Morocco: Political Integration as a means of taming the Islamists (Part 1)
Morocco World News
Ifrane, Morocco, June 10, 2012
The Moroccan Kingdom embarked on a process of political integration after decades of ‘political stasis.’ The integration initiative was not taken at random, but as a reaction to domestic and international developments and to the imminent end of Hassan II’s long rule. Yet the main reason behind opening the doors wittily for the Islamists is at least to weaken their political influence – as it used to be with USFP- and also to continue the long process of taming them.
The end of the Cold War set sail for a new international environment highly supportive of political freedoms and democratic values. Under pressure, the monarchy decided to launch a direct political opening mainly to polish its image at the international level and to divert domestic criticism away from economic difficulties.
In the early 1990’s, Morocco started the implementation of a controlled reform-based agenda as a response to domestic and international developments. At the international level, the Kingdom’s attempts to gain greater access to the European Community, or EC and expand bilateral economic and trade relations with European countries pushed Morocco to engage in an integration process.
In 1987, Morocco applied officially to join the European communities. Morocco’s membership application was, nonetheless, rejected on grounds that it is not a European country and because of the Kingdom’s poor democratic and human rights standards. The poor human rights record of Morocco then started to have increasingly direct implications for the country’s foreign policy.
In January 1992, the European Parliament refused to validate the fourth financial protocol with Morocco. The protocol, which was expected to extend from 1991 until 1996, was suspended because of the human rights conditions in the country and in prisons, where political detainees were exposed to torture and ill-treated. This incident alarmed the government and made it recognize the emergency of initiating political reforms in the Kingdom.
Most importantly, the 1991 bloody confrontation that erupted in Algeria between the Algerian authorities and Islamist groups after the landslide victory of the Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front or FIS, and the system’s decision to cancel elections was a highly stimulating event. The escalation of violence in neighboring Algeria gave the Moroccan monarchy “a sharp reminder of the new vulnerability of authoritarian political systems.”
This apprehension was consolidated during the 1990-1991 Gulf War when the Moroccan Islamists displayed their capacity to rally large masses to protest the American intervention. King Hassan II recognized the mobilizing force of the Islamists, especially towards the deprived segments of society and the unemployed graduates.
Nationally, the critical economic situation in the Kingdom, which paved the way to rising protest and social discontent, was a decisive factor in King Hassan II’s decision to promote political reforms. The origins of the Moroccan economic crisis can be traced back to the 1980s with the sharp drop in the international prices of phosphates, of which Morocco controls approximately two-thirds of the world’s reserves. The depressed prices of this commodity severely affected the country’s foreign exchange reserves.
Additionally, the Southern provinces campaign launched by Morocco in 1975, which has been costing the country roughly $1million a day, has hindered the economic performance of the country. Most importantly, the economy was significantly undermined by Morocco’s long periods of severe droughts in the late 1970s. Since agriculture is a key economic sector, the drought held back the economic activity and resulted in a general economic slowdown. Unfavorable rainfalls underlined the Moroccan economic reliance on agriculture, while other sectors remained undervalued. Although Morocco resorted to irrigation to mitigate the impact of weather conditions, this method was not generalized all over the country.
Years of drought resulted in a massive exodus of the rural population to cities. These refugees were seeking work, and therefore compounding, high levels of unemployment and social unrest (unemployment rates reached 16 percent in 1991 and 17.5 percent in 1992). Although the agricultural sector generates only 16 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, it employs more than 40 percent of the population, which remains directly dependent on weather conditions for its livelihood. The rural migration phenomenon laid emphasis on the socio-economic disparities between the wealthy and poor in a society characterized by the persistence of large social class differences.
Even though Morocco endorsed a structural adjustment program under the supervision of the World Bank and the IMF between 1983 and 1992 in order to address its compound economic problems, the country’s economic growth remained erratic and reliant on rainfall and remittances and concentrated on limited sectors, mainly agriculture, phosphates, and some industries such as textiles and leather goods.
