The Moorish Wanderer

PJD, Morocco’s GOP

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on April 7, 2012

the latest issue of TIME Magazine published an interesting article on Morocco’s conservative, Islamist-led government; quite an insight on how PJD spinners want to project their image overseas. (cc @PJDofficiel)

The Elephant in the room; the Grand Old Parti de Justice et Développement

Mustapha El Khalfi, Communications Minister and Government spokesman has spent some time in Washington DC as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill. In that respect, he does have a good knowledge of DC politics; TIME correspondent was a bit surprised when El Khalfi compared his party to the Grand Old Party, the Republican Party; Perhaps Mr El Khalfi meant PJD was attached to family values and inclined to support socially conservative policies.

Converted, indeed.

I am indeed amazed to that analogy, especially when TIME correspondent Bobby Ghosh also interviewed Karim Tazi, who was dismissive of any particular danger as to PJD’s conservative stance, making a very apropos analogy that we in Morocco have no Rick Santorum:

“The PJD may not move us forward on social issues, but at least none of the leaders wants to take us backward. There’s no Santorum here”

The irony of it, PJD is gradually nailing its colours to the mast; every time their economic team encounters economic hardships, the farther they tank to the right, in the hope they can make up their moderate electorate dissatisfaction by shoring up some hardcore social conservatives; a bit like the Republican Party indeed. Attajdid -whose former editor-in-chief was Mr Al Khalfi- did not refrain from carrying vicious attacks against the perceived alienation of an already effete, secular and Western-minded elite. Now he is burnishing his party’s image abroad, he is willing to engage in drawing parallels between PJD and the Republicans in the United States; if anyone thought PJD are not two-faced, mendacious hypocritical Islamists, now is the time to reconsider. If any other politician was to compare its party to, say the UK Labour Party, or the French Front de Gauche, they would have been mauled by the PJD press. El Khalfi gets away with this, both at home and abroad.

Lest we forget, Mr El Khalfi has been a legislative aide to the Representative Jim McDermott from Washington, and there is no way someone who has spent some time at the heart of the United States’ legislative branch, not to be fully aware of the finer details of the GOP identity. El Khalfi says:

We must learn how to defend our values and faith values while embracing globalization from the Republican Party. […] The GOP knows how to reflect its ideas in a legislative framework”

Are we to expect some legislation akin to DOMA (Defence Of Marriage Act) the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy and the like?

Wrap it up, Time is of The essence

It has been about three months since a group of young people, eager to make their voices heard loud and clear, staged the first of the three demonstrations calling for constitutional reforms and policies to rout out corruption and nepotism. The momentum built steadily, the youth managed some spectacular stunts, but now is the time to cool off and set off a precise agenda.

Paradoxically, “Feb20” ‘s main strength turns out to be its deadliest weakness, and if it does not try and do something about it, perhaps the cause of its demise. Indeed, the movement is heterogeneous: old-guard left-wingers and human rights activists coexist more or less peacefully with Salafists and Al-Adl religious conservative. This strange alliance of social progressists and reactionaries appeals to a broad spectrum of the public opinion, but that unity comes at the price of ambiguity. Both wings -and the motley of nuances in between- wholeheartedly agree on the need for establishing democracy, but still fail to define a common manifesto, as it were.

Consider the main 20Feb. grievances, those that gathered masses of demonstrators on February 20th, March 20th and April 23th:

” دستور ديمقراطي يمثل الإرادة الحقيقية للشعب.

– حل الحكومة والبرلمان وتشكيل حكومة انتقالية مؤقتة تخضع لإرادة الشعب.

– قضاء مستقل ونزيه

– محاكمة المتورطين في قضايا الفساد واستغلال النفوذ ونهب خيرات الوطن.

– الاعتراف باللغة الأمازيغية كلغة رسمية إلى جانب العربية والاهتمام بخصوصيات الهوية المغربية لغة ثقافة وتاريخا

– إطلاق كافة المعتقلين السياسيين ومعتقلي الرأي ومحاكمة المسؤولين.”

Among these items, the manifesto does manage to find common ground: the liberation of political detainees (a clear rebuttal of Morocco’s boasting about its human rights record), an autonomous judiciary and court action against corrupt officials appeal to every Moroccan citizen, whatever their political allegiances. There is even a great deal of potential consensus on parliament and government dissolution and the appointment of a transitory body to oversee the constitutional reform aimed at. But the niceties stop there. There is an explosive disagreement potential on what everyone of the Feb20 supporting organization means by “a democratic constitution representative of the people’s will”; It ranges from Soviet democracy to an Islamist Caliphate based on the Islamic notion of Shoura (شورة) democracy, or indeed a Libertarian, crypto-anarchist democracy, whatever wing each member of the movement belongs to. This diversity insures a truly democratic representation within the movement, but unfortunately has a crippling effect on its potential as a platform opposition to the regime.

