Since the early eighties, Morocco has often been considered immune to the spread of the Islamic fundamentalism which is widespread in many Muslim countries. This perception of Morocco as a region safe from Islamic fundamentalism has even been mentioned by the country¡¯s highest authorities. One of the arguments often put forward is the deeply rooted monarchist culture thanks to its direct involvement in the struggle for independence and its historic continuity. The survival of the Moroccan monarchy is intertwined with the survival of the country¡¯s religious institutions. Since the first constitution drafted in 1962 to the recent constitution of 1996, Morocco¡¯s king is recognised as the Amir al-M¨±minin or the Prince of the Believers (Art. 3) and his persona is considered ¡°sacred¡± (Art. 26). The sacred role of the monarchy has never been rejected by any political force (especially Ila-l- Amam). The Moroccan king¡¯s broad powers have rarely been questioned although, as of late, there have been more frequent demands for a new constitutional reform that would reduce and modulate the royal attributes. In the last electoral campaign even the Unified Socialist Left asked for a reduction in the monarch¡¯s competencies.
Another argument used in explaining Morocco¡¯s presumed immunity to the spread of fundamentalism, is the Salafist undercurrent in the Istiqlal Party¡¯s Islamic rhetoric, which the party has prided itself with since its beginnings. Nevertheless, the Istiqlal reformist Salafist group was soon criticised by groups close to the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Tunisian Islamism of Rashid al-Gannushi.
Not many today would be as adamant in public in denying Morocco¡¯s immunity to the spread of fundamentalism. The large demonstrations in Casablanca in March 2000 protesting against the reform of the Woman¡¯s Statutes was the first sign of the increasing force of Islamic sensitivity. Certain recent events, some even violent, have reopened the debate about the threat of religious extremism in the country. The impressive results of the Justice and Development Party¡¯s in the elections last 27 September¡ªrising from 14 seats in the House of Representatives to 42 seats, becoming the country¡¯s third most important political force, (11 of these just in the Casablanca area) has brought this debate more than ever to the limelight at the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Moroccan Islamic movement has several torchbearers: four of the major movements and two minority movements: the l¡¯Alternative Civilisationnelle and the Mouvement pour la Communaut¨¦; and two majority movements: Sheikh Abdessalam Yasin¡¯s well known Justice et Charit¨¦ movement (ostracized) and the PJD. In addition to these four groups, there is a shapeless and little organized mass made up of small Salafist leaning groups (close to the Saudi Wahhabi current), which have traditionally had little visibility although they have certainly been active in recent months.
On PJD and its electoral success
The PJD movement came into being as the result of the electoral rapprochement between the Islamic Reforme et Unicit¨¦ party and the former Popular Democratic and Constitutional official party of Dr. Abdelkrim Khatib, a staunch supporter of the crown. The constant confrontation of Justice et Charit¨¦ with the monarchy has brought Reforme et Unicit¨¦ gradually closer to the official positions. This is why the PJD is popularly known as the ¡°King¡¯s Islamites¡±.
Reforme et Unicit¨¦ has traditionally been characterised by its very diffused leadership in contrast with the almost monolithic leadership of Justice et Charit¨¦. This may be attributed to its origins as the union of several movements which emerged from the clandestine Islamic Youth Movement in 1981 (a group which also gave birth to the clandestine Jihad and the Islamic Evolution movements). Abdelillah Benkiran has led the process aimed at bringing the positions closer to Majzen. Nevertheless, this strategy has not always been obeyed in the bosom of the movement or by the PJD. Some of its most visible leaders, mainly Abub Tajakani and Mustapha Ramid, a declared enemy of the moderate Benkiran, have defended an orthodox interpretation of Islam based on the full application of the Sharia or religious law.
In recent days, the party¡¯s lack of ideological coherence, a consequence of this heterogeneity, has led to some surprising events. In a discreet electoral campaign, albeit with certain overtures to attract the vote of Sheikh Yasin¡¯s sympathizers, Benkiran said in the Egyptian newspaper, Al Ahram (3/9/2002) that the PJD would not apply fully the Sharia, but would only maintain the laws that were already in force. On the day after the elections, Saad E. el Otmani told Reuters that the PJD would prioritise the country¡¯s economic and social development versus the Sharia. Almost at the same time, Mustapha Ramid told La Tribune d¡¯Algerie (8/10/2002) that the party would fully apply the Koranic Law. These explosive statements put an end to the strategic rapprochement with the PJD directed by Abbes al Fassi, from the Istqlal with a view towards a possible post-electoral coalition on the right which up to then, the PJD had not seemed to reject.
Despite these clashing views within the group, there is no reason to doubt the moderate approach which the Reforme et Unicit¨¦ movement had demonstrated since the early nineties. The group has made every effort since 1992 to distance itself from the violent Algerian fundamentalist movement. Such is the case that in the last elections of 27 September, the PJD only ran in the 56 of the country¡¯s 91 electoral districts, renouncing a more than possible victory because, in Benkiran¡¯s words ¡°[¡ a victory) would be impossible to support politically in the country and abroad (¡) Morocco feels a phobia with respect to the Algerian scenario.¡± (Le Monde 29/9/2002).
