The Reasons for Wrath
Kenza Sefrioui - 09/12/2011
On Friday the 25th November, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) (1) won the legislative elections with 27% of elected representatives and 107 seats out of 395 in parliament. Three days later, its general secretary, Abdelilah Benkiran was appointed president. A few weeks after Tunisia and a few days before Egypt, for the first time, an Islamist party claims its victory in Morocco. With a long history in opposition since its inception in 1998, and establishing itself in major cities across a wide social assistance network, the PJD appears as a team of new men and the Party is not compromised in the control of public affairs. Its speech on the moralisation of public life made a hit.
Protests and institutional reforms
These elections are the paradoxical consequence of the protest movement that took place in Morocco this year. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions and their demands for dignity, social justice and democracy had indeed a strong impact on the kingdom, an authoritarian regime riddled with corruption and where the youth (young people under 25 represent 51% of the population) are affected by mass unemployment that has reached 31.7% in the cities. The political scientist Mohamed Darif recalls that “Morocco has carried out institutional reforms during the past decade but the 20th February Movement and the Arab Spring have accelerated the process.”
Late January, a independent group of young people launched on social networks, a video calling for protest on Sunday the 20th February, designated as a Day of Dignity, to denounce corruption, claim quality education and public health services as well as a democratic constitution(2). The 20th February Movement brings together independent youngsters and is supported by the left-wing and extreme left-wing parties such as the united socialist party Annahj Addimocrati, unions and Human rights associations. These young people are immediately accused of challenging the monarchy and a counter-video was broadcasted to encourage people not to participate. “They have accused us of everything especially of being close to the Polisario in order to discredit us”, states Najib Chaouki, one of the Movement’s leader. The government has tried to calm the social unrest by ordering 255 000 tons of wheat and by subsidising oil and suger to bring the prices down.
The first demonstration day of took place on the 20th of February in 53 prefectures. These peaceful protes have rightaway become the subject of debate between the police who state there were only 37 000 protesters and the organisers who counted 238 000 persons(3). Acts of sabotage have taken place in several cities in an attempt to discredit the Movement that had started a series of weekly demonstrations. On the 9th March, in a television address, the king announced the setting up of a commission to draft a new constitution. The main aim is to implement a constitutional monarchy recognizing minorities, ensuring an independent judiciary and strengthening the role of the government. The commission was composed of different political representatives but was boycotted by the extreme left wing, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and the 20th February Youth Movement. After the speech, demonstrations and sit-ins were violently dispersed and subject to a police crackdown leaving dozens of injured. Nonetheless, on the 20th March, the demonstrators (50 000 in Casablanca, 6 000 in Rabat and a few hundreds in more than 80 cities) maintained the pressure and demanded more reforms.
In April, the government promised a 15% increase of the minimum wage and gave an increase in the salaries of the civil servants by 600 dirhams. The attack that griefstruck Marrakech on the 28th April killing 17 people, did not undermine the resoluteness of the 20th February Movement that is still facing systematic repression, intimidation attemps and discreditation of its leaders. Beaten by the police in Safi on the 2nd June, Kamal El Omari died. However, Mohamed Darif stresses the fact that there has been no outburst of violence in Morocco: “There have certainly been a number of deaths but the situation is incomparable to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.” On the 17th of June, the king called for a referendum on the new constitution.
The referendum was set for the 1st July, a record time in a country where illiteracy is over 40%. It seemed like a plebiscite of the king: the ‘no’ side could scarcely express itself in the media, the propaganda was in full swing in public spaces and the ‘yes’ side who, according to the Collective Association for the Election Observation, was remunerated, confronted the 20th February Movement who called for boycott. As even if in the new text, the Parliament and the government have more power and the king keeps the title of Commander of the faithful for religious matters only and renounces to his sacredness, even if the Amazigh is recognised as an official language, the king remains the supreme master of political decisions. According to Mohamed Darif, the new constitution is “a step in the transition towards democracy” because “we have come to break with executive monarchy even if we don’t have a parliamentary monarchy yet. And how do we get there directly without any strong party? Yet, the 20th Februrary Movement has accused the way political parties are discredited.” The text was approved on the 1st July by 97.58%, with a record turnout of 75.5%. “The score is favoured by the autocracies” stated Moulay Hicham, the king’s cousin: “It soon became clear that the aim was more to offset Arab Spring’s threat to the monarchy than to carry out a thorough reform of the system.”(4) The Collective Association for Election Observation revealed a number of irregularities (votes without voters’ card, group voting, pressure on voters during the election, voters denied the right to vote because they never got their card, reports signed blank…). Following the referendum, early elections were held.