Additionally, the growing challenge posed by Islamist groups may explain, in part, King Hassan II’s decision to open up the political system, permitting organized activism and creating a competitive political environment to Islamist actors.
In fact and most importantly, this political opening may be perceived as a strategic move that started in the early 1970s with the Islamist Youth to weaken the Islamist activists and deprive them of their recourse to Islam in their discourse, and to make them look like the other political parties – by providing competing outlets for expression of grievances.
It is important to observe that although political Islam in Morocco has been less substantial than in other North African countries, the deteriorating socio-economic situation, nonetheless, has caused Islamist activism to become more vocal.
As early as 1984, Hassan II charged the radical Islamists, among other groups, with feeding social upheaval and organizing the violent riots that erupted in numerous cities of the Kingdom as a reaction to rising prices (in the aftermath of the endorsement of the 1983 structural adjustment program). While the monarchy used to point fingers at leftist groups for social disturbances, the involvement of fundamentalist Islamists in 1984was a pioneering occurrence and a clear indicator that the Islamist movements were strengthening in Morocco
Indeed, Islamist groups could capitalize on the economic crisis to develop closer ties with the people, by securing social support services to the poorer and vulnerable segments of society through a number of charitable organizations. The association Assalam, created in 1992-93 and associated with the movement of Reform and Renewal, stands as an example of these benevolent associations.
In the early 1990s, Islamist influence on university campuses had significantly grown. The Islamists considered the university a privileged front to enlarge their popularity base and recruit new members, targeting mainly the students of the Islamic studies’ departments. The Islamist strategy proved fruitful as they succeeded in controlling practically all student unions.
The massive presence of the Islamists on the university’s grounds paved the way for violent clashes between Islamist and secularist students. A considerable number of incidents were officially reported during that period. In February 1994, for example, five people were critically injured at the University of Fez. Additionally, during the same year, the Moroccan authorities discovered hidden caches of arms inside the city of Fez and its surrounding areas, and declared that the weapons belong to Islamist factions.
In this context of growing apprehension, King Hassan II’s strategic backing to social development and political pluralism aimed, in part, at containing the Islamist influence. Indeed, by promoting social programs and encouraging the emergence of alternative groups such as NGOs, independent press and political parties, voicing opposition to governmental policies and calling for the same reforms advocated by the Islamists, the system aimed mainly at weakening the Islamists’ base of support. Reforms endorsed by the monarchy embraced four large categories:
- Hassan II considered the promotion of human rights as a priority to political opening.
- The monarchy enhanced, to a limited extent, the authority of the parliamentary body by granting it more abilities.
- Hassan II permitted greater political participation to non-state actors as well as political parties.
- The system adopted some measures to restrain corruption.
These royal initiatives were designed mainly to enhance Morocco’s human rights record and to polish its image abroad. In the same vein, Hassan II ordered the establishment of a number of human rights institutions, such as the Conseil Consultatif des Droits de l’Homme, or CCDH, and the Ministry for Human Rights. The Kingdom also ratified the main international conventions on human rights.
Despite these promising initiatives, the human rights abuses have remained an important and relevant issue in Morocco since political activists, among others, continue to be imprisoned and tortured. Indeed, a substantial number of prisoners have been exposed to arbitrary arrest and to human rights abuses in the Kingdom’s numerous detention centers.
The constitutional revisions in 1992 and 1996 were part of the announced political reforms enacted by the monarchy. Morocco shifted, accordingly, from a unicameral to a bicameral legislature, with a Lower Chamber totally elected by universal suffrage. The Upper Chamber, nevertheless, was indirectly voted, leaving room for monarchical maneuvering. Marina Ottaway and Meredith Riley explain that
“The constitutional amendments…served to weaken rather than strengthen Parliament (lest the Islamist future majority) by actually increasing the number of members indirectly elected by conservative, pro-monarchy local councils.”