Consider, for instance, their refusal to answer the official invitation from the Menouni commission to contribute to the official constitutional debate was, I am afraid to say, the first chip in “Fortress February 20th”. There are many Human Rights activists within the organization, and it can count on the support of very respectable law scholars party members of supporting political parties and societies, but it seems the refusal was more out of sheer realism: how can it be possible to prepare the movement own manifesto on constitutional reform? My point does not consider the refusal on itself (a decision, in my opinion, in full accordance with the principle of compromising with the regime until it gives in on the real issues). No, I fear the regime can no take the high grounds, and further stresses the impossible task, for the movement, to come up with a precise agenda. On the other hand, this curse might as well be a blessing in disguise: there have been scores of unhealthy speculation about some sort of Faustian alliance between the extreme-left-wing (Annahj types) and the Salafist reactionaries (Al Adl types). If indeed such alliance was sealed, then there would be a lot more centralization and discipline within the ranks. If indeed professional militants were the spearhead of Feb20 movement, things would be a great deal more confrontational. At least that should reassure conspiracy-theorist freaks: the movement is not a vassal to the Marxists and Islamists.

Let me explain: consider the left-wing, secularist activists in the Feb20 platform. Obviously, they would consider a secularized state with no religion-based legislation or legitimacy as the most straightforward way to achieve democracy. On the other hand, Salafists have this literature calling for the regeneration of Islamic scholarly heritage (hence their name) Although they do not necessarily always profess reactionary positions, they share the common feature of considering Islam and Sharia as the sole basis for social legislation.

The word ‘reactionary’ should be understood with no negative connotation (although I tend to use that myself) but as an open hostility to liberalism and progress, as well as the stated objective to roll back what is considered harmful or foreign and go back to some unspecified past setting. Salafism, because of its longing to the true ismalic life the ascendants (السلف الصالح) led in strict observance of Islamic teachings (Sharia and Koran), can rightfully be considered to be a reactionary.

So here’s a first roadblock: both wings agree on democracy as the only viable political organization to replace the existing crony autocracy, but would ultimately fail to define the very basic mechanisms of such regime: indeed, the head of government (and we assume here all Feb20 tendencies agree on the institution of Prime Minister, or at least some sort of Premiership) has to be accountable to the people. But then again, what are the Premier’s responsibilities? Would they allow individual freedom to flourish, or are they required as proxy to Amir Al Mouminine, by virtue of some modern Beya (بيعة) contract, to uphold the teachings and rules of Islamic Sharia?

Are these too high-brow kind of matters to discuss with our average Ahmed? Well, let us consider these: the liberal wing wouldn’t mind the present modern monetary system, with interest rates, commercial papers, complex financial transactions that make the economy rolling. Sure some macroeconomic policies would be the flavour of many left-wingers, but what about the Islamist bunch? Wouldn’t they prefer a more Islamic economic structure? Wouldn’t they oppose the use of interest as Ribaa? Wouldn’t they settle for anything less than the full gearing of economy into Islamic mode?

That’s the trouble with re-writing the constitution: it is not just a set of rules every citizen has to respect. It is above all the legislative paradigm all laws, court rulings and administrative regulation move within. And what is more of a trouble is that Islamist paradigm (the one favoured by the politcal wing of Al Adl anyway) contradicts too much that of left-wingers’. Liberals and conservatives can walk the line, but not all the way down, not if they want to be true to their principles.

Now, it can go either way: the Royal deadline for CCRC to publish its constitutional draft is approaching fast (mid-June, according to the King’s speech). Whatever criticism one might have on its appointment procedure or the quality of its panel members, it will have the undeniable moral advantage of claiming that it has asked ‘civil society’ and adjusted its draft accordingly. It is also the official spokesperson for the regime’s idea of possible constitutional draft, a regime which is not entirely gainsaid by the dissidence, so there is very little chance an outright majority would reject the commission’s findings. The movement could try and mobilize voters to vote against the draft during the referendum, thus forcing the regime into reconsidering the process, and perhaps come to their senses and convene a nation-wide consultation (perhaps with a direct Royal meeting with representatives of all sorts) thus insuring a genuine consensus on the constitution. The movement’s diversity would, if I may, be transmitted to other political forces and the civil society, so as the achieved consensus draft would be indeed representative of all opinions. This dream scenario has a chance of sucess if the movement manages to muster enough support to repel the referendum and put pressure to call on a different consultation afterwards.

