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Morocco’s PJD learns from Arab Spring by promoting reform and preserving stability

September 7, 2016 at 9:21 am

Image of Palestinians casting their vote during election season [apaimages]

In the run-up to the 7 October legislative elections in Morocco campaigning is well under way, with the main political parties engaged in different strategies. The Establishment-backed Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) promises to save the country from collapse, turning a blind eye to the government’s efforts of the past five years. In a way, the PAM brings to mind Tunisia’s Nidaa Tounes scenario of riding the wave of ousting Islamists, notwithstanding its own peculiar weaknesses and pitfalls. A front is developing gradually, led by the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD), though, and is trying to counter despotism and learn from the Arab Spring in different Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries.

One example comes from Egypt. When Mohamed Morsi was elected president, it was difficult to form a coalition not only due to the demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also because pre-election dynamics demonstrated that there was little readiness for compromise amongst the other parties. The consensus necessitated an analysis of early signs of regression, which the political sphere could not secure as internal and external strife intensified rapidly.

Although neither Arab nor wholly part of the Middle East, another example can be taken from the failed coup in Turkey. By highlighting the public interest and allowing the opposition a degree of freedom of speech within reasonable limits, different political parties were encouraged to join together in public rallies to defend democratic choices. This encouraged a journalist from Dogan Media group, despite the company’s problems with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to use her own telephone to help reverse the course of the military putsch.

Thus, in times of crisis and regression, the post-2011 developments tell the MENA region that mutual concessions and prioritising common concerns instead of sticking to ideological trends help to mitigate the effect of counter-revolutions. Though MENA experiences have produced diverse outcomes depending on local details, initiating compromises before or during decisive events facilitates a better outcome for risks and challenges. Put differently, political, demographic and ideological changes in the MENA region in the twenty-first century, a key recipe for stability, need to transcend the traditional left-right, secularist-Islamist divisions to build a more significant dichotomy between supporters of democracy and despotism.

In this regard, the PJD has taken a number of inclusive steps to avoid post-election segregation, no matter what the ballot box results might be. First, the party favoured the easing of tensions with the Independence Party (IP) after its secretary general, Hamid Chabat, made sometimes irrational remarks about the government and its head, Abdelilah Benkirane of the PJD. The second step was to agree with the Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS) to form a coalition either to run the next government or join together in opposition.

More significantly, the PJD has encouraged some “national figures” to join its electoral lists, without necessarily sharing its ideological inclinations. The main bond between them is a readiness to struggle against the corruption and despotism that the PAM is trying to defend.

First, the PJD welcomed Najib Ouazzani, the secretary general of the Democratic Age (Al Ahd) Party to lead its list in the north-eastern Al Hoceima province. The aim is not only to get Al Ahd’s support but more importantly to guarantee defeating Ilyas Elomari, PAM secretary general, in his own area. Elomari has decided not to participate, especially as his party duties require mobility and visibility nationwide.

Furthermore, the PJD has suggested Hmad El Kabbaj to lead its list in the Gueliz province in Marrakech. Hmad is a prominent Salafist orator who broke from Mohamed El Maghraoui, the leader of the Salafists in Morocco, after the latter had supported bankrolling the military coup in Egypt. He has been closer to moderate Islamists ever since. His candidacy can serve to attract Salafist votes, show the PJD’s openness and — perhaps most of all — increase the Salafists’ trust in party politics and democratic exchange of power.

The PJD has also invited Mohamed El Hamdaoui, the ex-president of the Movement for Unification and Reform (MUR), to lead its list in the northern city of Larache. The party justified the choice by the need to solve local disputes in Larache, but this candidature makes a larger transition, given El Hamdaoui’s prominence within MUR. The PJD may attract more adherents from MUR, get the support of Islamists who trust El Hamdaoui and, in the long run, incorporate his organisational experience in solving deeper challenges of loyalty to the party’s founding principles.

Furthermore, the PJD general secretariat suggested that Najib Chawki should feature among the youth quota list. Chawki, a young leftist, ex-February 20 Movement (F20M) activist and current chief editor of, refused the suggestion politely, primarily because of his ideological convictions and respect for the PJD’s young supporters. Nevertheless, what pushed the ruling party to approach him is his faithfulness to the F20M soul. His activism for democracy and denunciation of corruption and despotism has been continuous, especially in the press. As such, even without him joining its youth quota list, the PJD has built another bridge with young democracy-seekers.

In addition, Bouchta Bousouf, ex-PAM member and renowned businessman, was expected to lead the PJD list in the Taounat province against two ministers. He later refrained after a meeting with the Taounat governor, but rumours suggest that he had to withdraw due to threats.

These moves demonstrate the willingness of the PJD and its allies to cooperate on the grounds of democratisation and the fight against despotism. This will only prove fruitful, however, if foreign and local pressures do not push for the whole experience to be stifled.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.