Rabat- “The only real surprise is that Benkirane is still the head of the Moroccan government,” says a former Istiqlal Minister, commenting on the composition of the second version of the Benkirane’ government.
According to our source, the PJD and the head of government appear to have lost at first sight, but if you take time to get to the bottom of things, the situation is more complex.
This analysis is also endorsed by a PJD leader, yet known for his radical positions. “People forget what is happening in the region. The Islamists were ousted in Egypt and the same thing is about to happen in Tunisia. If Benkirane manages to maintain and keep 11 ministers, this can be considered an achievement ,”says the member of the PJD’s national secretariat.
Benkirane’s friends went through a lot of trouble. Last spring when Hamid Chabat , Secretary General of the Istiqlal, decided to leave the government, the government seemed on the brink of implosion. A source close to Abdelilah Benkirane confirms that the order was then given to the ministers of the party to gather the “toxic issues” before coming to power.
The PJD was preparing to move into the ranks of the opposition. Indeed, Abdelilah Benkirane and Abdallah Baha were pretty sure their time had come. To other leaders of the PJD, they complained in private about some “circles of the state” who harassed them tirelessly. Another fact has complicated things a bit more for the Islamists. Contacts with the royal palace became more distant and less fluid. The cabinet meeting was postponed indefinitely. The Head of State does not miss any opportunity during his speeches to criticize the government’s management.
Abdallah Bouanou , chairman of the PJD group in the House of Representatives, confessed to a journalist that if his party was to be forced out of the government, he was not sure he would ever be able to bring it back to power. But the dramatic events in Egypt save Benkirane and the PJD. The Egyptian impasse resulting in thousands of casualties is counter-productive. It reinforces the public opinion’s idea of ??the existence of an international conspiracy against the emerging Arab democracies.
Abdelilah Benkirane, being an outstanding tactician, knows it well. He knew must make concessions. The option of organizing legislative elections was definitively ruled out because considered too uncertain. Then began a long marathon of negotiations with Salah Eddine Mezouar’s National Rally of Independent (RNI). It lasted almost three months and ended with the formation of a government in which everyone won.
The head of government scored a masterstroke by getting rid of both the ministry of foreign affairs that was very inconvenient for him, and a man who upstaged him in the party. “Foreign Affairs disturbed Benkirane greatly. He is aware that on this issue, the only way is that of the king, and any other dissonant way is detrimental to the image of Morocco,” confirms a leader of the PJD.
In addition, El Othmani, who preceded him as head of the PJD, is still seen by Abdelilah Benkirane as a rival. His position as foreign minister gave him an international stature and visibility, equivalent to that of the head of government. In the wake of this change, Benkirane reduced Salaheddine Mezouar’s range of action, forcing him under a duty of confidentiality inherent to his new “sovereign” ministerial portfolio.
By also yielding the Ministry of the Interior to a technocrat, he distanced himself from the civil society’s criticism whenever the repression of demonstrations starts. Today, Abdelilah Benkirane can convince his supporters and part of the public that the management of security is not within his control. At the same time, he helps his faithful ally, Mohand Laenser, to get an electorally more interesting ministry : Urbanism and Spacial Planning.
The head of government won other big battles, notably by maintaining his protégé, Driss Azami, at the Budget Ministry and rescuing Mohamed El Ouafa in extremis after he was expelled by the Istiqlal because he did not want to resign from the government. Abdelilah Benkirane sends a clear message to his friends and enemies: he knows how to reward those who remain loyal to him.
So although relatively weak, the head of Moroccan Islamists can still manage a few tactical moves.
“He focuses mainly on the fundamentals to cope with upcoming elections. We must pay attention to him, he is a formidable tactician and it will be difficult to shake him” says a keen observer of Moroccan politics.
Article published in collaboration with Maghreb Intelligence
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