Morocco World News
Morocco World News
Fez, Morocco, June 15, 2012
Hassan II decision to run the 1997 parliamentary elections had important aftermaths on the Moroccan political life. In these elections, the opposition Koutla Bloc came first with 102 seats out of the 325 contested seats in the House of Representatives, or 31 percent. The Wifaq alliance  (made up of the rightist-loyalist parties) came next with 100 seats /31 percent, while the newly formed center bloc  gained 97 seats (30 percent).
The rest of parliamentary seats were divided among five parties, including the Islamists. The modest but promising performance of the moderate Islamists, operating within the political structure of the MPDC, revealed the potential of Islamist actors. Despite the freshness of the Islamist experience and the leadership’s decision to restrain representation by filling candidates in a restricted number of districts under the system’s pressure to, systematically, curb their potentiality and popularity, the MPDC could, nevertheless, obtain nine parliamentary seats.
The Islamists restraint policy adopted against them by the authorities revealed, on one hand, their willingness to follow a ‘progressive political participation.’ Accordingly, they enrolled only 140 candidates in the 325 electoral districts, where they were allowed to compete. The leadership of the party explained this choice in terms of cost and also the party’s willingness to enhance qualitative participation (by putting forward solely qualified and eligible candidates). On the other hand, it revealed the authorities’ wiliness to stop the Islamist from gaining more political expansion on the ground.
The Islamists campaigned under the general theme: ‘the Islamic State,’ operating under the motto ‘for a complete renaissance: authenticity, justice, and development.’
The royal decision to allow the integration of moderate Islamists in the political scene was part of the monarchical strategy and contract to prevent the emergence of an Islamic front and break up existing Islamist structures of the PJD.
Historically speaking, Hassan II founded two parties: National Rally of the Independents /Rassemblement national des indépendants(RNI) and The Constitutional Union/ ‘Union constitutionnelle (UC) just to bulwark and curb the weight and appeal of the left wing parties in general and USFP, in particular. The recent creation of the PAM represents a continuation of this tradition, but this time not to curb “the left” but the PJD.
In the same vein, PAM was created by a close friend to the King and former deputy Minister of the Interior, Fouad Ali AlHimma. The new born party received questionable supports, which helped it to establish a pioneer and influential position within Moroccan political sphere. In this regard, Benkirane pointed out:
“When Al Himma couldn’t deteriorate our image with the king thought his close relationship with him and couldn’t defeat us when he was the deputy Minister of the Interior, he decided to appear on 2M channel …to declare his creation of a political party. Through the new birth of the party, the party gained the first rank in Moroccan election because it exploited the tools of the state”.
Accordingly, it can be understood that the system has responded this way toward the PJD, because the Moroccan system has always relied noticeably on political pluralism. This political plurality enables the system to play the role of incumbent benign arbiter, while playing out and weakening its diverse political opponents via policies of divide and rule. In this point,
“Guedira has always believed that Morocco can maintain its cohesion only if there are number of political groups competing for the governmental power if any one party were to become dominant, it would destroy the nation’s political stability in two ways. The first would obviate the necessity of an arbiter in politics and thus render the monarchy. The second, any party is likely to represent only one or a few of the many elements that constitute Morocco’s highly complex society”.
This divide-and-rule policy was directed mainly to manage so as to defuse the two major Islamist forces in the country, the banned movement Justice and Charity and the PJD.
As far as the Justice and Charity is concerned, the movement expressed open criticism of the monarchy and governmental policies and called for the Islamization of society under the caliphate system. Despite the system’s attempts to neutralize Abd al-Salam Yasin’s organization through integrating it into official political processes, Yasin maintained his monarchic perspective and resisted the government’s efforts to co-opt his group. The large popularity of the Islamist movement was perceived by the system as a threat.
To contain the Islamist movement, King Hassan II decided to co-opt ‘moderate’ Islamists by assimilating them into the legal political system so as to make them lose their religious legitimacy and make them look like any other existing political organization in a way to pull the rug from their underneath in the near future and prevent their alliance with the outlawed movement.
Indeed, excluding the movement of Justice and Charity and integrating the ‘moderate’ Islamists aimed at enhancing competition and severing the objectives and agendas of both parties.
The 1997 parliamentary elections were also an occasion for the system to pave the way for the “alternance”, a pioneer political experience which consisted of bringing opposition into government. This election deliberately brought into power a party that adopted a different political agenda from the Islamist USFP. The fairness of these elections was contested domestically; the authorities were charged of manipulating the electoral results, through ‘widespread vote-buying and race-rigging.’
The palace may have interfered with the election results in a way that favored the socialist party in the this parliamentary election, hence, enabling it to justify the alternance transition. This hypothesis may be backed by the unexpected decision of two nominated USFP deputies to decline their parliamentary seats as a means of protest, explaining that elections were falsified and that their victories, accordingly, did not mirror the popular vote.
For its part, the leadership of the MPCD declared soon after the release of the electoral results that it was supposed to win more than the nine seats it was entitled. The MPDC members moved to publicly protest the results, explaining that their party was put at a disadvantage to most of the other political parties participating in these elections. Indeed, since Khatib’s party had no existing representation in the existing national parliament prior to 1997, it was denied representation on the National Commission charged with supervising the elections.
