Rabat - In the wonderful kingdom of Morocco, the sun shines three hundred days a year and scores of people sit in cafés sipping tea, taking turns at reading the papers provided graciously by the business for customers, and watching the world go by, especially the nice women dressed in tight jeans.
Rabat – In the wonderful kingdom of Morocco, the sun shines three hundred days a year and scores of people sit in cafés sipping tea, taking turns at reading the papers provided graciously by the business for customers, and watching the world go by, especially the nice women dressed in tight jeans.
In this country, spared by the so-called Arab Spring and where rich Gulf Arabs come to enjoy the weather, the food, the scenery, the young nubile girls, and the handsome boys, lived many pressure groups that called themselves “parties.” These entities had no party programs, no internal democracy, and no ethics. They were only interested in power, and the perks of power, and were ready to do anything to get it, just about anything . . . as in the following cautionary tale.
The “exception marocaine”
Once upon a time, the wonderful kingdom of Morocco was only slightly affected by a pan-Arab upheaval wrongly called the “Arab Spring.” The apologists called it, with much pomp and rhetoric,l’exception marocaine. Morocco, according to them, was saved from the uprisings and all the chaos they bring with them because of its differences and its political culture, and thanks also to the fact that it had already adopted an incremental democractic approach to government beginning in 1996.
King Mohammed VI, having anticipated the upheavals in 2011, had offered the country a more democratic constitution which was followed by legislative elections — the first ever such free elections— that gave the Parti de la Justice et du Développement (PJD) the most seats in the parliament, but not the majority rule.
The king, as stated by the constitution, asked the head of the PJD, Abdellilah Benkirane, to form a government. Forming a government headed by a notorious Islamist alarmed the political class, but not too much for, all in all, the king remained the captain of the ship in Morocco and could interfere anytime he deemed it necessary for the interest of the country and its proverbial stability.
Creating the political family according to shari’a law
Benkirane then went about creating his political family. Now, creating a political family is no different from forming a real family. First, you have to woo your woman, then you have to win her heart, and finally you have to discuss with her parents the conditions of the marriage contract, 3a9d nika7, and the amount of the dowry, sada9.
Initially, Benkirane thought the enterprise would be easy because Moroccan parties are rapacious when it comes to securing ministerial posts in the government. Apparently some party members would even buy a position with fortunes because becoming a minister is a prestigious job, and it offers its recipient unlimited privileges: a big salary, per diem money, cars, travel opportunities, power and many other perks.
When Benkirane was nominated by King Mohammed VI to form a government, the first ever Islamist government in the history of modern Morocco, he had a wide choice of political families. After a long reflection, he decided to wed the Istiqlal party because it is conservative and nationalist with an Islamic agenda, .Benkirane was sure that this Istiqlal was going to be a good wife, devout and faithful.
The next wife he had in mind was the Mouvement Populaire (MP), a party with rural and Amazigh following. By marrying the MP, Benkirane thought he would hit three birds with the same stone: get the Amazigh on his side, satisfy his party Amazigh membership, and, on top of all that, guarantee a rural following.
Third, and the most controversial wife Benkirane set his sights on was the Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme (PPS), an ex-communist party. Historically, the Islamists did not see eye to eye with the communists because of the latter’s atheism, il7ad, a trait that devout and pious Muslims cannot accept, let alone marry. But Benkirane loved the mysterious side of the PPS and its obsequious quality, in addition to the fact that this wife was a real sweet talker.
Having taken three political wives besides his real life wife, Benkirane proud of his religious achievement by taking four wives in compliance with shari’a and sunnah and proud of his political feat, he presented his cabinet to the monarch who accepted it and wished him good luck in his tenure. Maybe the monarch knew from the start that pleasing the caprices of four distinctly different women is almost humanly impossible.
In any event, Benkirane started his tenure as leader, exhibiting his machismo and his Islamic male domineering identity almost sure that he would lead a big family, following in the most strict Islamic traditions whereby the wives would be treated equally and in return they would obey him and tend to the house.
But was Benkirane fair with all his wives? The answer is no, for his ex-communist wife, the PPS, received all his favors because she knew how to speak to him and always enumerated his qualities and glories which inflated beyond belief his ego. And Benkirane being a good Muslim man gratified her with more ministerial positions than her real size in the Parliament. In contrast, the Istiqlal which has a larger presence in the parliament did not receive a proportionate number of ministerial posts. But its secretary general, the soft-spoken Abbass al-Fassi, realizing that he was on his way out, did not want to get into a fight with Benkirane, so he avoided any kind of controversy on this issue.
For a while, life ran smoothly for Benkirane and his wives, and they lived like a happy family. Then one day, out of nowhere came to the Istiqlal leadership, a man called Chabat, a very ambitious guy who had risen swiftly into power within the party. First, he was elected mayor of Fes and he made a ludicrous promise to the electorate to bring the sea to this inland city so they could enjoy their summer swimming rather than swelter in the summer heat. Then, afterwards, he was elected Secretary General of the party’s trade union, UGTM.
Very much like Benkirane himself, Chabat was a populist politician with a knack for sweet talking the public and gaining their allegiance. Actually, Morocco has not seen any such people in its modern history. These two men were similar in many ways: they were both excellent orators who spoke the language of the grass roots and identified with their problems and daily preoccupations. They were men of the people, but in a populist sense that often verges on foolishness and stupidity, to say the least.
