The Moroccan socialist party obtained the most seats in the recent parliamentary elections. King Mohammed VI will probably entrust the socialist party with the task of forming a government, although the Constitution does not oblige him to do so. There is even talk that the king may ask outgoing prime minister Abderraman el Yusufi -who had decided to retire from politics- to lead the government for at least two years in order to guide them through the institutional changes being prepared. It will be a difficult task, due to Morocco’s fragmented political map and the fact that Istiqlal, with almost the same number of votes, will be more demanding when it comes to sharing out ministerial posts and departments. The most outstanding feature of September the 27th’s parliamentary elections however is the rise of the islamist party for Justice and Development (PJD), which has effortlessly become the country’s third political party, establishing islamism as an inescapable variable in the Moroccan political equation. In this panorama king Mohammed VI’s executive powers will probably be even more visible than in his last term of office. The probable, although at present unconfirmed and only speculated in the press, substitution of Foreign Affairs minister Mohammed Benaissa by the current ambassador in Paris, Hassan Abu Ayub is of a great interest to Spain.
Four Parties for One Government
Four parties of different political inclinations have obtained a similar number of representatives in Parliament: the socialist USFP (50 seats, 7 less than the last parliamentary term), the conservative and nationalist Istiqlal (PI) (48 seats, 16 more than the last term) the Islamic PJD (42 seats, 33 more than the last term) and the National Rally of Independents, RNI (41 seats, 5 less), in the elections with the highest abstention level (48%) of Morocco’s entire electoral history. The segmentation of the country’s political map, foreseeable given the high number of parties running (26) has also been the most accentuated of all Morocco’s parliamentary elections. The index of invalid votes, reported by the Interior minister to be over 15% and considered by electoral process experts to equate to abstention, was also the highest of all previous electoral contests. The same thing happened with the close to two million Moroccans not registered on the electoral roll, another 15% of the electorate. The degree of representation of the government that must start its winter session next Friday the 11th will therefore be limited indeed.
Both the socialists, who should logically form the government, and Istiqlal (PI) if the king so entrusts, will necessarily have to turn to the other three most voted and various others parties in order to reach the Parliamentary majority of 163 representatives needed to govern. The government formed as a result of this coalition will only not be as strong as the USFP and PI had wished during the campaign, but will not even be coherent. The Prime Minister will only have at his disposal a combination of ministers from four, five or six parties, with little in common politically. This time however, they will have to face opposition from a PJD whose social support is even greater than its parliamentary force.
What Moroccan electoral process experts such as Mustafa Sehimi have always maintained is fulfilled yet again: that all electoral processes in Morocco end up strengthening the sovereign’s legitimacy and capacity for action. King Mohammed VI’s judgement, pre-eminence and executive powers will probably be even more visible than in his last term of office. His inner circle of power, known in Moroccan politics as the Majzen, formed by around a thousand high military commanders, technocrats and advisors, many of them ex ministers, Palace delegation heads and old school colleagues with high responsibilities close to the king, has proved once more to be the most coherent and stable thing about the State and the Moroccan government, despite criticism and attacks received in this and previous electoral campaigns.
Is it fatalism, destiny, the political parties’ inability to modernise themselves, the destructuring of politics or Mohammed VI’s lack of will to improve the country and advance towards real democracy? Far from it. They are simply the consequences of forty years of falsifying the popular will, of Interior Ministry intervention in electoral processes, of conscious segmentation of the country’s political map, of the governments’ failure to improve Moroccans’ daily life and ultimately citizens’ lack of confidence that anything new might come from the ballot boxes. As if it wished to corroborate this, in its national population policy report for 2001 released after the elections, the Moroccan Centre of Demographic Studies and Research maintains than one of every five Moroccans lives below the poverty threshold, and that the poor number 5.3 million citizens, a notable increase with respect to 1985, when there were 4.6 million registered.
In the three years of Mohammed VI’s reign however, the press has gained notable freedom. Attacks against citizens’ political, civil and human rights, everyday occurrences during most of Hassan II’s reign, have disappeared. The king has been receptive to reforming the Mudawana, the Family Code controlled by Koranic law and the cause of women’s’ subordinate role, requested by women’s’ collectives, and hasfostered a Plan for the Integration of Women in Development. He has created a Royal Institute for Amazig Culture, which has not satisfied all the Berber’s aspirations but is much more than his father was ever prepared to accept. Whether all of this is enough or not is another question. The debate on constitutional reform that has preceded and accompanied these elections shows that both political parties and citizens consider that the necessary conditions for establishing genuine democracy and a real constitutional state are not yet present.
