Morocco Still Waiting for Islamists To Deliver on Reform Promises

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Close to a year ago, Morocco’s Justice and Development Party won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections. Hopes for reform were high, but as Haifa Zaaiter reports, the government has been all but paralyzed since then, with power split between the king and a young political party with little experience in governance.

It has been almost a year since the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco won a landslide victory which handed it control of most of the parliament’s seats. The PJD is headed by the party's secretary-general, Abdelilah Benkirane. But the Islamist party, which rose to power thanks to the Moroccans’ votes and without the disruption of a revolution, is still drunk on “its greatest achievement” and ignoring the promises it made at the time.

Capturing the plurality of the parliamentary seats was a great victory for the Islamic party. In order to secure its triumph, the PJD relied on the current Arab Islamic context, as well as on its historical achievements over the past years. For its part, the regime perceived the PJD as a means to relieve growing social tension, and to regain Moroccans’ confidence, albeit through an Islamist government, as long as it would remain subject to the “king’s authority.”

However, eight months have passed since the formation of a new government, and things have yet to change. The majority is paralyzed and the PJD is helpless. So does the “third way,” which has been touted by the PJD as the Moroccan response to the Arab Spring, truly represent a promising alternative to reform, or is it a simple return to the status quo?

Observers believe that such concerns are legitimate, as power still ultimately lies in the king’s hand, who has exclusive rights, under the constitution, to run all matters of strategic importance. Meanwhile, the party with the best chance to pressure the monarchy — al-Adl wal-Ihsan (Justice and Spirituality, a Moroccan Islamist association) — remains absent from parliament and does not participate in politics at this time.

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On the other hand, many blamed the PJD for the slow reform process. They believe that the party’s lack of experience, its religious and political confusion and its fear of a confrontation with the king prevented the it from bringing about true reform. The Islamist party thus remains a weak actor on the Moroccan political landscape.

The former Moroccan minister-designate for Parliament Relations, Idris Lashkar, told As-Safir that the government is stalling to transform the constitutional reforms voted on by Moroccans last year into actual regulatory rules. What’s more, Lashkar, who is also a prominent figure in the Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party (USPF), believes that the government operates according to the previous constitution, ignoring all the advances that came as a result of Moroccan popular movements in 2011. According to Lashkar, this is particularly true given that the Islamist party was not prepared to run public affairs. Thus, the existing problem is no longer confined to the monarchy, but has become closely tied to the government and its ability to exercise the constitutional powers it has obtained.

This is further confirmed by the secretary-general of the Workers Democratic Party, Abdul Karim Bin Atiq, who told As-Safir that the PJD lacks experience in the political field. This is not to mention that the king is surrounded by politically savvy advisers, while the PJD is still learning the ins and outs of governing.

For instance, under the new law, which was passed by parliament on May 8, the prime minister has the right to make more than 1,000 political appointments, while the king is entitled only to about 40 appointments. Furthermore, despite the official level of autonomy it enjoys, the PJD still consults with the monarchy regarding these appointments. This is due to fact that the Islamist party does not have its own networks of expertise and contacts, and does not seek any confrontation with the king, as consistently confirmed by its leaders.

Moreover, Atiq stresses that the main problem lies in the fact that the content of the constitution has yet to be translated on the ground. “When the Islamist party rose to power, it put forth a constitution that was voted on by the majority of Moroccans. However, we are still waiting for the prime minister to work on drafting the reform texts. In other words, we are waiting for the process of reform to actually take place,” said Atiq, adding, “We were completely taken aback by the government’s inability to formulate laws that would translate the content of the constitution.” What’s more, although the PJD has won by a landslide majority, it does not serve as the sole partner in the regime. Three political parties affiliated with the former regime share the reins of power with the PJD. This means that the ties with the previous era are not completely broken.

According to pundits, the biggest challenge facing the government is the economy. Today, Morocco faces a growing crisis exacerbated by extensive corruption, which has plagued Moroccan institutions for decades. Atiq believes that “there is significant confusion surrounding the financial crisis. Morocco has been affected to a large extent by the financial crisis in France and Spain. This is not to mention the critical social situation.” On the other hand, Lashkar confirms that “financial law will be a real challenge to the government in the coming months.”

So is the current turmoil enough to revive the opposition groups that have subsided? Is the monarchy really out of danger? What was the impact of the hype surrounding the “surreal” ceremony of allegiance to the king? Where do left-wing Moroccans stand with regard to the crisis? Many questions are left without answers. However, those who are keeping a close eye on the situation in Morocco are well aware that what is lurking on the horizon is not reassuring.

Many refuse to entertain any hopes of radical change in Morocco, arguing that the opposition is divided, the allegiance ceremony is just folklore with little significance (which is why people did not respond to the opposition’s demands to protest against it) and that Morocco has always been this way.

Many agree that the opposition has subsided in the Moroccan street. There are two reasons behind this fact: First of all, many hold out hope that the government will bring about reform, and secondly, rifts within the opposition have weakened its ability to influence people. In this context, Atiq said that the Moroccan left-wing movements do not wish to inflame the situation. “We have practically stopped all forms of mobilization in the streets since May 27. All that we demand of the prime minister is to bring about constitutional reforms.”

However, the leftist activist still has concerns about the “silence and political vacuum prevailing on the Moroccan street. The myriad opposition factions remain dispersed. There is no real debate offer on the table in light of media passivity. We are starting to slide into a negative, dreadful monotony.”

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