العنوان هنا
Studies 05 September, 2013

Reflections on the Justice and Development Party’s Experience of Political Rule in Morocco

Introduction

The Moroccan Justice and Development Party (PJD) developed its ideological vision during its 15 years as an opposition party, a period that enabled it to refine its conception of politics and society. This can be seen in their electoral platforms, ideological messages, and political programs in 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2011. The party's attainment of political realism can be ascribed to various factors, including its hands-on involvement in ideological debate and electoral competition, its adoption of a reformist political vision, its commitment to operating within formal political institutions, and, as a result of these, its sound understanding of government, state, and politics.

The integration of reformist Islamists into the political system-the PJD and the Monotheism and Reform Movement-produced a change to political and societal dynamics not only in terms of the Islamists' relationship with the regime, which went through various stages ranging from short-lived concord and wary coexistence to deadlock and ongoing confrontation to a standstill, but also their relationship with the political forces operating within the regime, whether from the government majority or the political opposition.[1] These transformations have allowed the PJD to come into close contact with the political sphere, enabling it to make efforts to understand the public policy pursued by previous governments, as well as assess and criticize policy defended by the political opposition.

Their day-to-day experience of problematic and complex realities obligated them to seek urgent solutions that generally involved coordination with political officials. Solutions can be proposed by opposition parties in Morocco through oral and written parliamentary vehicles and other methods. This participation has greatly helped the Islamists to refine and develop their political experience, despite the challenges intrinsic to Morocco's political game and the limited margin for maneuvering within it.[2]

In Morocco, the political scenario is distinguished by the monarchy's central role. The monarchy acts to preserve the balance of power between political elements by skillfully directing the political process and adopting a number of strategies, such as gradual integration, restriction and containment, disregard and indifference, and repression and harassment.[3] Generally, it avoids direct intervention, which could make the regime appear authoritarian. These methods characterize the relations of the regime with the various strands of the political opposition, whether Islamic, Leftist, or Liberal. For the most part, these various tactics are used to exert pressure and signal that specific steps should be taken in moments of tension or confrontation, which often leads to a solution rather than an exacerbation of the problem. This method gives the regime the capacity to monitor and take charge of the political scene, and to control its legal and political mechanisms.[4]

The protest movements that took place during the Arab Spring, and the removal of a number of authoritarian regimes whose leaders had grown old and politically impotent, has led to an increased pace of reform that aims to contain the street protest movements, and prevent an explosion of popular unrest in Morocco. King Mohammad VI announced his pre-emptive steps toward this end in a speech given on March 9, 2011, calling for amendments to the constitution. All elements of the February 20 Movement and the Justice and Spirituality Movement-the main Islamist movement in Morocco-opposed this move. The PJD took advantage of this opportunity and formulated political and constitutional proposals, including provisions to protect the community of believers and the monarchy, alongside a commitment to work toward political progress from within the political system in accordance with gradualist reform.[5] These political steps could be viewed as messages of reassurance to reduce mistrust between the PJD and the monarchy.[6]

These developments resulted in the creation of a new constitution that enjoyed popular backing. Parliamentary elections were brought forward to November 25, 2011, during which the PJD won 107 seats and formed the coalition government. This governing coalition comprises four parties: the PJD (Islamist), the Independence Party (conservative right), the Progress and Socialism Party (leftist), and the Popular Movement (centrist, described as the party of the bureaucracy). This was a major step for the Islamist party, which had banked on political transformation from within the system. It was also able to come to power peacefully without any political or social tension or upheaval, thanks to the particularity of the Moroccan political system in which the monarchy occupies a central place.

Prior to the new constitution, the government represented an executive body subordinate to the king whose role was to assist him in implementing public policy. The July 1, 2011 constitutional amendment granted executive authority to the government (Articles 87, 89, and 90), which works to carry out its program, ensure the implementation of the laws, and exercise regulatory authority (Articles 89 and 90).[7]

A look into the PJD's history shows a changing historical, political, and social relationship with the monarchical regime in Morocco; its current experience cannot be understood in isolation from the process of its political integration and the history of its relationships with other political forces. Many of the current government's political actions can be explained by the fact that they are outcomes of the party's political experience during the years of political integration. In the words of analysts Marina Ottaway and Marwan Muasher:

The road to democracy is still very long and rocky in these countries, and not all stones have been placed there by Islamist parties. After all, the ruling elite and secular parties of the Middle East have not been committed to democracy either. The Nasserist, Baathist, nationalist, and monarchist regimes in the region have not been democrats, and the presence of women in secular political parties in the Arab world has not exceeded that of Islamist parties. There is no doubt that without a commitment to pluralism, societies in the Middle East cannot hope for constant renewal, sustainable development, and individual and group rights. That commitment, however, must be expected of everyone equally-whether Islamist or secularist.[8] 

The PJD's shift from opposition to leadership is a new political experience, as it is now an actor with the power to make policy decisions. This constitutes a test of the Islamists' ability to implement their programs and visions in practice.