Islamism, which has so easily obtained third place among the parties although only standing in 66 districts while the USFP and IPI presented lists of candidates in the 91 existing ones, and despite the moderation attributed to the PJD, has quickly shown its true colours. 24 hours after its triumph, the lack of finesse of some of its leaders made it lose any possibility of an alliance to govern offered by the PI, the only party whose leaders maintained that they could ally with the PJD, and with which the PJD had recognised that it could co-operate.
The 30-seat quota granted to women, that together with the 4 seats they obtained in the regular lists more than doubles their seats with regard to the last parliamentary term, and will make the Moroccan parliament the Maghrebi parliament with most women, with 34 women in the chamber. But this lends itself to errors. Western analysts have frequently maintained that women are the true bastions against the advance of fundamentalism. The facts in Morocco do not bear out this supposition. The ease with which the PJD managed to get four women elected among its candidates, almost the same as historic parties such as the USFP – laicising, the PI simultaneously both modern and conservative, and the RNI – classified as a centre party, suggests that the condition of being a woman does not contribute by itself more modernity or democracy.
The real introduction of Moroccan Islamism in society, which everyone recognises, is far greater than the number of seats obtained by the PJD. Whether the favour shown by the electorate towards Islamism necessarily equates to a real islamisation of society is another matter. In an interview, the PJD’s true ‘strong man’ Abdelilah Benkiran reassured that “people have not voted for us because they want us to apply Sharia (strict Islamic) laws, but because they want us to solve their fundamental problems”. He may be right.
The most notable electoral defeat has been that of the Constitutional Union party (UC), which lost 34 representatives (preserving only 14 of 50), but its collapse is not surprising as it is one of the most clearly ‘administrative’ parties (constituted thanks to the intervention of a previous minister of the Interior) of the Moroccan political scene. It was followed in the ranking of much talked about electoral collapses by the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), losing 25 of its previous 32 seats, which also came as no shock as its General Secretary, former Interior Ministry policeman Mahmud Archane had been identified as a torturer by the press and human rights organisations. Although they have lost some seats, all the area formed by Berber parties such as the National Popular Movement (MNP) and the Popular Movement (MP) have retained voter loyalty in the country’s Berber areas. Together with them are the Democratic Force’s Front (FFD), a division of the old PPS communist party and direct heir to the original communist party, more or less preserving their previous establishment, and various other parties. All of them will be very much courted by whomever the king chooses to entrust with the complicated mission of forming a government.
Morocco, with a sad history of electoral manipulation, has not been completely beyond suspicion this time either. The delays in publishing the results are inconceivable, and hard to understand since Spanish company Indra specifically computerised the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior over one parliamentary term of office ago. It is difficult then to talk about a democratic before and after, and it may be necessary to wait for a next occasion for elections that are not just clean, but also seen to be clean.
The Irresistible Rise of Islamism
For some years studies carried out by the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior have reflected a notable increase in the influence of islamist movements in society. Nadie Yassin, the daughter of the historic leader of the Al Adl ua-l Ihsan (Justice and Charity) organisation, stated shortly before the elections that her group would sweep to victory if allowed to participate. Al Adl is probably the islamist organisation most introduced in Morocco and its leader Abdesalam Yassin perhaps one of those in all the Islamic world who have made more efforts to reflect on the Islamic state, Islamic economy and the relationship between Islam and the West. The PJD’s electoral triumph has led Al Adl leaders to consider the possibility of demanding an answer from the Ministry of the Interior regarding to their request to be allowed to form a political party in 1981. The possibility of their participating in future elections leaves little doubt that islamism could really obtain a comfortable majority in a future Moroccan parliament.
The PJD is described by the Moroccan administration and the press as a moderate islamist party. Moderate or not, there is no doubt that it promotes a vision of a world that seeks its own identity in opposition to the West, as is the case of nearly all the islamist pro-arabic and pro-islamic groups.
The lack of tact of islamist parliamentary group head Mustafa Ramid, who stated that his party could impose Sharia (strict islamic) law in the long term, and the complete absence of finesse and tactical sense of other of its leaders who went as far as to tell a foreign news agency that thieves –also in the long term- would have their hands cut off, dealt a blow to General Secretary Abdelilah Benkiran’s attempts to negotiate possible post-electoral co-operation with other parties.