The success of the PJD has been interpreted by Morocco¡¯s specialised media as a more than understandable success on the wake of the 11 September events and the impact of the Palestinian ¨C Israeli conflict. Even Justice et Charit¨¦ , despite championing abstention in all the elections, publicly celebrated PJD¡¯s success when Omar Aharshan congratulated the Moroccan people for not allowing themselves to be alienated (although, at the same time, Fatallah Arsalan, regretted that the success would not be of much help).
Nevertheless, although the post-11 September events could have meant more votes for the PJD, this situation was used by certain players to warn about the growing danger of extremism in the country. Prime Minister Abderraman Yussufi¡¯s Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP) party has been particularly adamant on these warnings. The relationships between the PJD and the USFP after the election campaigns have never been worse.
Salafist activism in recent months
The campaign launched before the elections to discredit moderate Muslim movements was also denounced by media groups close to the PJD (Al Asr, 21/08/2002) and others which had no ties with the movement, such as the weekly Tel Quel (14/9/2002). The campaign to discredit these groups was based on constant references to the violent events of May 2000 in which radical Islamic groups had been involved. Among these events, on 11 May a dormant Al Qaeda cell in the country had been dismantled; in July, guests at a wedding in Ulid Tunal, near Meknes were attacked; thirty members of several radical groups were arrested in August in Casablanca and Fez, etc. Even before the summer, the Saudi newspaper Sharq al Awsat, quoting sources close to Al Qaeda, confirmed that Bin Laden¡¯s organization planned to act shortly in Morocco and that preparations were already underway. A few days later, on 12 August, the terrorist Yabhat ansar al-Qaeda network sent a message to the Moroccan newspaper Le Matin urging Moroccans fundamentalists to respond strongly to the arrest of Salafist activists.
In early 2002, the Moroccan secret services detected an uncertain number of Moroccan veterans from Afghanistan entering the country via Iran. These new arrivals had most probably been actively implicated in the previously mentioned events. Mainly three groups had been involved in these violent acts: two smaller groups, Emirs de Gang and Attauhid and the most important of these three, the Hichra wa Takfir. This last group defines itself as a member of the Salaf¨ªa al-Yihad¨ªa, which includes other groups such as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat in Algeria and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Other members of six cells were arrested with the Hichra wa Takfir leaders (Yussef Fikri and Mohamed Damir). Thirty people, whose declared objective was to apply the Sharia by patrolling the country. In respect to Emirs de Gang, the Moroccan daily Al Ittihad al Ishtiraki (6/8/2002) estimated that it had 500 members in Fez and between 800 and 1,000 in Casablanca. Not much is known about Attauhid either, even after the arrest of several of its members in Casablanca who seemed to be trying to leave the country, most probably with Spain as their destination.
Nevertheless, these three groups do not seem to pose a serious violent fundamentalist threat. Most of the Morocco¡¯s political and Islamic experts, including Mohamed Darif and Mohamed Tozy, agree that, although it is not possible to deny the existence of active groups in the country, there is no strong or organized Salafist movement in Morocco. The escalation in recent months was probably the work of the weak pre-existing Salafist movement, reactivated following the arrival of the Moroccan veterans from Afghanistan who were detected by the Ministry of the Interior in early 2002.
The threat of Moroccan Islamic fundamentalism
Therefore, the intense debate that has sent shock waves in Morocco in recent months concerning the existence of a more than obvious threat from extremist groups, is, to some extent, artificial. Although the Spring and Summer of 2002 were months of unusual Salafist activities in the country, it may be said that the intensity of the debate far exceeds the magnitude of the presumed threat. The tension which was generated concerning the rise of fundamentalism was intensified in the months prior to September¡¯s election, coinciding with the official promises for a transparent election process. These promises meant that it was logical to expect an increase in the moderate Muslim vote because of two factors: in the 1997 legislative election, in which transparency was more than questioned, the moderates garnered broad support. We should note that at that time, the moderate Muslims denounced several irregularities that had, presumably, eroded their results. There was particular controversy in the Ben Msik and Fez districts which would have enabled the moderates to have their own parliamentary group. On the other hand, the PJD almost certainly obtained the greatest number of protest votes. In view of the PJD¡¯s predictable electoral success, it is understandable that some parties in the government coalition, particularly the USFP, fanned the tensions in the debate on the fundamentalist threat to the country.
Despite the recent shrillness, the moderate attitude of the PJD Islamic party should not be questioned. Their democratic commitment seems firm. The PJD, as mentioned by Mustafa Ramid, was the first party, jointly with the USFP, to explicitly interpret the appointment of Driss Yettu, a technocrat and former ministry of the interior, as the new prime minister as a backward step for Moroccan democracy (Le Monde 10/10/2002). On that very evening, he said that it would have been best for the prime minister to have been selected from one of the most voted parties which, we should note, included the USFP socialists.
Morocco is not under any serious threat of an explosion of fundamentalism. The two events that have recently fed the controversy on the threat from extremists should be examined in light of the past month¡¯s pre-election tensions and the lack of any linkage between the violent acts since last Spring until the PJD victory. The situation in respect to Moroccan Islamic fundamentalism is not that different now as it was two or three years ago.