The move comes as El Othmani seeks to cement his leadership of the party while Abdelilah Benkirane constantly questions his authority.
Rabat – Morocco’s ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) party has finally decided to punish Amina Maelainine, a female PJD MP at the heart of a party scandal since January for appearing to wear “un-Islamic” clothing.
During a party meeting on Saturday, April 14, the party’s majority spoke in favor of stripping Maelainine of her relatively influential position as seventh vice-president of the House of Representatives, PJD’s deputy Secretary General Sliman El Amrani announced on the party’s website.
The move is set to complicate the MP’s political fate. Maelainine has also subtly been distanced from her previous party visibility. She will be restrained to her seat at the Parliament as the PJD MP for the Hay Hassani district in the Casablanca-Settat region.
Meriem Boujemaa, a member of the PJD secretarial general, will replace Maelainine. Boujemaa is known to support Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani. Barring an unforeseen intra-party leadership reshuffling, there are indications that Maelainine will not be considered as a PJD candidate when her current tenure as MP comes to an end.
El Othmani vs. Benkirane?
Maelainine, a philosophy graduate and teacher whose articulated defense of PJD’s Islamist discourses and trenchant criticism of Moroccan liberals opened her door after door in PJD’s leadership world, recently came under fierce scrutiny after photographs of a recent Parisian holiday showed her without her traditional veil.
The scandal divided the party for weeks. Abdelilah Benkirane, former PJD head and known “protector” of Maelainine, defended her within the party leadership.
He argued that she deserved a second chance and forgiveness in line with the Islamic teaching of mercy. Benkirane said the PJD should not leave their own MP “helpless and defenseless” as she faced critics.
However, as Maelainine was seen as a Benkirane protegee, the former PJD leader’s intervention in her favor has been interpreted as a desire to keep an influential pro-Benkirane faction within the party’s highest echelons.
Benkirane’s plea for his “protegee” came along more as a subtle defiance of El Othmani, the PJD leader who was adamant from the beginning that defending Maelainine ran counter to PJD’s identity.
“We must set an example, especially those at the forefront of public opinion,” El Othmani said. He appeared to refer to PJD critics’ labels of “hypocrisy” challenging the party’s commitment to its professed Islamist values.
But the PJD’s choice of Meriem Boujemaa, an El Othmani loyal, to replace a Benkirane protegee is set to be interpreted as a rebuttal to Benkirane.
Benkirane has recently taken aim at El Othmani on several occasions. He has questioned El Othmani’s ability to lead both the party and the government. Benkirane has also requested that El Othmani resign instead of surrender to external pressures hurting Morocco’s national pride.
In response, El Othmani has said that his government’s fate should be the least of Benkirane’s concerns and that only the King has the legitimate authority over whether his government should stay.
“As long as the King is satisfied with my government’s performance, I will not resign,” El Othmani has been quoted in Moroccan news outlets as saying.