RABAT, Morocco — Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has rejected claims that the Justice and Development Party in Morocco is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, stressing that the Moroccan Islamist movement has its own ideology and that people voted for it because it was a political party.
Benkirane, who took office in November 2011, met with Arab journalists, including those from Al-Hayat, in the government’s headquarters in Rabat yesterday [Feb.12]. He said “Moroccan society is Muslim by nature. Our government, however, does not order women to wear the scarf or men to grow beards.” He stressed that his government was against interfering in people’s lives or what has come to be known as the “Islamization of society.”
In response to a question by Al-Hayat, regarding relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), he said they are “very close.” He added that Morocco did not hasten to join the GCC when it was invited. Instead, it worked on consolidating the relationship and development with the GCC countries on permanent basis. Regarding the nature of the relationship between his country and Saudi Arabia, Benkirane described it as “fraternal, close and strategic.”
When asked about his recent meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Salehi, on the sidelines of the Islamic Cooperation in Cairo and about rapprochement with Tehran, he said “we were attending the Islamic conference and the Iranian minister requested to meet with me and I accepted. We recalled that the relationship between Iran and Morocco was historic.”
The Moroccan senior official said that severance of relations between Rabat and Tehran was due to Iranian interference in Bahraini affairs, stressing that Iran’s embassy in Morocco is still closed. Benkirane also stressed that establishing any relationship with Tehran will not be at the expense of relations with the Gulf states.
Furthermore, he emphasized that Arab countries seeking to launch serious reforms ought to listen to citizens and grant them their rights and demands, “as governments cannot turn a deaf ear to people’s demands.”
The head of the Moroccan government, which faces scathing criticism due to the high cost of living, said “the country is far from any popular revolution, as people believe that the constitutional monarch represents stability and ensures their unity.” He said that those who went to the streets during the “Arab Spring,” were not protesting to topple the regime but were calling for reform.
Benkirane added that his “country has been making serious reforms at its own discretion and in the framework of consensus, which necessitates mutual concessions on the part of all parties for the national cause.”
He also expected the events in Mali to have a positive impact on the cause of Western Sahara to the benefit of his country, stressing that there is no more room for fragile states in the world today.
Benkirane downplayed criticism about the presence of only one female minister in his government, saying that the participation of women in political process in Morocco cannot be compared to political women in France, for instance. He added that Moroccan women have not participated in politics until recently, while women in France have been involved in politics for a long time. He believes that the best way is for Moroccan women to gradually become part of the political life.
Benkirane added that he had put relevant authorities under strict orders to take necessary steps to stop any attempt to interfere in people’s lives and affairs, after having learned about a group calling itself “the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” in specific regions of the kingdom, stressing that the government alone is concerned in imposing order and law enforcement.