In addition, during the election campaign, the MPCD was attributed only fifteen minutes of exposure on national television, while other parties were allocated half an hour. Moreover, the MPDC received a lesser financial assistance from the state [DH 150 million as opposed to DH 300 million for the other parties]. In the same vein, the MPDC leaders denounced what they described as the government’s ‘negative neutrality’ in failing to stop widespread vote-buying and electoral fraud. The party has even accused the Moroccan authorities of intervening in the election campaign to undermine the MPDC’s electoral performance. In this point, Benkirane said:
“Group of people accused us unjustly…. Accordingly, we took our precautions and measurements so as this period passed safely. Also, they were some political actors, who asked for the dissolution of the party. In light of this, we decided under the pressure of ministry of Interior to compete only for 40% of the general electoral lists”.
To support their accusations, the party cited a number of ‘abuses’ directed against the MPDC candidates. Mustapha Ramid, a prominent Islamist figure and current Minister of Justice, was for example detained by the authorities along with thirteenth of his followers while they were conducting a peaceful rally in the electoral district where Ramid was enrolled.
The leadership of the MPDC claimed that similar rallies had been conducted by other parties without any governmental intervention yet their supporters were detained and their rallies on the occasion of the parliamentary election were restricted. Nonetheless, it was clear that the MPDC and the movement of Unity and Reform were very pleased with even these restricted gains. Not only had the party secured representation at its first attempt, but also, as Abdelkrim Katib declared during the post-election press conference held by the MPDC, the results demonstrated the clear popularity of the party.
Additionally, the party’s representative won in most of Morocco’s main cities in parliament. MPDC candidates had been elected in Tetouan, Fes, Oujda, Agadir, Tangier and in four separate districts in Casablanca. Additionally, the institutional modifications endorsed by Morocco failed to remove “the structural conservative bias” of the unicameral configuration. Quite the opposite, it reinforced the authority of the upper house, granting it the competence to censure government.
In fact, the unicameral legislation was simply shifted from a one-third minority in a unicameral legislature to an entire house in a bicameral configuration. The upper house mimics the previous one-third minority in every way, except that it is even more powerful. Morocco’s upper house had been granted the constitutional right to censure the government. In this respect, the king could safely co-opt opposition parties, in general and the Islamists in particular in the near future, by integrating them into authorities without yielding control over policy-making to them
The system took advantage of bicameralism “to counterbalance the action of the Islamists opposition insofar as it enters into the authorities within the framework of alternance.” The authorities could be brought into government, thus satisfying domestic demands for alternance and signaling to the outside world that Morocco was on the path to democracy. With such an institutional safeguard in place, the King’s power-sharing plan was almost risk-free, especially from the Islamists’ side which is aware of its role in a game that has certain rules and restrictions to abide by.
To be continued …
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 Marvine Howe, Morocco: the Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges (US: Oxford University Press, 2005,225
 Ahmed Reda Guédira was born onJune 22, 1922 in Rabat. He was one of the most influential advisers to the King Hassan II, he scored Moroccan political life for forty years”’(www.wIckipedia.com, ( Translation is mine)
 John Waterbury 1970 The Commander of the Faithful :The Moroccan Political Elite, Trinity Press: London, p256
 Abdessalam Maghraoui, “Political Authority in Crisis” The Middle East Report, no. 218 (2001): 16
 Michael Willis, “Containing Radicalism through the Political Process in North Africa,” Mediterranean Politics 11, no.2 (2006): 145-46
 US Department of State, Morocco Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997 (Washington, DC: Department of State, 1998), http://www.state.gov
 Catherine Sweet, “Democratization without Democracy: Political Openings and Closures in Modern Morocco,” Middle East Report 218 (2001): 23
 Amina El Messaoudi, Ali Bouabid, and Mohamed Darif, “ La Révision Constitutionnelle: Un Vrai Faux Débat,” Cercle d’Analyse Politique, no.1 (2004) : 25-27.
 The Koutla Bloc is composed of four parties: the Socialist Union of Popular Forces ( USFP), Istiqlal Party (PI), Party of Renewal and Progress (PRP), and Organisation of Democratic and Popular Action (OADP)
 The Wifaq alliance is composed of three parties: the Constitutional Union (UC), the Popular Movement (MP), and the National Democratic Party (PND).
 National Rally of Independent (RNI),Democratic & Social Movement(MDS) and The National Popular Movement
 Catherine Sweet, “Democratization without Democracy: Political Openings and Closures in Modern Morocco,” Middle East Report 218 ,2001, P24
 Michael Willis, “Morocco’s Islamists and the Legislative Elections of 2002: the Strange Case of the Party That Did Not Want to Win” Mediterranean Politics 9, no. 1 (2004): 59-60.
 The party opted mainly for candidates having a high level of education and well-known personal, family, or professional connections with the electoral districts they represented
 Mohsen-Finan and Zeghal, “Opposition Islamiste et Pouvoir Monarchique au Maroc,” 93. See also Ahmad Mumtaz and William Zartman, “Political Islam: Can it Become a Loyal Opposition,?” Middle East Policy 5, no.1: 68-70