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Making MENA Region a Burgeoning Democracy: The Key and Strategic Role of Higher Education in Preparing Engaged and Leading Citizens

February 25-26, 2013 | Ryad Mogador Menara (Hotel & SPA), Marrakesh, Morocco


Organized within the framework of the 2011 winning AEIF Project titled : "Civic Education and Engagement as Pre-Requisites to Boost the Democratization Process in Morocco", sponsored by AEIF, USA


Organizer: CERES (previously the North-South Center for Social Sciences (NRCS)


  • Faculty of Arts and Letters-Ain Chock, Hassan II University of Casablanca

  • Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY, USA

  • State Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund (AEIF), US Department of State, USA



By definition, democracy is a creative work in progress. This progress depends on many factors. Democratic institutions for instance are only sound as the citizens, actions, and goals that animate them. Democracies need a culture of ideals and practices that can support citizens’ involvement in and control over social choices and directions. They also need a culture of responsible participation that can engender and sustain fair, trustworthy, and appropriately accountable political institutions — whether legislative assemblies, courts, or police forces. Although democracy means many things to many people, as we see it democracy is fundamentally a practice of shared responsibility for a common future. It is the always unfinished task of making social choices and working toward public goals that shapes our lives and the lives of others.

Reasonably well-informed, capable, engaged, and public-spirited citizens are essential if a democracy is to flourish. This may seem like a given, but in fact, in the realm of political study it is contested. Even the question of what it means for a democracy to flourish is open to debate. Nevertheless, a number of outcomes are widely acknowledged as implicit in the notion of democratic vitality. They include reducing the potential for tyranny and corruption among those with leadership responsibilities; increasing the responsiveness of the system to the public and to a notion of the common good; improving the quality and fairness of political decision making and outcomes; expanding citizens’ horizons, opportunities, and general well-being; and striving to maintain a sense of the overall legitimacy of the system and to avoid political injustice or crisis.


In the midst of massive and radical political reforms in Morocco, educational institutions have come to be considered as potential levers of social change.  In the last few months following the rise of Arab Spring there loomed up the prospect that education could be deliberately employed to shape and boost democracy in our society.  For a good assessment of the role of education in these critical times, it is crucial to ask the following questions: In which terms shall we describe our educational system?  Does it go hand in hand with the current political endeavors for change? What are the most efficient strategies for more concrete and promising results? 


No doubt, since our independence, it is always the State, which has decided what and how our schools and universities should teach.  Over the years, the State has tried many formulas to improve education but often education politics have had a singular, overarching goal:  they have fought for their vision of education because it embodied their ideology and their goals for the future of society. As a result of mass protests on the streets, authority came to be questioned and so the constitution was revised and a new government was formed. It is difficult to argue that all these reforms are merely cosmetic because most of them seem promising. However, there is a certain doubt regarding the extent to which these reforms can generate real outcomes in terms of democratic transition since many favorable factors and pre-requisite conditions are not gathered yet. More precisely, political reforms can’t guarantee the progress toward democracy in the absence of an efficient mass education system, which ensures the responsible engagement of the public and decision makers, at all levels.  


Our society moves slowly because it has a large uninformed and uneducated public; and since knowledge is not more equably diffused, this society — as a political and economic body — cannot grow in a constructive manner.  There is indeed a huge gap between Morocco’s high aspirations for political change, that would guarantee more democracy, and the low if not lamentable state of education at all levels.  In order to bridge the gap between the high political aspirations and low educational realities, so much needs to be done.  Of course, reforms, incentives, financial support and any other governmental efforts to improve education are urgent and vital, but they cannot be sustainably fruitful without the involvement of the whole Moroccan society and awareness of the necessity to educate the masses and to invest in future generations. In other words, there should be a "mentality" reform — focusing on the value system — along with education reform for people to understand, in depth, that education is not an option but a must. Besides, there should be considerable efforts from the part of educators — at all levels — who should come with a new vision both at the level of pedagogy and the general agenda of teaching in order to meet the new challenges of our era (pro-poor democracy, sustainability, human development, tolerance, social integration, competitiveness in this globalized world, etc.). In Morocco, our need for an educated, civically engaged as well as politically knowledgeable citizenry is a still an unachieved goal rather than a reality.  The vast majority of the population fails to reach the standards of literacy as well as civic engagement and political knowledge. For these reasons, institutions, along with their educators and curricula, are the critical link between education and engaged citizenship, as the locus from which democratic citizens can emerge.

Core Idea

The core idea of this conference can be formulated as follows: Democratization process faces many challenges related, among others, to a feeble democratic culture and practice and civic engagement in Morocco. Without educating the student community — the most vital component of the society — on these values and practices, the process will remain slow, fragile and unsustainable. This community can be a reliable agent of change though it suffers from several challenges (weak political and civic engagement, lack of perspective in terms of career visibility, identity and belonging crisis, over-fascination with Western living standards). Hence, our democratic deficiency is partially due to the lack of civic values and practices at the grass-root levels. Student community feeds all spheres and contributes consequently to the reproduction of the same underlying values. Unless this community is empowered, Morocco will remain weak and vulnerable. So, mainstreaming civic engagement and democracy values in curriculum and research, along with related decision-making processes and advocacy, is certainly one of the recommended paths toward an open and democratic Moroccan society. 


This conference provides an insightful added value in this direction. It aims to provide a platform where the above issues can be openly debated and discussed in a welcoming environment with the purpose to learn from each other.

Key Topics

We would like to invite you to share your research and experience with academicians, teachers and professionals. Prospective speakers are encouraged to submit proposals for papers whose subject is intimately linked to the above rationale. Proposals — which can be in English, French or Arabic — should address both theoretical issues and new research findings. Proposals covering one or more of the following key topics will be given the priority during the peer-review selection.


  • Moroccan Higher Education System: Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Moroccan Higher Education System: Patterns of an Efficient Reform Agenda

  • Citizenship, Politics, and Civic Engagement in the Moroccan Context

  • The Role of Higher Education in Fostering Engaged Citizenship

  • Teaching for Political Knowledge and Understanding

  • Teaching Democratic Participation Skills

  • Fostering Political Motivation

  • Successful advocacy and policy dialogue for changes

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