Morocco: Mohammed VI Successfully Tames Islamists – Analysis

On his return from a long African journey, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, disturbed by Benkirane’s inability and/or unwillingness to show suppleness in the formation of the coalition, fired him and replaced him by El Othmani as head of government-designate.

The Islamist party realizing the seriousness of the situation reviewed their political position and instructed El Othmani to opt for malleability and open dialogue.

Thus, one week after his designation as would-be head of government by the monarch, El Othmani declared to the press that PJD (Parti de la Justice et du Développement), RNI (Rassemblement National des Indépendants), USFP (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires), UC (Union Constitutionnelle), MP (Mouvement Populaire) and PPS (Parti du progrès et du Socialisme) have officially agreed on a coalition government to be announced in the near future. It seems that under duress, the quiet and composed shrink has succeeded, for now, where his predecessor, Benkirane, has failed miserably, apparently out of stubbornness.

The question, however, is: did Benkirane fail because he was confrontational or was it the whole party that was so because they considered the inclusion of the socialists to go against their basic religious principles and the insistence of Akhannouch of RNI, the palace mouthpiece, to have them in the coalition, as a form of disgraceful diktat?

PJD totally co-opted now

Like most of the Moroccan political parties, PJD is now totally co-opted. It has accepted the unacceptable, which is to be in the same government as the socialists, they abhor for religious reasons. What matters for them now is power and its related financial advantages since they have abandoned openly their principles and tenets.

During their five-year reign, the Islamists time was marred by several sexual scandals, abuse of power, mismanagement, etc. So, in many ways they are like everybody else and their talk about Islamic ethics and values is pure demagogy, no more.

Some time ago, USFP was the leading opposition party par excellence. In 1996, the late King Hassan II, feeling his end near, called upon El Youssfi, the First Secretary of the party, to form a government which was dubbed, then, “alternance government” houkoumat tanawab and was hailed by many Moroccan politicians as a true milestone political event initiating an era of total democracy.

For some incredulous analysts, however, it was a calculated ruse of the crafty and resourceful monarch to insure a peaceful and safe transition of power from him, on his death, to his living heir. USFP paid dearly their cooperation and their use by the late king as a mule government, as some international political analysts called the socialists in power, then, not to say candidly their shameful co-optation.

For many observers, the socialists appeared under their real light: they were very much like ordinary politicians, easily corrupted by money and power. They embezzled money, abused power and practiced nepotism. Some of their ministers even showed publicly on TV their bourgeois inclinations, a real ideological faux pas. After their eviction from power, their fall was terrible; they lost the confidence of the grassroots and ultimately their votes. Today, the once great socialist party is but a small marginal political institution begging for some ministerial portfolios and the establishment’s blessing. The chances are the Islamists, once out of the government, will experience the same ill fate.

Weird coalition

For the daily newspaper of PAM (liberal and secular opposition) akhir sa’a, in its issue of March 27, 2017, this coalition is the most strange of all times, it is made of liberals, Islamists, socialists and communists, while for al-‘alam of the same day, the mouthpiece of the Istiqlal, a conservative nationalist party compelled to join the opposition, the Islamists have thrown their principals in the trash can to stay in power.

For the rank and file, however, such a strange coalition means that the involved parties are only interested in power and personal gain and they have no principles and no platforms or programs. Thus, they will get ministerial jobs, enjoy the advantages and in the end will write up mythical realizations reports presented, as ever, in a flowery and bombastic language celebrating their “successful achievements” while in power.

This kind of behavior destroys the credibility of parties and reduces their popularity to nil and, instead, increases the popularity of the monarch because people believe that he speaks little and acts much unlike Moroccan politicians motivated only by self interest.

It is an established fact that political parties in Morocco, at the notorious exception of al-‘adl wa al-ihsan ( Non-violent Islamist party critical of the establishment), are all time-serving pressure groups seeking personal profit, first and foremost. They are the true reflection of their tribal origins: despotic and patriarchal and motivated by power and personal gain only.

To accept the diktat of a minor party, notably RNI, in the nature of the parties to be included in the coalition means only one thing that PJD cares only about ministerial power and gain, no more. A principled political institution, in such a situation, would have declined the monarch’s offer; the second time around, and would not have settled for a pre-cooked coalition that will undoubtedly harm the image and the reputation of the party, in the long run.

