Low turnout for the elections in Morocco sheds light on the increasing alienation of the populace from the political elite – an alarming development that only benefits the outlawed Islamic movement "Justice and Welfare." By Sonja Hegasy
Many adjectives can be used to describe the Moroccan "Party for Justice and Development" (PJD), but the word "radical" is certainly not among them. Since 1999 the PJD, created by the alliance between some members of the Islamic "Unity and Reform" movement and the "Mouvement populaire et constitutionnel", has represented the legalistic version of political Islam in the country. It does not question the legitimacy of the monarchy.
This self-image helped the party achieve a surprising victory in the previous parliamentary elections in the year 2002. Back then the party tripled its number of seats, becoming the strongest force in the opposition. In the parliamentary elections of 2007 the party expected to win the highest number of votes and thus help the king form the government.
PJD campaign managers said they expected to win at least 70 of the 325 seats. But the PJD will now fill only 46 (as opposed to the previous 42) seats, making it the second largest party, after the Independence Party, a large middle-class national party. There have been no accusations of manipulation – national and international observers were on hand. However, some are complaining that votes were bought.
Loss of credibility for the political elite
The biggest loser is the socialist USFP. In 1997, Abderrahmane El Youssoufi became the party's first prime minister, upon the wish of King Hassan II. This time the party finished in fifth place. This is one of the surprises in the election results – or perhaps it is not surprising, since the El Youssoufi years were a disappointment to many.
The results of the September 7 election make one thing clear: After a number of experiments involving democratic elections, the credibility of the political elite in the Arab world has suffered tremendously.
To speak of disenchantment with politics would be a euphemism: Arabian media report that many invalid ballots were adorned with comments such as "Vive la salafiyya jihadiyya!", "You're all thieves!" or, in the capital of Moroccan-occupied Laqayoune, West Sahara: "Vive la république saharienne!" ("Long live the Saharan Republic!").
The platforms of the 33 parties and dozens of independent candidates on the ballot hardly differed from one another. Both the left and the Islamic opposition are organized in a number of different parties.
When Saadeddine Otmani, the top candidate of the PJD, praises Morocco as a good place for foreign investment and says he stands for economic growth, his words sound like those of the Moroccan Minister for Business and Commerce. The bland election campaign, which took place almost entirely on the television screen, didn't help matters.
A genuine opposition
Although officially forbidden, the "Justice and Welfare" movement of the aging Sheikh Yassine is considered the true opposition in Morocco. It's not known how many members there are, but they have a broad network of supporters throughout the country. The movement decisively rejects violence, but at the same time demands the abolition of the monarchy, and thus is in tune with the times.
Abdessalam Yassine combines his political views with inherently apolitical Muslim mysticism, and attracts many followers. The ideological thrust of the "Justice and Welfare" movement might be called a kind of social neo-Sufism.
Nadia Yassine, the movement's unofficial spokesperson and daughter of its founder, speaks of the PJD in emphatically positive tones. But that may very well be due to the fact that by cooperating with the royal family the PJD is in the process of demolishing itself, even for its followers.
"Justice and Welfare" can lean back and relax and watch the show: Through no effort of their own, the disenchantment with politics and politicians is driving those citizens who seek a genuine opposition force anchored in Islam into its camp.
Swimming alongside the AKP?
The PJD likes to present itself as the Moroccan version of the Turkish party of the same name, which is currently in power there. In the 2007 campaign especially, it tried to make the most of the similarity. But that may have been counterproductive. A party that announces in advance that it is willing to allow itself to be so easily domesticated is not very attractive for citizens seeking a strong opposition force.
The Turkish "Party for Justice and Development" has demonstrated an effective and above all credible tradition as an Islamic party and is still a major thorn in the side of many in the establishment, a fact that was made clear in the spring of this year during the conflict in Turkey between the military and foreign minister Gül.
The negative developments as a result of the political liberalization that has taken place in neighboring Algeria since 1989 has led to a consensus among Morocco's monarchists, secularists and Islamists, none of whom have any desire to polarize Moroccan society. Advocating constitutional reform would be a radical position in Morocco – but so far, only Nadia Yassine's movement has done so.
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Mark Rossman