Additionally, the amended constitution extended the parliament’s jurisdiction to comprise for instance budgetary matters. These reforms made in the name of democratization remained superficial; the electoral amendment came mainly to consolidate the monarchical control over the political body in general and the rising of the Islamists in particular. Expanding the authority of parliament remained inconsequential, since the amended constitution endowed the king with more competences. He could veto bills and amend them by decree and ratify laws outside the parliamentary body.
These aforementioned royal initiatives to amend the constitution’s articles in general and those articles related to Parliaments and political sector in particular were of great political importance as they were aimed at paving the way for the Islamists’ participation in the 1997 parliamentary elections. This decision of authorizing the Islamists to participate officially in the political game of the kingdom was motivated by the King’s apprehension that denying the Islamists political participation would breed radicalized, anti-system movements.
While launching his political integration program, the King sought to carefully manage the electoral process in ways that would preserve its supremacy while allowing room for Islamists to take part in the electoral process. So, at this stage, King Hassan II aimed at legitimizing his reforms and monopolizations over both Islamic and political spheres of the kingdom and continued his old policy to tame the Islamists.
As a way to test and put the Islamists under quiz before a full integration, the King allowed the Islamist movement, Renewal and Reform with its ex-activists in the Islamic Youth, to integrate the pro-monarchical MPDC, and present its Islamist candidates in the 1997 elections. 
Many political observers considered the alliance between the two groups a death to the Islamist movement and in fact a success of the makhzen to dominate the Islamists represented by the RUM. For their part, the Islamists sought to clarify in many occasions that this union does not imply the dissolution of their movement, Reform and Renewal, which will keep on its activities.
Mustapha Ramid, an Islamist prominent figure, described this affiliation in the following terms: “It is not a question of integration, but rather a coalition founded on common interests and goals.”
To be continued …
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 Francesco Cavatorta, “Civil Society, Islamism and Democratization: the Case of Morocco,” The Journal of Modern African Studies, 2006, P211-12.
 Thieryy Desrues, “Social Change and Political Transition in Morocco” Mediterranean Politics, P21-4
 Laurie A. Brand , Women, the State, and Political Integration: Middle Eastern and North African Experiences (New York: Colombia University Press, 1998),P.247
 Said Haddadi, “The EMP and Morocco: Diverging Political Agendas?,” Mediterranean Politics (2003):,P79-81.
 Catherine Sweet, “Democratization without Democracy: Political Openings and Closures in Modern Morocco,” Middle East Report 218 (2001), 23
 Malika Zeghal, les Islamistes Marocains: le Défi à la Monarchie (Paris : Editions le Fennec, 2005), 203-04.
 Abdessalam Maghraoui, “Depoliticization in Morocco,” Journal of Democracy 13, no.4 (2002): 68-9. See also Azzedine Layachi, Economic Crisis and Political Change in North Africa (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1998), 66- 7.
 Abdellatif Moutadayene, “Economic Crises and Democratization in Morocco”, Journal of North African Studies 6, no.3 (2001):74.
 Azzedine Layachi, Economic Crisis and Political Change in North Africa ,New York: Praeger Publishers, 1998, P58-65
 David Sedder 1984 Winter Discontent:Econimic Crissis in Tunisia and Morocco”MERIP report , N129, P 97-98
 Mohamed Tozy, “Le Mouvement Islamiste,” Le Nouveau Siècle : Revue de Stratégie 48 2002, P 154-155
 Ellen Lust-Okan “Divided they ruled :Management and Manipulation of Political Opposition”Comparatrives Politics, N2, P 166
 US Department of State, Morocco Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997 (Washington, DC: Department of State, 1998), http://www.state.gov
 Marina Ottaway and Meredith Riley “Morocco: From Top-down Reform to Democratic Transition?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 71 (2006, P 9
 Ibid,P 5-6
 Mona Yacoubi, “Engaging Islamists and Promoting Democracy” The United States Institute of Peace, no. 190 (2007),P 3.