By Mohammed Chtatou
By Mohammed Chtatou
Morocco World News
Rabat, July 7, 2013
The first post-Arab Spring and post-2011 constitution Moroccangovernment has not been able to alleviate the burdens of the Moroccan people ranging from poverty, joblessness, homelessness, despair, etc. Instead Moroccan politicians have managed to amuse them with their populist tirades and ridiculous fight bouts and indefatigable jockeying for leadership within a hodgepodge so-called majority.
Once upon a time, the late king Hassan II called the parliament a circus (I am sure he was right), and he is even more right today. In the conduct of the politics of the country, the parliamentarians of today are real clowns whose actions are very funny and sometimes pitiful. They have forgotten that they were elected by the nation to defend their interests and further their hopes, but instead they are spending most of their time bickering over trivial personal issues, and their conduct certainly leaves a lot to be desired.
The actual so-called majority is not really a majority because the two central parties in it, the –Party of Justice and Development (PJD), heading the government and the Istiqlal Party (IP), are truly at loggerheads. This tribal feud was ignited by Hamid Chabat, a Fez homegrown politician, popular and populist, who, on assuming the presidency of this ultra-conservative and nationalist party, called on this other popular and populist politician Benkirane, head of the actual government, to consider reshuffling his cabinet, which was put in place a little more than a year before.
The reasons for this political request lie within the personality of the ambitious and power-hungry head of IP, Hamid Chabat. Chabat is a very popular and charismatic political figure. He started his long career as a bicycle repairer in Fes, and because of his jovial and down-to-earth personality, he made useful friendships within the various guilds of the Medina of Fes who eventually elected him first as a city counselor and later city mayor. As a city mayor, he fulfilled some of his electoral promises.
On the other side of the spectrum, stands another pragmatic and populist politician, who like Chabat, is clever and outspoken but more direct and lacks etiquette. His weak point is he mixes registers unknowingly. He cracks jokes when he is not supposed to do so and makes reference to popular culture when he is supposed to show the qualities of the shrewd politician he is.
He arrived to the helm of his party on the eve of the Arab Spring. In the post-2011 constitution elections, his party won the legislative elections and he found himself the first Head of Government, with the widest powers ever thanks to the Arab Spring and the pressure of the youth protest movement: the 20 February movement. A popular joke has it that he does not believe he is the Moroccan Head of Government and keeps asking his wife to pinch him to wake up from his supposed sweet dream.
In the first coalition government he had to form, he found himself facing the calm soft-spoken secretary general Abass el Fassi, the outgoing Prime Minister, with whom he always had cordial relations. Benkirane thought things will go smoothly in the coalition. But he was totally wrong because few months later the IP elected the mercurial nemesis and relentless fighter and political provocateur, Hamid Chabat. Thus Benkirane found himself in front of a personwho aspires to replace him as Head of Government.
Chabat gave Benkirane a few months respite and then launched his first subdued attack, asking him to reshuffle the government and give his party more ministerial portfolios, arguing that his party deserves more than the other member of the coalition. Benkirane ignored this request. Chabat, feeling incensed by this attitude redoubled the vigor of his attacks, saying that the Government is failing the Moroccan people.
Again Benkirane kept his calm. Feeling yet once more being ignored, Chabat launched his most viral attack on Benkirane saying that his party will withdraw its ministers and support from the government. To make his threat look real, he called for a meeting of the national council of his party to discuss his request. The latter convened and officially adopted his decision and called solemnly the party to leave the coalition.
Believing that he is on the right path and that the kill of his partner-opponent is at hand, he called on the monarch to arbitrate the deadlock, but to his appointment Mohammed VI asked him to stay in the government for the time being, pending future royal decision on the issue, if any.
This scene is undoubtedly reminiscent of the arenas of ancient Rome. Two strong gladiators fight each other to death to amuse the Romans and their elite, and suddenly one the two fighters is made to fall and lose his weapon and the standing one is ready for the kill on the signal of the leader with a thumb down, but the latter out of magnanimity, pity or sheer political calculations calls off this sentence.
Even if the kill did not take place, the gallery was still amused and entertained by this gladiators’ game.
