Morocco: Don't expect change despite the Islamists' defeat
In the Moroccan election, which took place on 8 September, the resounding defeat of the Islamist-led governing coalition was long expected by those who follow Moroccan politics: the policies adopted, positions taken and battles fought during the ten years in which the Justice and Development Party (PJD) was the majority party in government (2011-2021) are to blame for the party’s decline while the religious overtones the party adopted in all its communications with the public at large did nothing to change this.
Since Morocco’s independence in 1956, there have been many political and cultural shifts with the rise of the nationalist parties the most potent expression of the changes taking place in Moroccan society in the decades which followed.
Morocco subsequently embraced new values, and many began calling for a separation between religion and state. However, the self-centred ambitions of political leaders repeatedly withheld the development of the political landscape in Morocco.
"[The PJD] had developed an inflated sense of self, believing in its own wisdom, while most of its leaders were in fact out of touch with what has been happening in Moroccan society"
During the 'rotational government' era between 1998 and 2007, the overriding concern among the politicians involved was to maximise their own material gain and grip on power and they effectively ignored both their own political parties and the needs of wider society.
The PJD conducted itself similarly. Thus, the same PJD that firmly opposed the legalisation of cannabis farming and the normalisation deal with Israel then helped pass these policies, with flimsy justifications for their volte face.
First, the old nationalist parties disintegrated. Then the PJD revealed, during its ten years in charge of the government, that it had no real plan for society, and no vision taking into account the country's history which could respond to the changes going on in Morocco and the world.
It had developed an inflated sense of self, believing in its own wisdom, while most of its leaders were in fact out of touch with what has been happening in Moroccan society, and were not engaged with the internal and external challenges the country was facing.
Elections without programmes
Those who were following the build-up to the elections may have noticed that the main preparation undertaken by most parties was to seek the support of celebrities and other prominent personalities from a wide variety of areas in order to attract voters.
The endorsements of businessmen, property owners, entrepreneurs, tribal sheikhs from rural areas, famous sports personalities, artists, and those with influence in the trade and industrial sectors was eagerly sought by many of the competing political parties who, when possible, chose to nominate these figures as candidates.
In the run-up to the elections, numerous political debates were held in which leading party officials gushed over the status of these celebrities and their important role in society, stressing the importance that they are integrated into elected political institutions. Even though this is not a new phenomenon in Moroccan elections, the extent to which it has become standard practice across the political spectrum points to a shift that has occurred within the political system in recent years.
None of the discussion was about party manifestos or policies: the arguments filling social media focussed on criticising the misuse of funds, as in the last two elections it had focussed on criticising the exploitation of religion and religious populism. It seemed as though these relentless discussions would lead to definitive action being taken to tackle these problems.
However, the elections of 2011 and 2016 did not yield the changes Moroccans were anticipating and likewise no steps were taken to develop the democratisation process in their country. This time around, all the conversation revolved around the ethics of switching political parties, the personal virtues of candidates and good management, and how to win parliamentary seats.
As for the Salafist groups which had formerly sympathised with some of the values claimed by the PJD, they watched, as many others did, the serious errors made during both their terms and did not support them a third time.
Many movements affiliated to the PJD had become overwhelmed with managing divisions stemming from vicious infighting in the PJD itself and the PJD's obsession with its illusory leadership and chasing after quick benefits, and similarly did not come out in the PJD's support.
The party seemed to forget, as did the organisations and associations linked to it, that its self-perception as tightly organised and its constant repetition of "purity and asceticism" were no protection against the temptations that came with high-ranking positions and the accompanying perks and privileges. These temptations made it forget the slogans and principles of its opposition years.
"After this break with political Islam, it is necessary for the new majority to think about growth and development and to confront the challenges of Morocco today"
The elections of 8 September ended the era of a party that had believed that it alone could offer a solution, advance towards democratic transition and tackle the "sanctioned tyranny and corruption" of the judicial system. However, during the decade it held power it held firm to its slogan "Reform and Stability", viewing itself as the only party which could provide stability politically and socially.
It did not perceive that the temporary impasse it faced upon its second election in 2016 was due to its own missteps and its growing attachment to power.
Then, as a result of Benkirane's dismissal as prime minister - for refusing to accept the liberal National Rally of Independents (RNI) party's terms for a coalition government - and his replacement with El Othmani, who swiftly agreed, the party splintered and appeared to have two heads, with Benkirane still commanding a following from among the party's rank and file and appearing from time to time to weigh in on government decisions.
This was at a time when everyone knew that the party fundamentally owed its apparent strength to the disintegration of the Moroccan left.
Returning to the elections and their results, and considering the new majority, we have many questions about the policy choices which will be made as we enter into a new political era. A new plan for growth has been proposed by a special committee to which the parties have contributed to.
After this break with political Islam, it is necessary for the new majority to think about growth and development and to confront the challenges of Morocco today. Indeed, ten years of de-modernisation have yielded nothing except climbdowns and disappointments. But before answering whether the new majority be able to create a new political landscape, let us remember that nothing has ever really changed in Morocco.
This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original article click here.
Translated by Rose Chacko
Kamal Abdul Latif is a Moroccan university lecturer, teacher, and author. His books include "The Laroui Lesson, In Defense of Modernity and History" and "The Arab Revolutions, New Challenges and Potential Battles".
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.