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Middle East and Africa

An Islamist Destiny for Morocco?

The headline of the cover of a weekly magazine that appeared in Morocco one week before the general elections of 25th November 2011 was ‘Morocco will be Islamist’ and as subheading, ‘except for a miracle or government manoeuvre’ (Tel Quel No. 497). Well then, here we are!

 

 

Following the adoption of the new constitution approved by referendum in early July 2011, the Moroccans turned out to elect their members of parliament and the big winner is the PJD (the Justice and Development Party), defined as ‘Islamist’: it obtained 107 seats with a great advantage with respect to the Istiqlâl party which came second with 60 seats. The turnout (45.40%) was higher than at the last elections of 2007 (37%). It must be stressed however that of the 21 million electors with the right to vote, only 13.5 million are registered in the electoral lists. And moreover, very few Moroccans living abroad voted as voting by proxy is not worth their while.

 

 

Consequently there was in fact a rather high abstention rate. It seems that these elections were transparent even if the National Human Rights Council recorded a number of irregularities which are nonetheless negligible. The international observers are of the same opinion. How is it possible to come to terms with this label of ‘Islamist’ party? In French we find the adjectives Islamist, Islamic (often associated with the word terrorism), Muslim. The PJD does not represent all the ‘Islamists’ of Morocco considering that another party with this leaning (the Party of Rebirth and Virtue) obtained no seats at all, and that the al-‘Adl wa al-Ihsân movement ‒ Justice and Charity ‒, (which has never been recognised as a political party) was in favour of the boycotting.

 

 

We could perhaps venture a comparison. In Europe, many countries have seen parties bearing the label ‘Christian’ (the Christian Democracy), and no doubt Christian values are in the roots of Europe. In the Maghreb Muslim values are deeply rooted in its history (in any case, at least since the VII century) and Islam represents the privileged reference for its peoples, without however being able to clearly distinguish between Islam-culture and Islam-religion (with regard to which a survey published this summer in Morocco shows that, while the young people consider Islam the central element of their identity, they are at the same time little observant at the level of prayers ‒ with only 34% going to pray on a regular basis while everyone fasts during Ramadan ‒ and they have no qualms about experiencing their sexuality before marriage). Would the PJD therefore not be mutatis mutandis the Muslim equivalent of a ‘Christian Democrat’ party?

 

 

How can its overwhelming victory be explained?

 

 

We have seen a gradual rise of the PJD: 42 MPs in 2002, 47 in 2007 and 107 in 2011. It has to be said that in the previous elections it had to a certain extent ‘self-censured itself’, not presenting candidates in all the constituencies whilst this time it covered 91 out of 92. Its victory is quite clear in the big cities: Casablanca, Tangiers, Rabat, Fez and Marrakech. Here its victory is spectacular whereas it is much less so in the rural world. But its victory is also owing to the fact that the majority of the previous parliament (the ‘Kutla’ – the block – made up of the Istiqlâl party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces and the Party of Progress and Socialism) was subjected to a vote-sanction. While the PI confidently gets by (52 elected in 2007, 60 in 2011), the USFP is in decline: 50 seats in 2002, 38 in 2007, 39 in 2011, just like the PPS (18 seats in 2011).

 

 

The strain of power has inevitably marked them, considering that many of their members have been ministers on numerous occasions, as well as the fact that they are always the same elites that they find leading them with quite ‘old’ figures therefore. On the contrary, from its very foundation the PJD has understood how to rally militants and renew its executives, and it is also one of the few parties that practises a real internal democracy, unlike the others (some do not even organise congresses despite being foreseen by their statues!).

 

 

What will happen now?

 

 

In conformity with the new constitution, the king has just appointed Abdelilah Benkirane, until now the secretary general of the PJD, to the office of prime minister. It must be pointed out that, in a similar way to the previous legislature the king had appointed ‘Abbas el-Fassi as prime minister, secretary general of the PI that had come first, despite the fact that this was not obligatory according to the constitution at that time. As the absolute majority in parliament is 198 seats, the PJD cannot govern alone but must seek alliances. But where? The PI has made it known that it is ready and this would in fact be ‘natural’ insofar as they have quite close referents in common. The USFP is extremely reluctant since some of its militants would prefer to move to the opposition in order to ‘to get a virginity back’, just as the PPS (even if in some constituencies the PPS already collaborates with the PJD). The PJD could therefore turn to two parties that until now have been on the opposition: the Popular Movement (MP), a party that is quite well known in the rural world and close to the Berber one, or the Constitutional Union (UC), a party of notables. Negotiations are going on…

 

 

On the opposition we will have the eight parties which joined forces under the label ‘Alliance for Democracy’ for the election campaign, but some (among which the MP) could be tempted to draw closer to the PJD. There will remain the PAM (Authenticity and Modernity Party, defined the ‘king’s party’, as it was founded by one of his friends ‘Ali el-Himma), with its 47 members of parliament, and the RNI (National Union of Independents, the head of which was the Finance Minister in the previous government) with 52 deputies.

 

 

What is the PJD’s programme?

 

 

The PJD is committed to halving poverty, reducing the illiteracy rate and unemployment (reduction of 2%, setting up of benefits), to carry out a wealth sharing (with a minimum guaranteed salary of 3000 dirham, or 275 Euros a month) and to reach a growth rate of 7%. At the level of individual freedoms, it appears reassuring: no prohibition with regard to alcohol consumption nor the obligation to wear the veil …in short, a light Islam’! Simply electoral promises? The future? In any case the next parliament will have plenty of work to do! It will have to produce 17 organic laws foreseen by the new constitution..

 

 

The most important will concern the widening of the prerogatives of the prime minister and the government, as well as those of the parliament. It will also be necessary to set up a more extended regionalization with a more advanced local democracy: the executive power of the provincial and regional councils will have to be exercised no longer by governors or walîs, but by an elected president of the province or region. Benkirane, who has just been appointed prime minister, never stopped declaring during the entire electoral campaign that ‘it is time that the people took its place again, that it governed instead of being governed’. The PJD is considered somewhat jealous of its autonomy and Benkirane is well known for his strong personality, even though showing a certain deference towards the king.

 

 

There should therefore be no ‘clashes’ between the king and the new prime minister, but with regard to the king’s advisers on the other hand they could come across greater difficulties in interposing between the two. Can we compare the Moroccan elections with those in Tunisia or Egypt?

 

 

It was the Tunisian ‘jasmine revolution’ that inspired the ‘20th of February Movement’ which gathered together young people of various leftist currents and young ‘Islamists’ of the ‘Adl wa al-Ihsân movement. They organized protests in the main cities of Morocco, every week for almost five months until the referendum, and even before the elections of 25th November. Nonetheless, a comparison cannot be made: every country has its own history and institutions.

 

 

Reference is often made to Turkey, and undoubtedly the PKK has many aspects in common with the Moroccan PJD, but Turkey is a laical country (the army is guarantor of laicity), while Morocco is a monarchy in which the king is the ‘Commander of the Believers’ and exercises a double religious and political power. Even though the new constitution gives more power to the prime minister, the king remains a principle actor of Moroccan life, if not the first one.

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