Actually, though the Moroccan public has stopped watching public television for decades for lack of quality programs and migrated to French and Arab satellite channels, yet they get their fill from the Moroccan political gladiators’ games on the daily newspapers.
These gladiators’ games are actually turning to be fascinating in more than one way: as of now, the initial victor, who thought he had the upper hand found himself on the floor being the vanquished and his opponent Benkirane the victor, as by magic. What happened actually is that Chabat, when he asked the monarch for arbitration, was sure that the outcome will be in his favor. Instead Mohammed VI asked him to stay in the coalition.
By not saying anything publicly or taking any action, the monarch is showing tremendous wisdom and qualities of realpolitik. Indeed, while these gladiators’ games were in process, the king was in his château in France enjoying his vacation and Chabat kept repeating to the public that when he is back, he would grant him an audience.
Since the beginning of the independence of Morocco in 1956, governments were either formations of political figures representing political parties, or technocrats appointed by the late King Hassan II when he snubbed political parties for some reason or other.
However, most of these politicians have conducted government business in normal manner. After the Arab Spring, two politicians were propelled into the Moroccan political scene: Abdelilah Benkirane and Hamid Chabat. Unlike the actors of the previous governments, these two come from modest backgrounds and were elected by poor and middle class people.
As the Head of the Government, Benkirane is discovering that populist politics works in stirring the people but not in conducting government business on a daily business. Since coming to the helm of the government, he has increased the price of diesel, a very unpopular move and is considering scratching the subsidies on basic staples such as: flower, sugar, oil and butane gas and offering six millions poor Moroccans a stipend instead.
This move, dictated by the World Bank, will certainly get him the blessing of world financial authorities but also the wrath of the Moroccan people, who might even rebel and boot him from his position. In the end the choice is hard, and whatever direction he takes, he will incense one side or the other and risk his job and seat.
Since becoming head of the government, Benkirane and his troops have gone back on their populist agenda slowly but perceptibly. Benkirane, now wears ties and dons expensive and customized shirts and suits, rides in the government Mercedes and moved from his modest abode to the government spacious villa in the highly-official Allée des Princesses, in the fashionable quarter of Souissi.
However, Benkirane still uses populist semantics either in the parliament or in official functions. He argues constantly that the reactionary forces of the ancient days are impeding his reformist ventures aiming at dismantling corruption and nepotism and setting a meritocratic system. He calls these forces, in his populist lingua, devils and alligators and he says they are lurking in the dark and waiting the propitious moment to attack him and destroy his program and his dream.
Feeling strong at the local and national levels, Chabat launched verbal attacks on his opponents in his party and on his partners on the coalition to the extent that he was more vociferous than the real opposition in the parliament. At some point political analysts were wondering where was the right opposition, the one inside the so-called coalition or the one outside. Has Chabat by any chance missed the right register? Was he driven by his illogical enthusiasm? Nobody knows.
Who won the duel?
The biggest looser of these gladiators’ games is undoubtedly Chabat. He lost everything on his first major political sortie:
– He lost face on a national level vis-à-vis his followers, Benkirane and the Moroccan people, because he was rush, lacked wisdom and vision and exhibited tremendous negative ambition. He might be sincere in his willingness to serve his country the best way possible, but he certainly lacks the diplomacy and the gentle touch;
– He could have taken his time to scout the best possible site for giving the coup de grâce to his opponent, not in a gladiators’ arena but in a less conspicuous place;
– By attacking openly and suddenly his partner, nobody will believe in any association with him of any kind, he has lost his political virginity and social credibility. People will think twice before undergoing any association of any kind with him.
Benkirane has not lost the duel, but he has come out of these gladiators’ games weakened and certainly bruised and would consider any future association with any political party twice before undertaking it. He would certainly also reconsider his government policies to guarantee his stay in power for a full term.
But the interesting thing about these gladiators’ games is that there is a third member who has been solicited by either side for arbitration, and that person is the monarch Mohammed VI, who has showed tremendous professionalism and a great amount of wisdom in dealing with this tribal feud.
In conclusion, the winner of the Moroccan gladiators’ games is none other than Mohammed VI for his wisdom and savoir faire in dealing with populist party leaders hungry for power and authority.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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