“Shattered political landscape”
The election turnout was only 45%, significantly lower than that of the referendum but more than that of the 2007 legislative elections marked by a record abstention of 63%. Najib Chaouki believes that “it’s the boycott that helped the Islamists to win the elections”. They have contributed to discredit the political parties hence the 20% blank votes. “This is a show of dissent towards the elections that were supposed to be founding ones”, stated Moulay Hicham(5). The journalist and left wing activist Abderrahim Tafnout beleives “this is a protest vote against the party of the monarchy, the Party of Authenticity and Modernity that allied with the administration parties by presenting themselves deceptively as modernist and against the historical reluctance of the left government”. According to him, “there has been no real victory for the PJD since the elections do not reflect the society’s dominant trends. The result shows that Morocco is facing a shattered political landscape.” Mohamed Darif also put the PJD’s victory into perspective even if the party “won a majority of seats with a million votes, with 1.6 million blank votes out of 13.4 million registered voters” and highlights the results of the Istiqlal Party (60 seats whereas it was the outgoing Prime minister’s party), the RNI(6) (52 seats) and the PAM(7), “47 seats, which is tremendous for a party that was formed only three years ago”. They are all well ahead the USFP(8). Najib Chaouki believes that “the government will have no popular basis.” If he welcomes the fact that “in nine months of protest, we have obtained what the parties have not achieved in 50 years”, he states that the change of government and the new elections only constitute “1% of our claims. We continue to demand a true democratic constitution and the end of corruption.” For the time being, the 20th February Movement has no intention of becoming a political party and has to face the heterogeneity of its constituent parts, between independent figures, the left-wing and extreme-left wing partisans and the Islamists of the prohibited organisation Al Adl wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity) that some accuse of controlling the Movement. “The Movement reflects society with its conservatives and progressives and we accept everyone as long as there is no call for violence and racism as we all struggling for the same causes” explains Najib Chaouki. Abderrahim Tafnout believes that within the Movement, “some do not clearly precise what change they are talking about. Al Adl wal Ihsan wants the deepening of Islamicisation in the country and the State but when we ask them to clarify what is left unsaid, they accuse us of wanting to divise the Mouvement. The 20th February should elaborate a societal project, propose an alternative”. The economist and Human rights activist Fouad Adbelmoumni is optimist: “The 20th February Movement has already contributed to the destruction of authoritarianism fundamentals and the king’s renunciation of sacredness. This is a very deep change. There is the emergence of new youth elites but we are only at the very beginning.”
Economic and social challenges
The 20th February Movement has brought forward demands that reflect the serious structural economic problems that Morocco is facing in a context of global crisis to the political scene. Najib Chaouki explains that “we are struggling against the problems that are pumping the country’s money: corruption, rent-based economy and lack of transparency…” According to Abderrahim Tafnout “the issues are not only technical but also political ones that affect production and the fair distribution of wealth. In Morocco, there is only one actor that holds the country’s economy and it is rent-based. Moroccans should be integrated in the process of economic development.” Fouad Abdelmoumni reminds that “when compared to the country’s resources, State costs are a blockade. We fall back on public resources and formal wage employment to pay a very consuming army, a poor administration in terms of cost/efficiency, a heavy political structure (palace, government, political parties and clientelism), the exorbitant cost of endemic corruption and strategic choices (the Sahara, the lack of a Maghreb union).” The appeasement measures taken this year’s (the recruitment of 4300 unemployed graduates, the civil servant’s wage increase, the explosion of the compensation fund’s budget reaching 9% of the GDP with 47 billion dirhams) are sidereal costs that were imposed on society in a scattered way without any clear evidence of political and economic change”.
It is in this difficult context that the PJD as liberal in economic terms as it is reactionary on social issues, is responsible of forming a coalition government and take economic and social decisions. The 20th February Movement called for demonstration last 4th of December, for a Day of Wrath…
1) - Parti Justice et Développement
2) - www.youtube.com/watch
3) - www.telquel-online.com/Marche.pdf
4) - sara-daniel.blogs.com/m-hicham.html
5) - Ibid.
6) - National Rally of Independants.
7) - Authenticy and Modernity Party.
8) - Socialist Union of Popular Forces.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech
This article has been written in the framework of the «Babelmed Arab World» project financed by the Foundation for the Future, the René Seydoux Foundation and Solidarités Laïques.