However this Islamist advance invites us to examine some of the habitual cliches with regard to, for example, visceral opposition between Islamism and women. The women that move in the Islamist environment are not recruited from the illiterate 82% of all Moroccan women, who are mainly those from rural areas. The Islamist women politically active in different Moroccan groups are among the best educated and most professionally capable. Nadia Yassin, the revolutionary female icon of Moroccan Islamism and daughter of leader Abdesalam Yassin, has two university degrees.
Islamism’s political map also breaks with another established prejudice. Islamism is not strong in depressed and illiterate areas. Where it is strong is in the big urban areas such as Casablanca, and its voters are to be found among the professional and the skilled upper working class.
Probably the best expert on Moroccan Islamism, professor and researcher Mohammed Tozy, understood that the PJD’s victory did not really mean an advance in Islamism but could be explained by the way the party had carried out their electoral campaign. For Mohammed Tozy, the PJD’s electoral results will have above all an influence and a dynamising effect on Moroccan Islamism. It is in this area where the existing differences of thought among its component currents will most clearly emerge.
Women in Parliament
Thirty-four women have achieved a seat in the next parliament: thirty in the national quota lists reserved for women and four in the district lists, two more –double those of the 1997 elections. By a curious chance, these thirty women to be elected by the national lists have had the possibility to decide which of the three most voted parties would be the real winner of these elections. The vote in favour of women finally repeated the same tendencies shown by the electorate in the ‘men’s lists’, those from which the other 295 members of Parliament had to be elected.
Although article 8 of both the 1992 and 1998 Moroccan Constitution establishes that men and women have the same political rights, women never received any popular backing in their attempts to enter a misogynous Parliament until the 1990’s. It would be necessary to wait for 1997, when for the first time in Morocco’s parliamentary history two women gained access to Parliament.
Women currently form 51% of the Moroccan population, and while their participation in society, culture and economy is genuinely significant, legislation and government had up till then been forbidden to them.
In any case, the high number of women candidates -697 for the thirty quota seats and 269 candidates for the 295 seats available to both men and women, in contrast with the 72 female candidates that stood in the previous parliamentary elections in 1997- confirms the enormous interest that the opportunity -to obtain honourable representation in the Chamber of Representatives for the first time in Moroccan history- has awoken in women.
The Berber Question under Discussion
For many years forgotten and ignored, the Berbers –the early settlers of the Maghreb- have now been able to openly raise their historic claims and fight for recognition of the Berber identity, culture and language, protected by the last two year’s promises of freedom and fair practices for these governmental elections. Although the subject has not openly appeared in election campaign debates it was discussed in the months leading up to them.
Berber leader Ahmed Assid stated in the months before the campaign that “previously Amazig (Berber) political activists did not feel concerned by the elections, because elections ignored them and rejected their identity, language and culture”. “Now” he added, “we want a democratic Constitution that leads to a real Constitutional state”. In the meetings held, some of which were prohibited by the authorities, Berber activists said that no government had done anything to defend Berber identity, and that it is necessary that the authorities recognise Morocco’s cultural and ethnic diversity, based on the three pillars of Arabic, Amazig and Islam. The Amazig Alternative Project, The Amazig Network for Citizenship, the AMREC and the Amazig Manifesto, the Tamaynut Association and other Amazig organisations, which basically operate in Morocco from within NGOs, have demanded that a new Constitution be drawn up that also recognises Tamazight (the Berber language) as an official language of Morocco and that establishes a clear division between religion and State.
Curiously and in contrary to what might be supposed, it is not the Islamists that most oppose these movements but left wingers and conservatives. In the socialist newspaper Liberation Mohammed El Gahs, a journalist elected in these elections, wrote that “many are sceptical about the visibility of the Amazig question because they sincerely believe in the virtues of national integration”. He went on to warn against sectarian exploitation of this question, although he “recognised the relevance and legitimacy of Amazig cultural claims” and also affirmed that “there is injustice to be recognised and put right and a claim to be satisfied”.
On the other hand, the pro-French weekly Maroc-Hebdo in a piece by principal article writer Abdelatif Mansur titled ‘The Berber Threat’ asked “After so many centuries of promiscuity, who today can seriously say that he or she is completely Berber, Arab or Arab-Andalusian?” “This is a dangerous tendency” he added, ”particularly now that we are undertaking an integrated political solution for our southern provinces.”
