The Moroccan Islamists are coming back to power stronger than ever
Prior to the electoral campaign and even during, political analysts, experts, and pundits were all saying that the time of the Islamists of PJD (Party of Justice and Development) is up and that the secularists of PAM (Party for Authenticity and Modernity) will win the general elections. Even the Head of the Government himself, somewhat hinted that they are ready to become the opposition.
Specialists and ordinary people invoked all kinds of reasons for the demise of the Islamists in the October 7, 2016 general elections:
- They failed to deliver the goods they promised during the last electoral campaign: the economy is sluggish, the youth are still disenchanted because of crucial lack of jobs, corruption is thriving, nepotism is at its best, embezzlement of funds is still current, etc.
- The PJD was more interested to please the World Bank than the very Moroccan people that brought it to power. The Islamist government is slowly but surely cutting the crucial subsidies of the staple goods.
- PJD cadres or sympathizers were involved in land-grab and sexual scandals, etc.
- The establishment is using the PJD to ride the unpredictable Arab Spring, no more.
- The grassroots are very unhappy with the policies of PJD and this time around they will vote them out of office;
But to the amazement of everyone, the Islamists won the elections and had more seats (125) than the last elections (107), so it means they are coming back more confident to hold power. Nevertheless, they will need to form a coalition government to rule and in this particular situation they are subject to the diktat of small parties which often want more than their political power allows them.
Islamist electoral “miracle”
Is the return of PJD to the helm of the country the result of God’s sent miracle to humiliate the Pam secularists? The answer is definitely no. It is the result of several PJD political attributes:
- They are more organized locally and nationally and more disciplined and regimented;
- They have a better propaganda machinery making use of the communicative wonders of the Internet and social media. Two days before the voting day they sent messages on Whatsapp telling their faithful to vote early in the morning and before midday prayer time and reminding them that to vote in favor of PJD is a divine obligation that will be gratified by paradise;
- Their sympathizers and cadres crisscrossed the country distributing leaflets, meeting with the people and making promises in down to earth manner, far from the pattern of the other parties who try to buy votes by promises, food or money; and
- The most important weapon of PJD is the use of religion. The Friday prayer sermons can be a potent propaganda weapon and they made use of that though these sermons are, in principle, sent from the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Rabat.
Unlike other parties, PJD is all the time in touch with the population; they help them out in dire situations with money and sympathy. Very much like the IKhwan in Egypt, they provide social services that the state has practically abandoned to save money. They organize funerals and marriages for the poor and provide them with a free ram to celebrate ‘id al Adha “the Feast of Sacrifice” in total dignity, help them defray the costs of expensive medical services. Consequently, they are, indirectly, brainwashed in becoming “soldiers” of the party ready to do anything the party will ask them to do in an expression of gratitude. Thus, voting for the party’s glory becomes a religious obligation as important as the five prayers of the day.
Unlike other Islamist parties in the Arab World, PJD has always being pro –establishment. They have no ambition to change the regime, but on the contrary they want to stay under the traditional umbrella of the sultan. Benkirane, the Head of the Government has always shown incredible support for the monarchy and, as a matter of fact, he has left many of his own constitutional prerogatives to the discretion of the king, in a show of gratitude and respect.
After the celebrations of this important win that already many cadres and rank and file consider as a “divine sign,” the PJD will have to face the reality of Moroccan politics. Basically, most of the Moroccan political parties are mere pressure groups seeking material gains for their party members. So the parties that Bekirane will select would want maximum benefits from their support, so they will bargain hard. It will probably take many weeks for the PJD to form a coalition government, but that is the price to pay.
The negotiations of the PJD to form a coalition government will, undoubtedly, enfeeble the party because it will be compelled, to form the much-wanted coalition, to give up some ministerial portfolios such as foreign affairs and interior and as such will not have any control on some important political areas. In the first government after the win in 2011, Istiqlal was part of the coalition but it was very greedy and its incessant demands for more portfolios created havoc within the coalition leading to its departure.
Apart from the Istiqlal, the other major parties like the RNI (National Gathering of Independents,) UC (Constitutional Union,) MP (Popular Movement,) and PPS (Party for Progress and Socialism,) will basically accept what PJD will offer them in terms of ministerial posts and will hopefully not negotiate to get what is more than their worth in the political scene.
PJD and the West
PJD has a good press in Washington and the US must be happy about their win. At a time when ISIS and the violent Salafists are wrecking havoc in Western capitals with their terrorist attacks and violent agenda, PJD very much like Ennahda in Tunisia are examples to encourage in power-sharing schemes in the fractured Arab lands with the hope that with time they will become like Christian democrats parties in Europe.
Morocco is undoubtedly an exception in the Arab world and it is, also, a political lab in which important tests are undertaken that could, ultimately, be of help to the rest of the Arab world.
The October 7, 2016 general elections were conducted in total transparency and when everyone was expecting the establishment to favor the party with royalist leanings i.e. PAM, the Islamists won the day majestically. But, now they have to be up to the task and deliver the goods and in this particular area there is no room for divine miracles, it is only a question of hard work and good faith. Will they succeed, that is the question?
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu