We cannot consider the tense relations between Morocco and Egypt, as well as the UAE, in isolation from the fact that the Justice and Development Party leads the governing coalition in Rabat. Although immoral and politically unjustified to do so, the party rode on the coat-tails of sister or friendly Islamic movements in other Arab countries. It played a pioneering role in paving the way for gradualism and consensus in the transition to democracy. The party also contributed early on to separating politics from preaching, and was one of the first to adopt a wide swathe of democratic and human rights values and principles in its political and intellectual rhetoric.
However, it seems that the severe level of polarisation, the McCarthyite campaigns against the Muslim Brotherhood and the emergence of “militant Islam” and its spread across many countries in the region, has made it difficult for some regimes, governments and spokespeople to distinguish between one school of thought and another. The common political rule these days dictates the placing of all political Islam movements and schools of thought into one basket and dealing with them all as a single unit.
I remember the atmosphere of caution and doubt in which Dr Saad Eddine Al-Othmani was received in early 2003 by Jordanian Islamists in Amman when he was the JDP’s Secretary-General. On that day, the secular Jordanians and Arabs attending the “Political Parties in the Arab World Conference” welcomed the proposals of the man who would become his country’s foreign minister 10 years later. I remember the barrage of “denial” questions rather than “questioning” questions that rained down on him concerning his party’s reference points.
When I was in Turkey in April 2012, along with a broad selection of senior officials from a number of Arab political parties, Al-Othmani was the spokesperson for the JDP. He was the most aware of the lessons to be learnt from the Turkish experience at the time, specifically those related to the dichotomy between the state and religion, Islam and secularism, military and civil issues. At that time, the Islamists from the Levant, the Arab Peninsula and Yemen all busied themselves with the futile search for what was “Islamic” about the Turkish Justice and Development Party’s rhetoric until one of the party leaders said, “Anything that benefits Turkey is true Islam”. This was either taken verbatim or was translated to mean the language of debt, development, average income per capita, and the size of direct foreign investment.
A few days ago in Amman, during a conference on “Islamists and governance: readings into five experiences”, the Jordanians present thought that the first speaker in the session dedicated to discussing the Moroccan experience was actually the representative of the Justice and Development Party, the governing party in Rabat. This was due to his exaggerated praise for its experience and its openness to the rest of the political spectrum; its commitment to the rules of the democratic game; the peaceful transfer of power; and the party’s keenness to build alliances and coalitions. However, they found out later that the speaker was actually a leader from the Party of Progress and he was referring to the experience of unity and struggle with the Justice and Development Party in his speech.
Such “personal testimonies” drive me to view with much concern the campaign of incitement and hostility launched against the JDP by other parties outside Morocco. This campaign was launched without the careful consideration of the fundamental differences between the JDP in Morocco (as well as Ennahda in Tunisia) and the other Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups in our region. This approach not only harms the party but also harms the neighbouring area, given the JDP’s relatively advanced experience in the field of political reform and democratic transition, in the light of the Moroccan monarchy which has been rooted deeply in the history of the state and society.
The demonisation of the Islamic movement without distinguishing between its various schools of thought and groups is not at all politically correct; in fact, the consequences are catastrophic in every sense. We are concerned about observing the policies of marginalisation and exclusion faced by some groups by their governments and we refuse to let this be replicated in Jordan or Morocco. How can these policies be issued by “foreign parties” and target a neighbouring country without them having any knowledge or familiarity with the context of the political, social, cultural and historical development of these groups?
It is true that the crisis between Egypt and Morocco has another aspect; that is, the position on the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara, but it is also true that this crisis would not have been exacerbated and transformed into some sort of media war if the Justice and Development Party had been the minority or opposition in the Moroccan parliament. If it weren’t for the incident when an Egyptian delegation visited Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf, Algeria, then these relations would not be in the context of the raging conflict between the Islamists and secularists, the Brotherhood camp and the deep state and civil society, or the latest Arab dichotomies.
Translated from Addustour newspaper, 7 January, 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.