The Amazig question has arisen in any case, and the wide self-government promised to the Sahara as a ploy to gain western sympathies will not be without consequences in Moroccan Berber regions that are demanding respect for their culture and language, whether the rest of the country understands it or not.
The constitutional debate is probably the most recurrent theme in the whole history of Morocco’s independence. With the possible exception of the first Constituent controversies under Mohammed V in 1956, the 2002 referendum has been the occasion where the debate about the need for Constitutional reform in order to bring about the coming of real democracy to Morocco has provoked most interest.
Although Constitutional reform is perceived as one of the Moroccan left-wing’s fundamental claims, practically all sectors of the countries, Islamists and conservatives included, have requested reform of one aspect or another of the Constitution. From a political viewpoint the essential points of the constitutional review requested concern the extensive powers and prerogatives granted to the Monarchy, to whose central position in the Moroccan political system the constitutional text is dedicated.
Last July the Moroccan press announced the birth of a movement made up by 27 organisations for a democratic Constitution. The movement’s presentation in the first days of July was accompanied by a round table on this theme. The lawyer Ahmed Benyellun, organiser of one of the left-wing tendencies, affirmed that people had lost confidence in political parties and official speeches, and that the country’s economic situation had done nothing but get worse. Therefore, he asked, “What purpose can elections serve, even if they are transparent and honest, if the Constitution is still the same and will neither allow the coming of real democracy nor guarantee that a strong government can be formed, responsible for the country’s politics?”
Without doubt those who raised the review of the Constitution had in mind the existence of a dozen articles that grant the king powers they consider excessive, such as the power to nominate the prime minister and ministers, to have the country’s defence and security under his protection, to demand revision of the text of law made by Parliament and the power to address messages to Parliament that can not be challenged. To this are added the ministers known as ‘sovereignty’ ministers: ministers for Justice, Foreign Affairs, Religion and Religious Assets that confirm that the king leads a second government parallel to the one which should theoretically be a consequence of the will expressed by the voters.
Who Rules Morocco
The question who rules Marroco fascinates experts on the Majzen, this parallel government ruled by the king, and the answers have never been easy. Things have been clarified somewhat with Mohammed VI and to a certain extent it can be affirmed that this second government - which the king uses to supervise the country’s really important and sensitive issues- is made up by a group of military commanders from different control centres, technocrats recruited from ex government ministers or lecturers or graduates of various specialities, advisors, trusted individuals from rich and influential families, old colleagues from the Royal College within the king’s trusted and finally the royal family itself.
Some military names are already well known, such as General Hamid Laanigri, head of the DST or interior intelligence service, General Ahmed el Harchi, director of the DGED or exterior intelligence service, General Hosni Bensliman head of the Gendarmerie and General Bouchaib Arrub, head of military intelligence.
Notable among the technocrats are Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Taieb Fassi Fihri and ex ministers Mohammed el Kabbaj, Mohammed Moatassim and Ahmed el Midaui (ex Minister of the Interior). Of the advisors, those specially worthy of mention are Andre Azulay, initiator of the G-14 think tank that has provided the king with numerous advisors, Abdelazis Mezian Belfkih the head of the Royal Office, Fadel Benyaich, and a woman, Zulika Nasri.
It is however the old school colleagues closest to the king who give coherence to and organise the whole quasi-governmental fabric of the Majzen. Some of their names are familiar to us from their leading role in this summer’s Peril Island crisis. Above all they are Fuad al Himma, currently Interior Secretary of State, Hasssan Aurid, Palace spokesman, Abdelhak Lemrini, head of Royal Protocol, and closest to the king, Mohammed Rochdi Chraibi, director of the royal cabinet.
Following them, and further down the scale in the king’s circle, are those who are also government ministers in charge of Sovereignty Ministries, such as Mohammed Benaissa (Exterior) Driss Yetú (Interior) Omar Azziman (Justice) and Abdelkebir Alaui Mdagri (Religion).
Lastly, in the area of confidential relationships, the king’s brother prince Mulay Rachid, princesses Lalla Asma, Lalla Hasna and Lalla Meriam, Lalla Meriam’s children Lalla Sukaina and Mulay Driss, the king’s cousins Mulay Abdala Alaui and Mulay Dris Alaui and numerous other family members.