By Loubna Flah
By Loubna Flah
Morocco World News
Casablanca, May 1, 2012
From all the Islamist fringes in the Arab world, the Moroccan PJD (Party of Justice and Development) received less attention by western scholars and mainstream media before it raffled votes during the 2011 legislative election. The Salafist model that emerged lately with a frightful recruitment potential and with connections to the “jihadist” agenda and the Adl wal Ihsane organization, an outlawed association harvesting the bitter fruits of its confrontation with the monarchy, have been more often in the limelight both at the domestic and the international levels. But one must confess that this struggling political party has made substantial efforts to remain afloat despite conspiracies and attacks on several fronts.
The PJD is a complex religious and political formation whose ideology remains perplexing for many. It stands mid-way between the socialist parties supporting a secular model and the uncompromising Salafist School. The PJD is the descendent of the Chabiba Islamya, a clandestine Islamist group founded in 1972 with the objective to establish an Islamic state.
A prey to an ideological anomia, the Chabiba Islamya members endorsed an Islamist ideology while cherishing the hope for a full emancipation in the political arena. The Popular Democratic and Constitutional Movement finally embraced a moderate sublimation of Islam into modern ways of governance and changed its name to PJD in 1998. Islamist groups across the globe have shown an extraordinary ability for change and adaptation. Thus, the PJD deemed it more sensible to immerse itself in the political experience and launch the “purification” of society from within.
This emancipated approach stands in sharp contrast with the position of one of the most powerful Islamic organizations in Morocco: Al Adl wal Ihsane (The Justice and Charity Organization). The “Adlists” believe that political participation under what they call an autocracy does not generate an equal power sharing; therefore it would lead the country to liberalization rather than democratization. Justice and Charity Organization has chosen procedural democracy mainly through peaceful social activism that entails an infiltration of all social strata. The illegal organization has made covert activism its modus operandi backed by a large and alert popular base ready for a show of force whenever it is needed.
The PJD resounding victory in the 2011 legislative elections, which were organized ahead of schedule in order to grant legitimacy to the new constitution, was a turning point in the PJD’s history. Many contextual elements prompted this sweeping victory. The regional unrest provoked by the wave of democratization that spread throughout the Arab World propelled the PJD to power as one of the most credible political parties. The Islamist party was the country’s ultimate savior “as it was the only contestant to power that had the ability and enough credibility to ease tensions in Moroccan streets.”
Yet, the PJD operates now within a closed field where the boundaries were drawn beforehand. The Islamist party may find itself trapped in what the Adlists call “the façade democracy.” The applicability of its political agenda may be hindered by three major factors. On one hand, the PJD has to operate under constitutional restrictions since many powers are still held by the king. It is also faced with a network of nepotism and vested interest maintained by a wealthy oligarchy that benefited largely from years of lack of public accountability.
The third and less predictable factor is the feasibility of an Islamic outlook on politics that would be in accordance with the generally accepted notion of democracy, though many Islamist organizations, including the PJD have their own take on “democracy.” While Mr. Benkirane has repeatedly reassured skeptics by stating clearly that the PJD does not intend to Islamize the country, many predict that the PJD’s Islamist tendency is currently overshadowed by the weight of popular demands. The only signs it has given so far remain perplexing. When the party was in opposition, it threatened to censor Moroccan actress Latifa Ahrar for her “provocative” behavior. Nevertheless, it reacted in a softer manner when the same actress stirred controversy more recently. It is said that the PJD does not want to earn the wrath of a socialist opposition waiting for the slightest misstep.
Another staunch attitude was adopted against European publications judged by the government as containing offending content. In fact, the PJD seems to be experimenting with its Islamic ideology with much caution, dipping toe after toe before jumping into the water. This self-imposed vigilance is what certainly makes the PJD a moderate Islamist party fully aware of the difficulty to superpose modern society constraints within the Sharia provisions.
It is also of paramount importance to know the PJD’s take on “democracy” since this concept has always been a divisive issue between Islamists and secular parties. Islamists were often accused of using the concept of democracy to access power and to defend their existence in the political arena. This skepticism towards the embodiment of democracy by Islamists is not totally groundless.
Ali Benhadj, the co founder of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front considers that democracy is “a word imported from the world of infidels”. He adds that “democracy was born in an impious land of corruption and tyranny”. The PJD may not take the same orthodox stand on democracy, but it will be dragged into this debate sooner or later.
All the looming signs show that the PJD adopted a highly compromising attitude. It has apparently chosen not to contest the rules of the game. It is working actively to reinvigorate the Moroccan economy with the objective of creating job opportunities. Thus, it can tackle properly the most ailing sector in Morocco: employment.
Nonetheless, this apathetic attitude towards some reported human rights abuses in the recent protests in Taza may undermine its credibility. It is true that the main concern of most Moroccans for the time being is job creation, but they also aspire to live with dignity under the rule of law.