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Meet Nabila Mounib, an outsider in Morocco's parliamentary elections

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Nabila Mounib, the secretary-general of the United Socialist Party, discussed her party’s political program.
Nabila Mounib, Secretary-General of Morocco's Unified Socialist Party (PSU), gestures during a party meeting in Rabat on October 4, 2016, ahead of the upcoming parliamentary election. / AFP / STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

RABAT, Morocco — Five years after the Arab Spring and its accompanying wave of protests in Morocco, the kingdom will hold parliamentary elections on Oct. 7. Nabila Mounib, the secretary-general of the United Socialist Party (PSU) and the first woman to be elected as a party leader in Morocco, is running as part of the Democratic Left Federation (DLF), an alliance of three leftist parties — the PSU, the Democratic Socialist Vanguard Party and the National Ittihadi Congress.

The DLF presents itself as an alternative to the two main contenders, the Justice and Development Party (JDP), the Islamist ruling party, and the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), an anti-Islamist party founded in 2008 by Fouad Ali El Himma, a friend and adviser of King Mohammed VI. Among the 28 parties contesting the elections, the DLF is the only one proposing a separation of powers and establishment of a parliamentary monarchy.

Mounib, a biology and endocrinology professor with a long history of political activism, campaigned in 2011 for greater freedom and democracy and supported the February 20 movement. She boycotted the 2011 constitutional referendum and early parliamentary elections (moved forward in response to street protests) proposed by Mohammed, arguing that the new constitution would create a “sham democracy."

The 2011 constitution broadened the powers of government and parliament, but did not decidedly reduce the powers of the monarchy, leading to a two-headed system that made it difficult to differentiate between measures decided by the king and those approved by the government.

Mounib hopes the DLF will be able to form a parliamentary group by winning at least 20 seats and represent a “third way.” In an interview with Al-Monitor in Rabat, she addressed the current political environment in Morocco, expressing her views on the JDP and PAM and explaining why she decided to run for election at this time, her party’s reform proposals and how she intends to implement those reforms. Mounib also addressed the issue of women’s political participation and the difficulties women face in Morocco.

The text of the interview follows:

Al-Monitor:  In 2011, you boycotted the early parliamentary elections and the constitutional referendum proposed by King Mohammed VI, stating that the new constitution was a “sham democracy.” Why did you decide to run for the elections this time? What do you mean by “sham democracy?” Which aspects specifically?

Mounib:  We boycotted the constitutional referendum because it did not respect the founding principle of democratic constitutions, which is the separation of powers. So what is the point? If all powers are concentrated, if parliamentary monarchy is merely cited as a slogan within the constitution and not as real content, you cannot participate. … It is therefore absolutely critical that constitutional reforms be implemented in Morocco, which means the separation of powers and the evolution of the political system toward a parliamentary monarchy in order to have some degree of popular power and to finally be able to implement a political program in Morocco.

In 2011, we also refused to participate in the elections not only because there was pressure in the streets, but also because we [the PSU] had presented [to Moroccan authorities] a document comprising 20 demands, which, in our opinion, could guarantee the holding of free and transparent elections. But those demands were rejected, including the demand asking that Moroccans be allowed to register automatically on the electoral roll and to vote by presenting their ID card [instead of having to register prior to the elections]. One of our demands also requested the establishment of an independent body to oversee this operation so that there is no control or intervention favoring one party or the other.

Today, nothing has changed. Morocco is stagnating, and this confirms that we were right.

Some say that the constitution is only five years old and that we must wait. But what are we going to wait for? It will not change by itself!

Al-Monitor:  What kind of political regime do you want, and what political reforms do you propose?

Mounib:  The priority is to work on constitutional reforms in order to implement a parliamentary monarchy. We need a democratic system, separation of powers and accountability. We need a real government, with the ability to govern and to make choices.

Al-Monitor:  You have been criticized in some media outlets for the absence of clear and quantifiable objectives in your economic program. What are your proposals on the economic level, and how do you plan to implement them?

