In reaction to the unexpected 7 October elections shock, the deep state apparently has engaged fervently in reshaping its long term tactics to regain monopoly over relations with political actors. True, the pattern of launching constitution-based reforms and then halting nascent experiences a few years later is not new in the kingdom’s modern history. However, the 2011-2016 developments have traits of their own, especially the growing popularity of some PJD-led parties that believe in democratisation without forsaking the country’s stability or the regime’s legitimacy.
To understand the new dynamics, the state needed a break. Instead of pushing democratisation forward, its key representatives in the political arena were changed. The torch of defending the makhzen’s political-economic interests was handed on from the Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) party to the National Rally for Independents (RNI). The first failed to block the government from the outside during Benkirane’s mandate. The second is now charged with blocking government reforms in their cradle.
In fact, the five-month political void – blockage – exemplified post-2011 incessant bone-breaking steps between the deep state and its allying parties on the one hand and resistance from the PJD and its allying parties and groups on the other. This time, the deep state was compelled to play in the open and downgrade its democratisation promises that youngsters still share and giggle about on social media. The resultant government both lacks social depth and includes a weird mixture of parties and technocrats, which demonstrates a grim lack of respect for public will. However, no matter what the incentives, the new government won’t enjoy much popularity and may fall at any time for a myriad of reasons.
The first is based on closing the Arab Spring experiences. After the failure of the military coup in Turkey it has become more urgent for regional and international powers to smother another Islamist-led experience. Success of the two experiences would lay the seeds for creating a crescent of conservative democrats in the region that would put the interests and privileges of non-democrats at stake. That the Moroccan state cowers to the foreign powers’ impositions will accumulate public anger and make public patience a ticking bomb, especially since Moroccans are aware of those powers’ roles in creating the quagmires different Arab countries are undergoing these days.
The second on the false impression that the rise of Trumpism and ousting Islamists regionally justify halting the nascent democratic experience. Despite the highly expected pressure, Morocco loses more when it abandons its experience. In the last five years, Morocco has had problems over the Sahara affair with the US administration and congress, the UN secretary-general, the EU tribunal, some European countries such as Sweden and approximately all North African countries, except post-Gaddafi Libya. To meet the common challenge, the main narrative Morocco depends on has been that it is a unique experience in the region and that its slow democratisation experience showcases the autonomy plan that the Sahrawi people are promised. Today, by halting the experience, what narrative is there to convince African and international stakeholders that the autonomy plan is serious enough?
Third, it is based on intimidating the PJD. Intimidation started with manipulating the 2015 regional election outcome in which the PAM got a low number of votes, but jumped over region presidencies to govern five out of 12. Intimidation aggravated the 2016 election atmosphere to culminate in a deadlock that resulted in ousting Benkirane, the only party secretary-general who dared to participate in the October elections while other secretary-generals favoured watching his harsh game with the PAM, deep state representative. Given the PJD’s popularity through social media and grassroots dynamism, intimidating the party is actually a humiliation for all believers in the possibility of slow but sure democratising steps, whether they voted or not. In the future, voter turnout will potentially plummet while social mobilisation will potentially surge, as a result.
This may explain why Abdelouafi Laftit the former governor of Rabat is now the interior minister. Observers explain his cabinet membership as a punishment for the PJD, with whom he had a lengthy animosity in the Rabat city council. However, the experience Laftit has garnered in suppressing and dismantling street mobilisation in front of the parliament allows functioning as a pre-emptive move towards social mobilisation in the country at large.
Fourth, the current government is based on ensuring the deep state’s hegemony. Possibly, it is unprecedented that a politician, Aziz Akhannouch, publicly declares his intention to join the government to hinder which are against his interests. His very first conditions were for the government to keep subsidising gas products, from which he is the main benefiter, and leave out providing direct financial help for poor families. Benkirane prioritised the project, and the deep state feared it would blur its image of being the only aid donor. Today, Akhannouch alone is the minister of agriculture, marine fisheries, rural development, waters and forests. The state puts hands on other key domains via other RNI ministers and a plethora of technocrats.
Fifth, the new government is based on weakening party politics. This happens through creating extra rage between them and punishing those who celebrate freedom of decision-making. The PJD, Istiqlal Party and Progress and Socialism (PPS) party were punished differently for independent decision-making. Meanwhile, some ministers were parachuted on some parties to legitimise cabinet membership. Also, despite participating in the deadlock, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces party has received negligible posts in the cabinet. Party failure and absence of strong parties facilitate slipping not only into dictatorship but also into chaos when uprisings happen.
The list of factors can go on, but generally, from the onset, the government formation counters the public will. This sends a dim message to the Moroccan citizens that their voices are meaningless, which potentially will ignite a stronger mobilisation in the country if a second wave of the Arab Spring occurs.