What is more, this pre-fabricated coalition is not exclusively led by the Islamist party that came first in the democratic elections of October 7, 2016, RNI, now, shares the leadership, as well. So, it is a government with two heads and that is a screaming rebuttal of the Islamists by the establishment.

Are the Islamists a thing of the past?

The Islamists came to prominence after the success of the Mullahs in Iran in 1979 and the installation of the Islamic Republic, therefore. It was the beginning f a successful resurgence of Shiism in the world as an important interpretation of Islam apart from Sunnism, of course. The Sunni Islamists’ revival, on the other hand, occurred with the invasion of Afghanistan and the American call on Muslims to come forward for Jihad to punish the invading Soviets.

The victory of Mujahideen in this country indirectly led to the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent emboldening of Islamism with the appearance of al-Qaeda and its military confrontation with the very Americans that once created and nurtured it.

Political Islam came to prominence, more importantly, with the Arab Spring. The youth pushed out of power the aging dictators, but because they lacked in political organization and discipline, the regimented Islamists came to power, instead, by force in Libya and almost in Syria and by force and cast ballots in Egypt and Tunisia and cast ballots only in Morocco, and in all these countries they failed dramatically to deliver.

Now that the Arab Spring is officially dead with the release, from prison, of Housini Mubarak and Seif al-Islam and the arrival of the populist and anti-Islam Trump to power in the US, there is no letup for Islamists, it is tolerance zero and this is the reason why the PJD, in spite of electoral victory in the general elections, has begged obsequiously to stay in power.

The Imazighen/Berbers are upfront in the government but still powerless

The interesting element to bear in mind about the present coalition is that five of its six parties are led by ethnic Imazighen/Berbers and interestingly enough four of which come from Sous, in the south, known for their traditional allegiance and alliance with the establishment and their good knowledge of business practices, since most street corner shops or hanouts of the kingdom are held by Soussi people who are doing very well in this kind of work.

Paradoxically enough, however, the only Imazighen/Berbers who are giving the establishment hard time, nowadays, are the Riffis of the north, who since the accidental death of the fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri at the hands of the local authorities, in October 2016, have not ceased demonstrating for the autonomy of the Rif region.

Actually, throughout history, the Rif has always being rebellious in the past to the extent that here was a period of its history from 1885 to 1921 that was known in the region as rifublik meaning “republic” or rather the reign of lawlessness.

The Riffis are in constant opposition to the central authority and one of their only representatives in the establishment, today, is Ilyas Omari, the leader of the main opposition party PAM. However, for many people from the area he is a co-opted individual and can, in no way, represent the sentiments and the wishes of the inhabitants of the Rif.

Will the Imazighen/Berbers of the government do anything for the Imazighen/Berbers at large, the answer is, alas, no because they consider that such an area of concern is the exclusive domain of the monarch and would not want to be on the wrong side of the establishment on this, for fear to lose their position and influence?

The other party of the opposition is the Istiqlal, a traditional party of the bourgeoisie of the city of Fes (Fassi.) But this bourgeoisie has forsaken politics, decades ago, for the more lucrative areas of finance and business and today they are the true masters of the Moroccan economy and nobody will dare stand in their way or contest their leadership.

In a way, they are the true power behind the scenes and they will remain as such for a long time to come.

So, in many ways the coalition government led by the Islamists and composed of parties under the commandership of Imazighen/Berbers will be a paper government, no more: little power, little influence and little impact on the Moroccan political scene. It will be a make-believe government only displayed in the exhibition window. Its members will surely enjoy innumerable privileges, but will have no power, to say the least.

The Arab Spring is long dead and forgotten; the 2011 constitution is in the server and has never been downloaded by the last head of government Benkirane, out of respect for the monarch, as he always used to say boastfully. The inefficiency and lack of action of the last government made the king more popular in the eyes of the Moroccan people especially that he has brilliantly succeeded in getting Morocco back in the African Union and in opening the lucrative African markets to Moroccan business.

In a nutshell, King Mohammed VI, thanks to his incredible dynamism and savoir faire in diplomacy and economy, as well as, his wisdom and qualities of tolerance, is more popular than ever both in Morocco and in the world and the coming coalition government, weak as it is, will only play a second fiddle in Moroccan politics and, probably, that is all they want to do, after all.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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