Rabat - Hamid Chabat, the Istiqlal Party (PI) leader, lashed out at political rivals on Sunday, accusing the latter of “tracking” him.
Rabat – Hamid Chabat, the Istiqlal Party (PI) leader, lashed out at political rivals on Sunday, accusing the latter of “tracking” him.
During a rally of the General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM), the labor union affiliated to the party, Hamid Chabat attacked on the Ministry of Interior and his opponents within the party and said they want to subject him to humiliation.
The statements came amid mounting internal pressure on Hamid Chabat, from with Istiqlal and UGTM, to resign.
Hamid Chabat’s tone indicate desperate attempts from the Istiqlal leader to stay afloat amid the strong current threatening to destroy what is left of his political empire.
Throughout his political career, Hamid Chabat has been a highly controversial figure, constantly swapping allies and foes. His term as leader of Morocco’s oldest party has been very tumultuous.
In 2013 he led the party’s withdrawal from the PJD coalition government, and subsequently became a strong critic of Istiqlal’s former ally and its leader Abdelilah Benkirane.
Withdrawal from the governmental coalition was detrimental to Istiqlal which lost its place as Morocco’s second major political force.
His rise to the party leadership marked the culmination of a political journey constantly marked by controversy. Deemed a man “who does the dirty work” for other politicians and the Interior Minister Driss Bassri in the 1990s, he succeed in establishing networks that would help him win mayorship of the city of Fez, and UGTM and Istiqlal leadership.
However, things fell apart for Fez’ strongman. After losing mayorship of Fez in 2015, his party was excluded from the governmental coalition. Prominent Istiqlal members voiced their discontent, calling for his resignation as he failed the party throughout his mandate.
Accusing the invisible hand
“Today I am fighting against the humiliation they want to inflict on me. There is an invisible hand that I am perfectly aware of, which is manipulating some traitors from within the party. These ones allowed themselves to be used as pawns. I know who is moving them,” said Hamid Chabat.
He accused the Ministry of Interior of following him closely. “They are chasing wherever I go. My phones are certainly under surveillance. The party’s headquarters and my house are surrounded with informers,” he said.
Despite the pressures he claimed to be subjected to, the Itiqlal leader remained defiant. “They are chasing [after] every move we make. Maybe they want to infiltrate even our dreams. This is a kind of terrorism. Still, no threat is going to twist my arm.”
Even though Chabat has been facing mounting pressures from within the party and the labor union to step down, he downplayed the impact of his foes’ actions.
Anti-Chabat UGTM members held earlier in May an extraordinary congress calling for the election of a new leadership. The move aimed at ousting the union’s Chabat ally, Kafi Cherrat, and bar the way for Hamid Chabat in case he seeks the union’s leadership, as he might lose his bid for another term as Istiqlal Secretary General in the next party congress. He is facing intense competition from Nizar Baraka, the former Finance Minister, who has been for months campaigning against Hamid Chabat.
“Since the general strike of 1990 there have been attempts to divide the party and the union. The same is being carried out today, using lots of money,” said the Istiqlal leader.
During the 1990 strike, Chabat played a leading role in the demonstrations. Armed forces intervened violently, causing the death of many people. Meanwhile, Chabat had vanished from the scene during the bloody incidents.
Many Fez natives accuse him of playing a dirty role during these events, inciting for violent demonstration and making deals with the Minister of Interior Driss Bassri.
His connections earned him a long-time rule over Morocco’ spiritual city, during which Fez went into a decline. This explains why so many natives of the city were happy to see him lose mayorship in 2015.
Firing in all directions
As he has found himself in deep water, Chabat has been firing on all directions. In February, an article published on the party’s website accused the state of assassinating former minister and Benkirane’s closest friend, Abdellah Baha, MP Ahmed Zaidi.
The article implied that Hamid Chabat is the subject of an assassination plot, something which the Ministry of Interior ridiculed in a statement, saying that “whenever Chabat finds himself in a difficult position, he starts throwing absurd and irresponsible accusations.“
In the same vein, Chabat accused on Sunday the same “invisible hand” of constantly appointing Mohamed Hassad, the current Minister of Education, a member of government cabinets, whether as a technocrat or with a party affiliation.
“It came as no surprise when the former Minister of Interior all of a sudden became a member of the Popular Movement party.”
The relationship between Hamid Chabat and Hassad turned sour when the then-interior minister was head of the department. The latter publicly accused Hamid Chabat of trying to twist the state’s arm when he failed to win another term as Mayor of Fez in 2015. threatening to turn the city into chaos if the Ministry didn’t help him become the president of the Fez region.
Aziz Akhannouch, Minister of Agriculture and President of the National Rally of Independents party (RNI), also came under fire during Chabat’s speech.
“It is unbelievable that a wealthy man and politician, and [one] who has interests with the government, is member of the same government,” he said.
Akhannouch became Chabat’s rival in the aftermath of the general elections of October 2016. During then-head of government Benkirane’s negotiations to form a government coalition, the RNI refused to be in the same coalition as the PI.
PI members have been calling for Hamid Chabat to step down since December 2016, when the party leader called Mauritania a part of Moroccan territory. The controversial reference to “Greater Morocco” led the PI to be excluded from the government coalition, with some members labeling Hamid Chabat “unfit” to run the Kingdom’s oldest party.