how improbable that is.

“The monarchy has reached its limit in terms of reforms,” said Maghraoui. “What we have seen is what we are going to get.”

Editor's note: This story originally appeared with a photograph that incorrectly identified Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid as King Mohammed VI, as a result of an error by Reuters.