The second scenario considers Feb20 movement in its most patent feature, i.e. as a pure tribune organization. It opposes the status quo, but because of the delicate balance it has managed to achieve within its membership, it cannot go any further than shout slogans that lack content or even appeal to the silent majority. On possibility is that the movement might call for a boycott (a decision I can respect and understand) but would fail to present an alternative other than taking on to the streets.

Voices of moderation and compromise should, in such cases, prevail. But let us not forget that one of the reasons with these young people rose and shouted their exasperation is precisely because of the obsessive use of compromise and consensus in mainstream Moroccan politics. In times like these, and in view of the grand principles the movement calls for, nuances and compromise, for all the undeniable benefits it might bring to the movement’s credibility, are very far from being considered as a starting point for a comprehensive counter-proposal on the constitution.

But perhaps I am mistaken. I do hope I am, for it would be a shame the spark (Iskra) would not start the bush fire our politics desperately need.

Bleeding Marrakesh and The Rise Of Authoritarianism

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on April 28, 2011

These are trying moments. Truly horrifying, not only for the immediate victims, but for coming days and weeks.

According to official sources and newspapers, the explosion in Arghana Café (Marrakesh)  that occurred today at noon (local time) was the result of a criminal bombing. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of victims (about 14 dead and 20 wounded following the latest reports at 0308 local time) may they find comfort for their losses.

If indeed the hypothesis of criminal bombing is verified, this smaller-scale May 16th bombing is going to be a roadblock for the ongoing democracy debate, and might even turn out to be a good argument to actually shut down pro-democracy dissidence. And even though it is too early to say one way or the other, it is too much of a coincidence such operation (in a well-guarded tourist city like Marrakesh) should occur amid the ongoing debate on democracy, the constitution and its balance of powers, and finally the latest release of Islamist prisoners. I wish I did not indulge in conspiracy theory frenzy, but this ring of coincidences is too better to contemplate.

Café Argana, after the explosion (Picture Le Journal Du Dimanche)

These are trying times because out of experience (whether in Morocco or elsewhere) the voices of democracy, the proponents of open society concepts are immediately shut down in favour of a behaviour I like to describe as ‘rally behind the flag’, a behaviour that could sometimes lead to crypto-fascism. I don’t know if the regime has what it takes to be plucky and carry on with the constitutional debate, but I think all pro-democracy protesters can kiss goodbye to this flourishing freedom of speech we have been enjoying these last couple of months. The trade-off between security and liberty -though a fallacious one- becomes more attractive to the many, and more worrying, to the decision-makers.

As a matter of fact, the trade-off is redundant, the choice is already made, and to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin we have already chosen security and we are about to lose both (if not already). We know only too well the security apparatus: they try to make up for their incompetence and start rounding up the usual suspects; Whatever guarantees that ‘everything will be done by the book’ mistakes will be made, and the infamous Temara torture complex will be back to business in no time.

Can I indulge in some fancy conspiracy theory nonetheless? What if a rogue security element in the Makhzen apparatus was behind this? I mean, it’s not like security services have a virgin history of covert operations. It could very well be some manipulated individual who detonated his bombing device. Didn’t the services manipulate the group behind the 1994 Marrakesh bombings? or the assassination of left-wing and trade-union activist Omar Bendjelloun in 1975? Wasn’t a prominent Human Rights lawyer sued for gainsaying the official version of May 16th?

To whom does all this benefit? How is it possible that Marrakesh, perhaps the most secured city in Morocco (both because of its tourism activity and the large residing foreign national community) could be subject to a terrorist attack? Where are the police and security forces?

An official communique asserts that all police and court investigation will be carried out within the law. These signs of good faith could go further and lead to the resignations of Marrakesh Police Chief Mohamed Badda, that of Charki Draiss (head of Police Forces DGSN) and the Interior Minister Taib Cherkaoui; They are after all, the top echelon responsible for security, and that bombing, if it turns out to be what they claim it to be, is a rebuttal to their competence. Times like these could be turned around and actually strengthen democracy, and not weaken it.

Wandering Thoughts, Vol.13

Word is out, Mennouni & Co are looking for a few good (wo)men to contribute to their task; After all, those with relevant opinions, the Feb -20 movement and stalwart real opposition parties and NGOs did refuse to meet with them. Let us therefore try and show some good will, and meet them half way, shall we? Of course, they will have to show a proof of good faith beforehand, won’t they?

When the long arm of the law wrestles lawmaking away from the judiciary and the legislative branches

First, Mennouni and his minions need to go back to the palace, and present the King with their collective resignation: if any serious constitutional reforms are to be undertaken, it is not through such a gross mismanagement of such assembly of scholarly notabilities, they are not, after all, properly equipped to dream up a whole new constitution… They are technicians trained to prepare the legal argument for broad principles, not politicians that cannot clutter their thinking with the former, but are able to embody the latter.

