The Islamists are Back in Power in Morocco
Prior to and during the electoral campaign, political analysts, experts and pundits all claimed that the influence of the PJD (Party of Justice and Development) was over and that the secularists of PAM (Party for Authenticity and Modernity) would win the general elections because the Islamists had failed to deliver what they had promised during the last electoral campaign: the economy is sluggish, the youth are still disenchanted because of the lack of jobs, corruption is rampant, nepotism flourishes, embezzlement of funds and land-grabs and sexual scandals are rampant, and they cut the crucial subsidies of staple goods in their attempt to satisfy the World Bank.
It appeared that the PJD could no longer invoke the Arab Spring.
But to the amazement of everyone, the Islamists won the elections with more seats (125) than the last election (107) which means they are more confident. Nevertheless, they will need to form a coalition government and are subject to the diktat of small parties which often want more political power than they are allowed.
Islamist electoral “miracle”
Is the return of PJD to the helm of the country the result of God’s will 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 machine making use of the communicative wonders of the Internet and social media. Two days before the election 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 as a divine obligation that will be rewarded in paradise.
Their sympathizers and cadres crisscrossed the country distributing leaflets, meeting with the people and making down to earth promises which were more convincing than the other parties who try to buy votes by promises, food or money.
The most important weapon of PJD is their use of religion. The Friday prayer sermons can be a potent propaganda weapon which they capitalized on by sending them from the Ministry of Wakf and Islamic Affairs in Rabat.
Unlike the other parties, PJD remains in touch with the population and provides assistance 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 Eid al-Adha “the Feast of Sacrifice” and help them defray medical expenses. Consequently, the population is indirectly brainwashed into becoming “soldiers” of the party ready to do anything the party will ask of them as 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 been 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 which many cadres and rank and file consider to be 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 to maximize benefits from their support and so they will bargain. It will probably take many weeks for the PJD to form a coalition government, but that is the price to pay.
The PJD negotiations to form a coalition government will, undoubtedly, weaken the party because it will be compelled to form the much-wanted coalition and give up some ministerial portfolios such as foreign and interior affairs and as such will not have any control over 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 offers them in terms of ministerial posts and will hopefully not negotiate to get what is more than their worth.
PJD and the West
PJD receives good press in Washington and the US must be happy about their win. At a time when ISIS and the violent Salafists are causing havoc in Western capitals with their terrorist attacks and violent agenda, PJD, very much like Ennahda in Tunisia, are examples that encourage power-sharing schemes in the fractured Arab lands with the hope that in time they will become like the Christian democratic 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 with 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 to 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.