Chabat the troublemaker
On his home turf of Fes, of which he is a mayor, Chabat set up a close relationship with the poor population of the city as well as the artisans of the Medina. Now, when he visits the population he moves with a large retinue reminiscent of the king, to show his popularity and the love of the population for him. But, like all populists, he can be unpredictable and at times ridiculous. Unable to deliver the promised sea to the inland city, he decided, out of the blue one day, to erect a miniature model of the Tour Eiffel in the city. But as soon as he finished doing that, the Wali of the city received instructions from higher circles of the state to remove the imbecility from the panorama of the respected Islamic city that Fes is.
Thus after the short-lived honeymoon of Benkirane with his wives, arrived this substitute wife named Chabat and from the start, she refused obeisance to the husband-patriarch on the grounds that he was treating his wives unequally insomuch as his PPS wife got more ministerial posts than it deserved, and he wanted this relationship ended through a quick review of the fairness of the distribution of ministerial posts.
Infuriated by this attitude, contrary to shari’a law, in which one of his wives questioned his lawful authority as a husband, Benkirane called on Chabat to toe the line (ruju3 ila bayt ta3a “accept lawful husband authority as stated by shari’a”.). But Chabat, a master of his own destiny and a man with a voracious ambition, called again and again on the prime minister to undertake a government revamp, at once; failing that, he would take action.
After weeks of insistence on the necessity for change and having not received satisfaction, Chabat threatened to ask the court for divorce, on the ground that the husband was not just in the treatment of his numerous wives. But as much as Chabat was insistent in the redistribution of the posts, so was the Head of Government in his flat refusal to consider any change whatsoever to his political family. The feud was officially on among two important politicians in the government.
Having exhausted all peaceful approaches to the issue, according to Chabat, he threatened to quit the government. Benkirane replied that he was not going to budge from his stated position and that he was calling Chabat’s bluff.
The painful search for a fourth wife
Chabat then wrote to the king explaining to him the reasons for which he was pulling his ministers out of the coalition. After that, he decided to leave the coalition himself, and this was quite a slap for Benkirane who thought he had established a family in the good Shari’a tradition. Being a pious Muslim, he decided to look for another wife from the other parties and it took him over three months before he found a wife he hated to love: the Rassemblement National des Indépendants (RNI).
Prior to the legislative elections that brought the Islamists to power, Mezouar, the secretary general ofRNI was the Minister of Finance in the liberal government. Benkirane’s PJD party lashed out at him, accusing him of being a thief and embezzling a large sum of money, in the legal form of a financial perk, prior to leaving the position.
RNI, in principal was the only party able to save the coalition from crumbling down and besides it is a party that has a strong allegiance to the Palace. In other words, Benkirane would surrender, through this marriage with Mezouar, a part of his independence to the Makhzen. He would no longer be the master of his destiny, and his post-Arab Spring government would be very much diminished in real power and vis-à-vis his party members and the electorate that trusted him to reform government. In short, he would lose face and honor.
In the face of this adversity, Benkirane had only one other alternative: give up his post and call for general elections. The only problem with this choice is that he cannot guarantee that the electorate will choose his party again, given his unpopularity. His party which was entrusted to fight corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, and illegal money transfers abroad, is instead granting amnesty to the cheaters, and on the other hand making the poor foot the bill through a controversial price hike of foodstuffs.
Given this, Benkirane had no choice but take the RNI as his fourth legal wife and as a consequence gave up many important ministerial positions, such as foreign affairs and finance, to this party.
Trouble brewing elsewhere
It was not long after Benkirane had settled this thorny issue of a fourth marriage, which was not pleasurable at all, that trouble started brewing elsewhere for him. His other wife, the Mouvement Populaire, who hitherto was obedient and easy-going, got him into deep trouble. One of its ministers Abdeladim Guerrouj, used taxpayer money to buy himself chocolate few days prior to the government reshuffle and his attribution by the Head of the Government of a new portfolio (see my article: “The Minister with a Sweet Tooth and Benkirane” published by MWN on January 28th, 2014).
This scandal had very bad implications for Benkirane, his government and his party; because the electorate brought him to power to fight such practices but instead he is pretending nothing happened to save his coalition from break-up. In reality, his options in such a situation are limited: either sack the corrupt minister and thereby suffer the break-up of the fragile coalition and consequently go headlong for general elections, or pretend nothing has happened and let the storm pass by, which he did, and both options are bitter and harmful.
Alas, as soon as this scandal had just subsided in intensity, another one flared up in the same party. A minister called Moubdii, who was entrusted with the portfolio of Administrative Reform, had apparently bribed his secretary general and an influential woman in the party, called Madame Halima Assali, to secure his ministerial job. In a true democracy, these two scandals would have brought down any government and general elections would have been called, but with Benkirane it is another story,: he is clinging to power no matter what and consequently he does not want to divorce any of his four wives for fear not to be able to get other replacement wives in different circumstances.
The moral of the tale
Polygamy might be fun, but it is outmoded and a thing of the tribal past. It creates a lot of instability and bad blood, so for your peace of mind and happiness, stay away from it at all costs, even if you are a pious Muslim like Benkirane.
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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