RABAT — Morocco is watching nervously as other North African countries erupt in revolt, with warnings even from within the royal family that it will probably not be spared.
Morocco has not been touched, yet, by the violent protests that have ended the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, threaten Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and have shaken Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
"But we mustn't be deceived, almost every authoritarian systems will be affected by this wave of protest, Morocco will probably be no exception," a cousin of King Mohammed VI warned in an interview published Monday.
"It remains to be seen whether the revolt is just social or also political, and if the political parties act under the influence of the recent events," Prince Moulay Hicham told the Spanish daily El Pais.
The 46-year-old, third in line to the throne, is nicknamed the "red prince" because of his criticism of the monarchical system in Morocco.
He said the political liberalisation launched in the 1990s after Mohammed succeeded his authoritarian father Hassan II had virtually come to an end, and reviving it while still avoiding radical pressures would be "a major challenge."
The events in Egypt dominate the Moroccan press but the government has so far made no comment. However it gave proof Monday that the regional situation has it worried with its swift reply to a report that it had redeployed troops.
It summoned Spain's ambassador to protest reports in the Spanish media that the troops had been brought from Western Sahara in case of protests.
"The government of the Kingdom of Morocco issued a categorical denial to these false statements...," said Communications Minister and government spokesman Khalid Naciri.
He underlined the government's "indignation" at the "unfounded allegations" -- which actually first appeared on the Facebook page of Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet -- that troops had been moved towards Casablanca and Rabat.
"The role of any government is to take precautions against anything that might encourage instability."
In the wake of the unrest in Algeria and Tunisia, the authorities said last week they would maintain subsidies on basic necessities like flour, sugar, cooking oil and butane gas to stop costs rising in line with world prices.
However Naciri insisted that the decision was not influenced by events in Morocco's neighbours, where the price of such goods helped to spark revolt.
Pro-government newspapers have also reacted strongly to suggestions that unrest might spread across Morocco's borders, in particular to an interview with dissident journalist Aboubakr Jamai carried by France's Nouvel Observateur.
Jamai predicted that "If Morocco goes up, the disparities in wealth are such that the rebellion will be much bloodier than in Tunisia."
The weekly Le Temps led charges that Jamai and the foreign press did not know what they were talking about.
Businessmen questioned by AFP tended to agree, saying that the hereditary monarchy in Morocco had more respect than the authoritarian presidencies of Ben Ali and Mubarak who had kept themselves in power through a firm grip on the electoral process.
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