The former leader of the Independence Party (Al Istiqlal), Hamid Chabat, has returned to Morocco after living for more than two years in Turkey.
Chabat landed at the Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca on Wednesday, October 21. His youngest son, Nidal, announced the news in a Facebook publication.
“An auspicious return, Inshallah. Thank God for your safety,” Nidal wrote.
The Moroccan politician, who still holds a position in Parliament, had left Morocco in 2017 after losing his position as secretary general of Al Istiqlal and involving himself in several controversies.
Chabat’s return, which comes less than one year ahead of Morocco’s 2021 general election, led Moroccan media to speculate on his motives.
Some suggest that the politician, who is still a member of Al Istiqlal despite losing his leadership position, came back to run for the mayorship of Fez.
Hamid Chabat was the imperial city’s mayor for more than 12 years, between 2003 and 2015, until he lost his position to Idriss Azami Al-Idrissi of the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD).
The speculations saw more support from Hamid Chabat’s recent publications on his Facebook page. Since the start of October, the politician has shared many posts expressing his attachment to Fez and its people.
On October 1, he shared an interview with the press from 2016 where he talks about his “fidelity” to Fez and his achievements as mayor.
One week later, Chabat shared a video documenting a conference he held in 2015 with the population of the Agdal district in Fez. The footage shows Fez residents applauding Chabat and positively reacting to his speech.
The politician also shared on October 9 a publication congratulating local football club Maghreb Fez (MAS) for its promotion to the top-tier Moroccan league, Botola Pro 1.
The publications oriented towards the people of Fez could be in preparation for an upcoming electoral campaign.
A controversial migration
Before leaving for Turkey in 2017, Hamid Chabat was involved in many controversies, most notably when he caused diplomatic tension between Morocco and Mauritania.
In December 2016, while still leading Al Istiqlal, Chabat ignited a backlash when he claimed that “Morocco’s borders extend from Ceuta in the north to the Senegal River in the south.”
Chabat’s statement implied that Mauritania is part of the Moroccan territory and caused trouble for Morocco’s diplomacy.
The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly issued a statement rejecting what Chabat said. King Mohammed VI also intervened to defuse the situation, holding a telephone conversation with former Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz.
The King also sent former Head of Government Abdelilah Benkirane to Nouakchott to formally apologize for Chabat’s statement.
Despite apologizing, Hamid Chabat’s relationship with the members of Al Istiqlal was no longer the same and a majority of party members called for his resignation. Chabat resigned from the secretary general position a few weeks after the controversial statement.
While Chabat never disclosed the reasons behind his migration to Turkey, his loss of popularity in Morocco’s political sphere seems to be a main factor.
In his rare appearances over the past two years, Chabat claimed his decision to live in Turkey was due to “special circumstances.”
As for his position as deputy at the House of Representatives, which he will hold until 2021, Chabat said he regularly presented medical certificates proving that his health situation does not allow him to attend parliamentary sessions.
The Moroccan politician has yet to comment on the speculations surrounding his return. If they prove true, however, it remains to be seen whether he will gain back popularity and, ultimately, reclaim the mayorship of Fez.