Moroccoʹs PJD on course to self-destruct

By drowning the PJD in procedures and decisions, Moroccoʹs ruling elite is using the same approach it applied to cripple another former coalition partner, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces. Does this gradual assimilation of the PJD into the establishment signal the end of the Islamistsʹ participation in the democratic process? By Mohamed Taifouri

The Justice and Development Party (PJD), on which many Moroccans have pinned their hopes, is aiming to see out the failed democratic transition venture with the coalition government in its new guise as a regular player on the political and party scene. This, after it willingly and obediently signed up to its own destruction. Saad Eddine El-Othmaniʹs Muslim Brotherhood have seemingly embarked upon a race against time, with the aim of achieving full assimilation with the Makhzen or "shadow government" (of royal advisers and courtiers) as the Moroccans call it, before 2021, the date of the next legislative elections.

The Islamists have accepted, willingly or otherwise, the implementation of various controversial political decisions, of which no mention was made in their electoral manifesto. Moreover, many politicians who previously held positions of power avoided even mentioning such policies in public, fearing that they would be held responsible for them.

The latest of these decisions has been imposed by the Ministry of Finance and it involves tough tax measures relating to the electronic billing system; it pertains to the requirement for Unified Tax Identification Numbers (TINs) to cover commercial transactions. It also applies to procedures associated with customs control and booking rules. This decision led traders, shop and cafe owners to organise a general strike, the first of its kind, which paralysed activity in the major commercial centres of Morocco such as Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat.

Lack of vision

The government justified the measure as being part of a package of reforms to combat tax evasion and impose stricter regulations on business sector. Traders and business people interpreted it, however, as an attempt to target the most vulnerable elements in the trade cycle, i.e. those without financial guarantees or social protection.

Former prime minister of Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane (photo: DW)
The current administration lacks the communication skills of former PJD prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who used simple language that large sections of society could understand and respond to. Some of his decisions may have been more radical and influential, but at least they were accompanied by an ongoing dialogue with the Moroccan people. After all, writes Taifouri, language is central to the defining struggle between authoritarianism and the will of the people

Aside from the various party lines regarding these measures, not to mention the implicit settling of political scores as some seek to exploit the situation for their own interests, the governmentʹs handling of the commercial sector reveals the lack of a proactive vision and a lack of partnership and co-ordination with the other parties.

Instead, the government makes do with the logic of last-minute crisis management, as might a fire-fighter. This does nothing to limit the damage, however, and only serves to shake public confidence in government institutions still further.

Half-baked ideas

Over-hasty decisions, taken with neither due care nor proper evaluation, are another black mark in the Islamist governmentʹs copybook. One example is the Extra Hour Act, drafted just a few hours before Daylight Saving Time was scheduled to come into effect (it was already in force, synchronised with Greenwich Mean Time).

A further example has been the decision to re-instate compulsory military service. This issue neither featured in the partiesʹ manifestos, nor did it form part of the proposed government programme passed by parliamentarians.

Law no. 51.17, relating to education and culture, also needs to be added to the list. Parliament was unable to pass the law during emergency session. The bill included clauses that sought to change the educational system in place since well before independence from the French, from public to private. Fees would be levied on children of the well-to-do.

Alas, despite wanting to add this law to the statute books, the government seemed to have forgotten that wealthy Moroccans donʹt send their children to public schools in the first place. Moreover, the Makhzen was quick to oppose this decision and tried to stifle debate, resorting to language as an excuse. As a result opposition to the bill became more a question of identity rather than politics.

A legislative initiative of this kind, in a sector which is crucially important for Moroccans, would need to be preceded by a national dialogue involving all sections of society. The governmentʹs adoption of this framework law still poses a legal dilemma, however.

The bill presupposes the existence of two laws that should form the foundation of the education system, one relating to the status of the Amazigh language and a second on the National Council for Moroccan Languages and Culture. Both pieces of legislation do not however as yet exist, and thus the entire venture makes no sense.

It may be that some of the decisions taken by the previous government were more radical and influential, but at least they were accompanied by an ongoing dialogue with the Moroccan people, with the aim of ensuring the public was on board.

Former prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane was an excellent communicator; he used simple language that a large segment of ordinary Moroccans could understand and respond to. Indeed, language is central to the defining struggle between authoritarianism and the will of the people.

Each measure introduced against ordinary citizens is followed by a move against the other side (lobbies, influential people, those getting preferential treatment ...). In this way, a broad swathe of people shares the load, under the premise that society should contribute collectively towards the desired reform.

More royal than the King?

The current head of government merely executes decisions; he has no concern for the wider repercussions of his decisions, which after all merely serve one segment of society. The PJD has become a party that protects the interests of the elite, rather than the masses from which the majority of its leaders originate. Yet it was the people who voted for the party in three consecutive elections, despite the establishment using every trick in the book to try and dissuade them from doing so.

And what about the Islamistsʹ record on human rights? In a number of cases, the PJD has not hesitated to justify repression or legitimise the Stateʹs transgressions (e.g. the protests in the Rif and Jerada). Indeed, their justifications have reached such a point that they even questioned reports on the Rif protests issued by official institutions such as the National Human Rights Council. The Councilʹs report confirmed that human rights had been violated and demonstrators subjected to torture.

As regards the political trial of the fiercely independent journalist Taoufiq Bouachrine: in the past he had come to the Brotherhoodʹs defence with courage and boldness, giving them coverage in his newspaper at a time when the deep state was ganging up against them through the tabloids (funded by various well-known countries in the region). They could have done a lot more than simply ask that he be given a fair trial, at a time when he was suffering injustices on many fronts.

The issue of contract teachers and their demands to be given permanent jobs in the public sector has morphed into a real dilemma from which the Islamists are trying to extricate themselves. During their first term in office they supported the idea, claiming that it was a strategic choice and a magical solution to the problems of public administration in Morocco.

Subsequently, they abandoned it, saying that contract work was the only solution to human resources problems in certain sectors. This climaxed in the Islamists halting any discussion of the issue, after which the Moroccan education system was haunted by the spectre of a ʹwhite yearʹ (i.e. the halting and abandonment of the academic year midway through) for months.

Farewell to the ʹOthmani Brotherhoodʹ

The Makhzen is determined to inflict the same punishment on the PJD as was suffered by the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, after the latter participated in the coalition government. They drowned them in procedures and decisions, which ultimately led to a massive slump in the partyʹs popularity.

The so-called ʹOthmani Brotherhoodʹ, named after Saad-Eddine El Othmani, the Secretary General of the PJD, remains seemingly unconcerned by the machinations of the establishment, preferring to concentrate of the 2021 elections. In the process, they are seeking to accommodate regional boundary changes and shifts in power within the deep state.

In short, it is the beginning of a tragic end for the Muslim Brotherhood in Morocco. They raised the hopes of many, only to eventually become part and parcel of the state machinery. In justifying the unjustifiable, they have effectively become more assimilated that the Makhzen itself.

Mohamed Taifouri

© 2019

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

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