I am aware the commission is not very bright; not from an academic point of view of course, but when it comes to new ideas, lawmakers, especially in Morocco, are not, in their large majority, firebrand mavericks, but rather cosy scholars with well-established credentials, intrinsic conservatism and patent hostility towards novelty: when lawmakers like the late Driss Basri preside over the legislative output for more than three decades, the sky’s the limit kind of thinking is not what one would expect from our eminent panellists. And so, the decent thing, if we ever are to have a real democratic constitution, is for these people to resign and let others to design a new constitution, then, if they are asked to do so, give assistance of their judicial expertise over what is essentially a political matter, and when their job is done, retreat peacefully back to their books and wait till a younger, more open-minded and more ambitious generation of lawyers takes over and reform radically the whole set-up. Basri’s influence has a far deeper reach and exceeds the sole legislative paradigm our scholars evolve within; institutionalised corruption and political transhumance are but a few of his masterly works.

He dresses with style, but he is hardly going to get his name in the history books...

Omar Azzimane, for instance, might have been respectable enough in the early 1990’s to  the late King Hassan II‘s transitory reforms, but his ministerial tenure, age and constant compromise for office over principles make him such a poor choice as a panellist. His boss is no better.

But that is not what the regime wants. In fact, for all the stunts pulled these last days, and even though presentational skills have been improved, the very heart of governmental power, those prerogatives related to power-sharing, remain untouched, just as as proximity to power still protects the crooked and corrupt lackeys. On that subject I wonder whether some infighting within the rarefied circles of power has tickled down and fuel attacks on Minister Belkhayat… Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see this smug businessman turned politician out of office, but the intense criticism he is subject to seems to me a prelude to a sacking (either by a demotion of his master or a demise of the said puppet)

I shouldn’t wonder, as even the hyper-mediatized democratic societies resort to such tactics in order to rout out some rival -though when public scrutiny steps in, the culprit, when indeed found, leads the guilty politician to take the humiliating, albeit self-purifying, decision to step down; if the culprit is indeed of a serious criminal nature, then the scapegoat is duly sacrificed to the greater good of the smeared public office the unfortunate politician was holding.

Babyface: "Your money is mine. My Familys and my bosss, anyway."

In our case, not only Minister Belkhayat acts as the middle man for a higher -and much more powerful- politician/businessman/palace favourite/royal minion (Mounir Majidi) he is engaged in some very questionable business dealings, all of which, if he is indeed the new-model politician he boasts to be, should compel him to resign his post and request a full independent inquiry on the subject. Oh, sorry, I have forgotten, we are in Morocco, and ministers do not resign, they get the (Royal, not parliamentary) boot; And this holds especially when the minister has things to answer for. It’s a long way to the top, Minister, but it is reassuring to see that you are not sparing effort to climb the greasy pole. عقبى للوزارة الأولى يا سعادة الوزير but wait: which party will Minister Belkhayat lead to electoral victory? Istiqlal? RNI? sorry, I am a bit confused…

Last item on the agenda, the scare campaign begins only now. The beardy fellow is barely out of jail, and already anathema and excommunication are flying around on the heads of those who happen to disagree with the dogmatic Salafist. And there dividing lines start to make things turn sour: on the extreme end of political islam spectrum, Salafists like Mr Fizazi (and, to  will no rest until they impose on the Moroccan society an Islamic (Islamist) straitjacket that is vry unlikely to improve ‘the morals of our decadent society’ without leading to a totalitarian state, and on the other end (but excluding house-trained PJD), the dissolved party ‘البديل الحضاري‘ progressive islamists (I personally find any synthesis between religion and progressivism very hard to understand) that do not gainsay, in their universal definition, the basics of democracy, and even engaged in an alliance with secular left-wing parties. Incidentally, Al Badil party boss Mustapha Moatassim was portrayed by the prosecution as a dangerous terrorist, which compels us to ask the following questions: if he was indeed so dangerous, why was he released? On the other hand, since he was released, that means the charges against him were fictitious, so someone screwed up (but will never answer for it, unfortunately) In between, Al Adl fluctuates with no definite agenda (has it to do with their self-professed ‘التقية’ ?).

The victims of blind Makhzenian repression (and the idiots utiles malgré eux) are those innocent victims like EMI (Ecole Mohamedia des Ingénieurs) engineer-graduate Mehdi Meliani or apolitical Mehdi Boukillou both illegally arrested and charged under false counts. Makhzen stupidity, far from shielding Morocco from the Islamist threat, only increases it either by radicalising young people, or makes it harder to speed up the necessary secularisation of Moroccan minds.