Morocco World News
Morocco World News
Ifrane, Morocco, June 24, 2012
The Alternance system and the Emergence of the PJD as an Opposition Force replacing the USFP
The 1998 alternance system remains one of the major political achievements of Hassan II during the reformist era and a turning point for the ‘moderate’ Islamists in the Kingdom. In the aftermath of the 1997 parliamentary elections Hassan II nominated the socialist Abd al-Rahman Yousfi, the eminent opposition figure, as Prime Minister and charged him to form the new government, known as “system of alternance.”
The royal initiative to integrate the former opposition parties into the political system had been previously worked at without success. Indeed, the USFP and the Istiqlal parties declined the royal proposal unless the constitution was amended to restrain monarchical control and enhance the adequacy of the parliament and government. The promising performance of moderate Islamists as an indicator of the emergence of political Islam swayed the secular opposition parties and made them aware of the necessity of allying with the palace to contain ‘moderate’ Islamists who officially formed their political party–the PJD–the same year. To avoid friction with government, the MPDC Islamists renamed their political party passing over any reference to Islam, while, nonetheless, describing their party as “a party with Islamic leaning.”
The deliberate rising Islamist movement could capitalize on the Socialists’ failures to gain ground on society, to keep that political balance as both forces USFP/PJD are adopting two different political agendas and–most importantly—to be prepared on purpose by the authorities to bear the torch of the forthcoming government .
In the aftermath of its nomination, the prime minister presented to parliament an ambitious governmental agenda, undertaking the reconstruction of the public sector, the reforming of education system, the development of the country’s economy, and the endorsement of human rights—principally women’s rights.
The Yousufi program, however, proved “overambitious” and its achievements “unpretentious”. Though the prime minister was held responsible for such shortcomings, the government’s margin for maneuver was considerably limited by the King himself.
Indeed, the king orchestrated the alternance while consolidating his position as “the arbiter of Moroccan politics.” In addition to the King’s constitutional prerogatives, he also reserved the right to appoint the ministers of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Justice and Islamic Affairs. Ottaway and Riley emphasize Yousufi’s constraints by stating: “The government’s parliamentary majority in the lower house was small, and the indirectly elected upper house was in the hands of [pro-monarchical] conservatives.” Consequently, the king upheld control over key policy issues, such as inflicting the economic principles set by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, compelling the leftist USFP to give up their socialist campaign commitments. Consequently, the socialist prime minister failed to make a difference and to distinguish itself from the previous governments which paved the way to rising popular discontent. (The same scenario as we will see is going to be used against the Islamists.)
The emerging Islamist movement was directed to take advantage of Yousufi’s failures to impose itself as an alternative ideology and a new political force. In fact, the undermining credibility of the socialist authorities served to reinforce the position of the ‘moderate Islamists’. In this respect, the PJD declined the proposal of participating in Yousufi’s coalition cabinet favoring, instead, to detach itself from any potential failure that the newly formed administration could encounter.
Alternatively, the parliamentary group of the PJD decided to depict itself as a ‘critical support’ to the socialist government. This meant that the Islamist party could sustain the reformist program of the government, while retaining the possibility of criticizing certain governmental policies–especially on religious issues–emphasizing its identity as an Islamic leaning party. Furthermore, this formula enabled the PJD to free itself from direct responsibility in case of shortcomings or failures.
As Yousufi’s governmental popularity decreased, the Islamist party adopted a more critical stance, positioning itself gradually into the opposition camp. In the vein of most parties, the PJD called for a greater governmental commitment to popular pan-Islamic concerns, such as Palestine and Iraq.
Generally speaking, regional issues did not generate conflicting stances; the PJD position had generally matched with the majority of other parties. Conversely, domestic policies were often at the heart of a controversial debate between the Islamist party and the socialist authorities of Yousufi, such as the reform of the Mudawana /Code of Personnel Status and the launching of a micro-credit system. The PJD criticized the administration’s proposal to set up a micro-credit program with an interest rate and to grant women rights beyond the limits of Islamic law. To emphasize its disapproval to the text of Mudawana, the PJD participated in popular manifestations that took place in Rabat and Casablanca in March 2000. The PJD confrontationalist positions often paved the way to serious clashes with the government
Since October 2000, the PJD shifted officially from the standing of ‘critical support’ to ‘loyal opposition,’ attacking the governmental failures to resolve socioeconomic problems. This move may have been a strategy to emerge as the major political substitute to the USFP–whose popularity was significantly declining–in the upcoming parliamentary elections of 2002. Additionally, the posture of the PJD as an opposition force and its depiction as an Islamic party further enhanced its credibility and popularity among the population. Since the official parties of the opposition were formerly part of the government, the PJD members described their party as “the true opposition in the country.”
As the upcoming parliamentary elections of September 2002 approached, the PJD could draw up an overall positive assessment of the party’s accomplishments since its first political participation in 1997. At the level of parliamentary representation, the PJD not only succeeded in boasting a significant number of deputies in the lower house and it had also a representative in ‘the upper House of Councilors.’ Locally, the PJD reached over 100 local councilors and “six local commune presidents,” despite the official nonparticipation of the party in the 1997 local elections. In this respect, the PJD succeeded in evolving as an organized political structure and in boosting its public profile.
Thus, from the above discussions, it has become clear that the alternance period was a turning point for the makhzen and it’s newly created Islamist party, the PJD. This phase allowed the authorities to reshape the party’s Islamist activists’ ideologies using the party at the same time as a means to deteriorate and weaken the ex-activists of the USFP leftists.
This phase, importantly enough, allowed the PJD, or I may say has been allowed, to gain more controllable political ‘maturity,’ strengthen its popular base by capitalizing on the USFP failures, and determine its political orientation as a real opposition force to the USFP, which emerged as a center of power in that era.
The PJD succeeded in evolving into a well-built political party, surrogating the Kutla parties and its main party the USFP that were pushed to leave the camp of the perennial opposition to replace it as a new oppositional political actor. Equally important, it is significantly relevant to note that this period was a countdown for the USFP and Kutla‘s domination and fame over the Kingdom’s political life and the emergence of a new center which will be later on topped down like the USFP as we will see in the coming discussions.
This stage was equally significant for Morocco as it marked the success of the makhzen to manage any kind of monopolization or domination which, automatically speaking means the elimination and exclusion of the others voices and rights.
Although the socialist authorities failed to eradicate the complex socioeconomic problems that the country was experiencing, the alternance period guaranteed a smooth transition for Hassan II successor, King Mohammed VI, and safeguarded the Kingdom’s stability and presented the Islamists as the main Opposition Force replacing the USFP.
To be continued …
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 Malika Zeghal, les Islamistes Marocains: le Défi à la Monarchie (Paris : Editions le Fennec, 2005), 217-218
 Isabelle Werenfels, “Between Integration and Repression: Authorities Responses to Islamism in the Maghreb,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs 39 (2005): 14
 Rachid Moktadir Political Integration to the Islamists Forces, Aljazeera Center for Studies: Doha, 2010,P 166-179
 Catherine Sweet, “Democratization without Democracy: Political Openings and Closures in Modern Morocco,” Middle East Report 218 (2001): 24
 Marina Ottaway and Meredith Riley “Morocco: From Top-down Reform to Democratic Transition?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 71 ,2006, P6
 Ibid,P 6-7
 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): 56
 Ahmed R. Benchemsi, “ Minijupes contre tchadors,” Jeune Afrique, 21 March, 2000, http://www.jeuneafrique.com/jeune_afrique/article_jeune_afrique.asp?art_cle=LIN21036minijsrodah0
 Khadija Mohsen-Finan and Malika Zeghal, “Opposition Islamiste et Pouvoir Monarchique au Maroc : le Cas du Parti de la Justice et développement,” Revue Française de Science Politique 56, no. 1 (2006): 68-70
 Willis 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), P 57.
 Marvine Howe, Morocco: the Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges (US: Oxford University Press, 2005 , P117-19.