Mounib:  We consider that it is absolutely necessary to build a strong, productive and mixed economy, directed toward the promotion of social justice. We cannot turn a blind eye to the rent-seeking economy, favoritism and impunity regarding economic crimes. It is necessary to put an end to the monopolies and to implement reforms that allow economic competitiveness. There is a social crisis in Morocco and we do not want it to blow up in our faces.

And we do have a quantifiable program. The current annual growth rate is 1.5%, but it should be 7% if we want to create jobs. We can achieve this through the country’s industrialization, notably through the processing industry, the agri-food industry, the digital industry. … These are the economic niches we could develop if we create optimal conditions of competitiveness and reform the tax system. … Of course, we are not suggesting implementing all of this today, as we plan to remain in the opposition. But there is huge potential. And of course all of this should be accompanied by a review of Morocco’s free trade agreements.

Al-Monitor:  What is your opinion about the JDP's record after five years in power?

Mounib:  If we look at this party’s initial proposals regarding the reduction of unemployment and poverty rates, it is clear that its record is bad. The national debt increased up to 80% of GDP [gross domestic product], and if we include the loans of Moroccan families, it reaches 136% of GDP. But on the other hand, we denounce that the government cannot govern enough to allow accountability [given the wide powers of the royal institution]. This doesn’t exonerate this government, because it participated while knowing perfectly well what to expect. Maybe it participated only to implement its cultural project, which is a retrograde project.

Anyway, the problem is that up until now, the two-headed political system constitutes a major obstacle. This is the reason why we say that as parliamentary elections take place, we cannot avoid political reform in this country so that we can ensure that in the future we can have a government that actually governs and is accountable for everything happening in the country.

Al-Monitor:  In a speech given on Sept. 22 in Casablanca, you said that the bipolarity between the JDP and the PAM was “artificial.” Why?

Mounib:  Both parties are conservative, each in its own way. The JDP uses the religious sensitivity of the people in its politics, but in a covert way. Furthermore, the JDP failed to respect its commitments to fight despotism and corruption. Instead, it normalized its relationship with both. On the other side, the PAM is described in the official media [state television] as “modernist.” But it was created by the system, powered by the system, supported by the system. And when we take a close look at its proposals, we can see that it is not modernist at all, because it never asked for democracy to be implemented in Morocco.

This is why we think that we represent a third way, between a rock and a hard place, and say that this bipolarity is totally misleading.

Al-Monitor:  But how can you convince those who say that voting is useless because most powers remain in the hands of the king?

Mounib:  Voting is the best way to reshuffle the cards and to allow the emergence of a truthful elite, whose only goal is to act in the public interest.

Al-Monitor:  If you manage to win the 20 seats required to form a parliamentary group, do you think you will have the ability to push through the political reforms you want?

Mounib:  We need to increase support for our political and constitutional reform project. We intend to lobby in collaboration with several civil society actors, with unionists, with youths, in universities. … We also need pressure from outside parliament. We can also use petitions, like I did with other female activists in the early 1990s to change the Moudawana [the Moroccan family code, which was reformed in 1993 to give women more rights involving marriage and divorce]. Maybe we could muster millions of signatures and ask for the issue of constitutional reform to be reopened.

Al-Monitor:  When you were elected secretary-general of your party in 2012, you said in an interview published on Jan. 26 of that year in La Nouvelle Tribune that it was a “victory for all Moroccan women.” What barriers do women face in Morocco when it comes to political participation? What do you propose to improve gender equality in Morocco?

Mounib:  We have a project to empower women, whether they live in the countryside or in the mountains, whether they live in the cities or in the outskirts of the cities. Unfortunately, women are the first to suffer from poverty and insecurity. In this regard, women’s access to power in any institution, and especially political ones, is crucial, because it allows them to present women’s expectations at the institutional level and to translate them into political action.

Of course, there are significant obstacles, such as patriarchy and sexism based on a misconception of the sacred text, which makes this process even more difficult. But I think that we can help improve gender equality by fighting for justice, democracy, full citizenship and better education.

Sebastian Castelier contributed to this interview.

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