Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

Benkirane’s loss was attributed to the failure of the PJD leadership to absorb the historical, constitutional, institutional and sociological realities in Morocco.

Tactical concessions. Moroccan Prime Minister and Secretary-Ge­neral of the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) Saad Eddine El Othmani at a news conference at the headquarters of the PJD in Rabat. (AP)


2017/12/17 Issue: 136 Page: 11


The Arab Weekly
Saad Guerraoui



Casablanca- Morocco’s ruling Islam­ist Justice and Devel­opment Party (PJD) has turned the page on populist former Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane with the election of current Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani as its secretary-general.

Othmani won votes from 1,006 of the 1,943 PJD delegates against 912 for Fez Mayor Driss el-Azami, who was reportedly backed by Benkirane. This is Othmani’s second term at the helm of the PJD, which he led from 2004-08.

Othmani succeeded Benkirane, who had stayed at the head of the party for nine years, promoting a populist platform to garner support. Benkirane led Morocco’s govern­ment for more than five years before being dismissed by Moroccan King Mohammed VI in March after the former prime minister failed to form a coalition government.

Analysts differ on whether Othm­ani would fundamentally change the party’s political approach and steer it from the Muslim Brotherhood’s sphere of influence.

However, his election is a clear break from Benkirane, who was per­ceived as representing an “extremist current” in the PJD. Although deny­ing direct links to the Muslim Broth­erhood, Benkirane’s policies were initially influenced by the group’s orientations.

Abdelhakim Karman, a Moroccan researcher in political science and sociology of organisations, attribut­ed Benkirane’s loss to the failure of the PJD leadership to absorb the his­torical, constitutional, institutional and sociological realities in Morocco.

“It was normal that opposing voices from within the PJD came out against the current of extrem­ism led by former secretary-general as desire to adapt and preserve their interests in the Moroccan political arena and thus continue to partici­pate in the government’s work and political game,” Karman told the London-based Al Arab daily.

Karman warned against expecting that the PJD had changed its identity permanently.

“The exchange of roles between the party’s leadership came after it thought that it was backed by ‘the street’. It then tried to isolate and en­able and control the wheels of state and society,” he said.

“It is a leadership that accepts cer­tain tactical concessions and forms of political accommodation and moderate speech, an equation de­rived from the thought and referenc­es and behaviour of Islamist groups themselves,” he added.

However, Abdessalam al-Aziz, secretary-general of the National It­tihadi Congress (CNI), said Othmani won the election thanks to the Unity and Reform Movement’s support (MUR) and that nothing had changed in terms of the party’s Islamist ap­proach.

“I think the PJD leadership’s ties with the MUR will strengthen more after Benkirane’s departure,” said Aziz.

The MUR is the PJD’s religious and ideological wing and has been the threshold for many PJD members, including Mustapha el-Khalfi and Bassima Hakkaoui, who are minis­ters in the current government.

Aziz said “the PJD’s elite, includ­ing many ministers, backed Othma­ni to lead the Islamist party because they want to carry on their partici­pation in the government” despite the past rumours of a party split fol­lowing the national council’s vote against an amendment that would have allowed Benkirane to run for a third term as PJD secretary-general.

“Benkirane’s populist speeches, which drew massive crowds, will no longer continue under Othmani’s leadership,” said Aziz.

Unlike his predecessor, Othmani, a psychiatrist and scholar, is a quiet and calm politician who avoids me­dia confrontations.

Othmani’s government has sought to fight corruption, a problem that the previous government failed to tackle despite Benkirane’s repeated promises.

King Mohammed VI recently im­posed sanctions against scores of Interior Ministry officials, less than a month after he sacked several min­isters and senior officials for failing to improve the economy in the long-neglected Rif region.

Othmani pledged to address shortcomings of the National De­velopment Model, which has been criticised by the king, and curb dis­parities between regions. The gov­ernment is aiming to carry on ma­jor structural reforms to promote a more diversified economy.

Experts said Islamist parties in the Maghreb are being torn between old pro-Muslim Brotherhood lean­ings and the need to walk away from that legacy to integrate their own political environments and help their countries meet socio-economic challenges.


Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.


As Printed
MENA Now
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar

Correspondents

Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

Designers

Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

www.alarab.co.uk

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved