Morocco's royal family opens its doors with a wedding

Morocco's royal family opens its doors with a wedding
The recent royal wedding in Rabat shows just how far the Moroccan royal family has come in terms of its relationship with the media.
4 min read
18 November, 2014
Every family loves a wedding, and Morocco's royals are no different [MAP]

The doors to the royal palace in Rabat have finally been opened, allowing everyday Moroccans a glimpse of what life is like for the royal family.

The occasion of Prince Moulay Rachid's wedding to Oum Kalthum Boufares afforded the Moroccan media unprecedented access to a royal event, which would have been unthinkable under the rule of the late King Hassan II.

The marriage of King Mohammed VI's brother was a notable event because of the prince's long-held bachelor status, which led to fervoured speculation on his potential bride. Preparations for the party were subject to intense scrutiny in the newspapers, on television, and on social media.

Perhaps for the first time ever, there was no embarrassment in discussing the private life of a prince who has a unique status in the country. The media were permitted flexible access, with tacit permission to cover the wedding, as long as they did not overstep the bounds of protocol.

     The opening up of the royal palace is a political decision aimed at adapting the monarchy to modern life.

As Moroccans know, such transparency rarely happens. The Moroccan press community is particularly aware that the Ministry of the Royal Household, Protocol and Chancellery is a silent creature that usually only makes terse public statements about its private events.

In the past, veteran politicians and close advisers of King Hassan II headed the ministry and national media were not allowed to get close to the life of the royal family.

But the ascendance of King Mohammed VI changed the rules of media coverage and the private life of the palace opened up. The advent of the internet left it impossible for the ministry to deal with modern life with an ancient mentality.

Old habits

Moroccans used to get news of their rulers from foreign media, the French press in particular. But the approach of King Mohammed VI changed everything, to the extent that he may have modernised too quickly and marginalised the royal household ministry.

Graduates of communications institutes were brought in to market the image of the king and the royal family in an age of new media.

King Hassan II used to go on television to talk to Moroccans and he favoured a direct approach. He did not read from notes, but held a golden pen that served to aid his gesticulations while he improvised in front of an audience of ministers. 

King Mohammed VI changed this style. He wanted to give his rule a personal touch, in keeping with the latest technology.

He succeeded in making palace life a part of Morocco's daily life. For the first time, photographs of the king and his family are exhibited on public streets, in open-air exhibitions, and in every city.

In an astonishing break from the former protocol, the king has been photographed in casual clothes, without guards, in various locations. He has been shown enjoying forests and palace courtyards with his wife, Princess Lalla Salma, and depicted with his family as a loving father. Other photoshoots have celebrated his sporting prowess and his love of jetskiing.

     In the past 50 years, the monarchy has slowly dressed itself in modern clothes.

The king turns private appointments into public occasions, which are shared instantaneously across the web. A recent visit to Tunisia was covered extensively on social media, when pictures of the unguarded king chatting amiably to local people went viral.

The kings of the Alawi dynasty used to forbid their wives from appearing in public, but with Mohammed VI this rule was broken. Princess Salma has become a part of the social fabric of Rabat.

The opening up of the royal palace is a political decision aimed at adapting the monarchy to modern life. This might facilitate future steps even in reforming the governance of the country. Mohammed VI himself has expressed more than once that reform is unavoidable.

In the past 50 years, the monarchy has slowly dressed itself in modern clothes, and adapted to the modern world. Perhaps future generations will know a different form of monarchy that might yet bypass the usual debate about constitutional monarchy or a parliamentary monarchy.

No accident

The media coverage of the royal wedding was not an accident, but a matter that was thought through carefully. The team that supervised the so-called "leaking" of videos and photos was extremely smart. They turned a private affair into a public occasion. They even prompted a discussion about the traditions of weddings inside the royal court.

Moroccans enjoy a wedding as much as anyone, but a royal wedding has its own rituals and centuries of tradition. The recent exposure meant many Moroccans spoke of little else for days.

Discussions swarmed the streets over which media outlets attended and which did not, where this cabinet minister or that public figure was sitting, the selected audience at the royal banquet (which was rumoured to include not only Mariah Carey, but also Madonna), the fashion, and even the type of crystal glasses used. Some social media users demanded that the rain stop for a while so the wedding could proceed perfectly.

Amid this new era of relatively open access, it would be well to remember that newspapers used to be harshly reprimanded when they so much as published an unofficial photograph of a royal. How very far ago yesterday seems.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.