This paper demonstrates that Moroccan immigration policymaking is intrinsically tied to the monarchy’s authoritarian consolidation agenda. Drawing on archival research and 87 semi-structured interviews conducted between 2011 and 2017 with Moroccan high-level civil servants, international and national civil society representatives, the paper dissects power dynamics among state and societal actors involved in Morocco’s 2013 immigration reform. The analysis shows that immigration policy liberalisation not only emerged out of Morocco’s autocratic political structures – a dynamic I call the ‘illiberal paradox’ – but at the same time consolidated them. In particular, the Moroccan monarchy used the 2013 ‘liberal’ immigration reform to pursue three interrelated goals: (1) to perform Morocco’s human rights commitment on the world stage and the regime’s responsiveness to domestic pressure for political reform, (2) to consolidate the monarchical institution within Morocco’s state apparatus and (3) to (at least partially) co-opt Moroccan civil society for humanitarian migration management, thereby silencing dissent in other arenas. At the same time, however, the analysis reveals that the regime consolidation strategy and the King’s portrayal as a ‘liberal’ monarch did not cancel out deeply rooted dynamics among and between state and civil society actors, which required both sides to adapt their cooperation or resistance strategies. Ultimately, the paper showcases that immigration politics reflect the power dynamics within and the legitimation strategies of the Moroccan monarchy. Immigration policy research thus offers a privileged vantage point from which to analyse broader political regime dynamics.
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