Within this context, this paper analyzes the PJD's experience of rule against the backdrop of the coalition government. An investigation of the Justice and Development's experience as a ruling authority spurs questions such as: How do the PJD and the other members of the governing coalition understand this transitional period? What mechanisms have been adopted to manage this difficult period of transition? How might they make use of the responsibilities and governing powers granted them by the constitution? What capacity do they have to consolidate the new institutional mechanisms for the redistribution of powers between them and the monarchy, without reaching a stage of crisis and confrontation? Has the Moroccan wave of the Arab Spring changed the rules of the political game, particularly after the July 1, 2011 constitutional declaration, or does this change to the country's constitutional and legal framework have no implication on changes to the balance of powers or the political reality, which remains a soft authoritarianism, as it is called by many researchers?

This leads to two contradictory theses. The first is that, for Morocco, the worst is now over, and that King Mohammad VI's initiative and the political steps that followed-including the constitutional amendments and early parliamentary elections-represent a form of early awareness on the part of the monarchy, and testify to its ability to read current events and institute reform at opportune moments. As a result of these institutional and political changes, the rules of the political game have fundamentally changed. Morocco has entered a new political and constitutional stage that has spared it the political tensions and social upheaval experienced by many Arab countries. The second thesis considers the regime's political initiatives as no more than maneuvers perfected through practice. From this perspective, the reforms then become just mere cosmetic attempts to contain popular demands for democracy, justice, and an end to corruption. The structure of power thus remains fixed in favor of the monarchical regime that exercises authority. 

When placed in a regional context, one must remember that Arab societies and states are living through a period of transition and transformation, involving a dynamic of contestation. This makes it difficult to predict their developments, conflicts, agreements, and relapses. In the Moroccan case, its experience shows that challenging autocracy and authoritarianism can allow space for political actors to move and compete, without necessarily affecting the way the regime operates or changing the rules of political activity. Authoritarianism takes a variety of forms, such as the soft form, which can be considered controlled democracy, involving a regime that grants a certain margin to various political actors, sets lines that must not be crossed, and defines the rules of the political game. Hard authoritarianism, or that of totalitarian and military regimes, represents a closed political system dominated by the will and authority of a single ruler. Here, independent political actors are lacking a counterbalance to the political class, which operates through a single party or a manufactured party whose role is restricted to helping the ruler and benefiting from his material and symbolic largesse. This takes place despite the existence of political institutions, for in reality these are formal structures that play no actual role.

Reaching the stage of institutionalization requires institutional development, political practice, societal maturity, and a culture of awareness. This stage is preceded by the personalization, during which political practice takes a personal form outside the framework of political institutions.

 

*This study was originally published in the  issue of Siyasat Arabia (July 2013, pp. 5-17). Siyasat Arabia, published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, is a bi-monthly, peer-reviewed journal that specializes in political science, international relations, and public policy.

It was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English Editing Department. The original Arabic version can be found here.

To read the full text , click on the image below.


 

[1] See Muqtadar, Political Integration.

[2] Muqtadar, "Islamist Forces and Alliances," 3-25.

[3] Muqtadar, Political Integration, 136-45.

[4] Ibid., 226.

[5]http://moroccansforchange.com/2011/03/09/king-mohamed-vi-speech-3911-full-text-feb20-khitab/

[6] Muqtadar, "Islamist Forces," 26-7.

[7] Ibid., 3611-13. Sherifian Decree no. 1.11.91 issued on July 29, 2011 gave effect to the Constitution. See the Official Gazette, no. 5964 bis, Year 8, July 30, 2011, 3616-17. Compare Title IV of the 2011 Constitution, "The Legislative Authority," which replaces the previous "Parliament." This is a clear indication that the parliament in its two chambers is considered the legislative authority (Article 70), and represents a constitutional evolution.

[8]  Ottaway and Muasher, "Islamist Parties in Power," May 23, 2012.