The Islamic Movements In Morocco Between Da’wa and Politics - Future Prospects

Mohammad AlHamdawi
22 Feb 2017

The year 2012 was marked by a number of political developments in Morocco which could be summarized in four major points: the first is the emergence of an Islamists-led government for the first time in the history of the Kingdom, the second is the coalition between Islamists and the left parties, the third is the economic and developmental challenges, and the fourth is the new wave of dispute over the sets of values in the Moroccan society. Islamists in Government For the first time in the modern history of Morocco, an Islamic party reaches power, after the Justice and Development Party (PJD), an Islamic party actively participating in political life in Morocco, and its strategic partner the Unification and Reform Movement, from being in the opposition and the situation of marginalization and restrictions in the past during the period of oppression, to the position of leading the government in the wake of the Arab Spring. The (PJD) scooped 107 seats out of the 395 up for grabs, followed by the former ruling Istiqlal party which won 60 seats in the elections of 25 November 2011 that marked the first elections to be held after the significant constitutional reforms of 2011 which mainly grant the government and the prime minister more powers, make the parliament the exclusive legislative power, and reform the judiciary to undertake its role as the judicial authority in the country. In 29 November 2011, King Mohammad VI appointed Abdulilah Benkirane as the prime minister, and entrusted him with forming the government, in accordance with chapter 49 of the new constitution which states that “The king has the obligation to appoint a prime minister from the party that wins the most seats in the parliamentary elections”, and the government was approved by the King. Relationships with Other Parties and Forming Coalitions The Islamic movement is classically faced with the issue of its relationship with other political parties and movements, which constitutes a real challenge for the Islamic movement in general, and determines its ability to form coalitions and break away from the state of political isolation, especially with the leftist and modernist parties. The PJD in Morocco was determined to tackle this issue, by overlooking ideological differences and focusing rather on the platform of the parties and their political aspirations and the overall interest of the nation. Subsequently, the leadership of the party, namely its secretary general, who was appointed as prime minister, paid several visits to a number of prominent figures in the modern history of Morocco, such as M’hamed Boucetta member of the presidential council of the Istiqlal Party, Ismail Alalawy, the head of the presidential council of the Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), the former First Ministers: Idris Jato, Ahmed Asman and Abdurrahman Alyousfi, in addition to the leader of the Popular Movement alMahjoubi Aherdane, and the former First Secretary of The Socialist Union of Popular Forces. In their quest to form the parliamentary majority, the PJD engaged with discussions and negotiations with different political parties in Morocco over a period of two weeks, in order to overcome certain problems and reconcile points of views according to a clearly defined approach in a number of stages, in order to agree as a first step to take part in the government, then to adopt a convention that shall become a point of reference for the majority bloc. These efforts were culminated in the formation of the government. The Islamists then demonstrated their inclination towards open-mindedness and reconciling differences with others. This was evident in their ability to form a government coalition led by the Islamic PJD and embracing the various parties in Morocco, such as the conservative right-winged Istiqlal party, the Popular Movement in the center, and the Progress and Socialism Party from the progressive modernist left. The negotiations period was not particularly easy, especially that the election results, although considered a resounding victory for the PJD, they did not grant the Islamists a comfortable majority to form a government, and it was necessary to take up the challenge of entering into a coalition to be the majority and form the government. Challenges of Economic and Development The Islamic movement has always been accused by its ideological opponents of not possessing an economic agenda nor a comprehensive project to foster growth and development. It is also accused of solely depending on its moral discourse and religious sloganeering which in turns make Islamists unable, once in power, to solve economic and social mires, and present solutions to current problems to deliver the required economic results in the country. Islamic political parties have managed to become in power in the peak of an international economic crisis which clearly affected the European Union, and that had a direct impact on the Moroccan economy since it is largely connected with the economies in Europe, whether in terms of trade and investments or remittances by the Moroccan citizens living in Europe. In 2012 the country also witnessed a rise in the fuel prices, which also affected the prices of many products and transportation fares, in addition to the drought season in the first year of the government. All these factors represented real challenges to the Islamists since they were responsible for finding the best answers to a number of pressing economic issues, especially that stakes were high and a lot of people and observers have great expectations that this government will be able to fight corruption, the rentier economy and the overlap between authority and wealth, in addition to fostering economic competition, and imposing the standards of transparency, integrity, control, and accountability with respect to public deals and funds, and push the economic development in the country forward. To deal with such challenges and meet the expectations and demands of the people, the Islamists-led government decided to undertake major reforms especially in the Subsidy Fund which all the previous governments endeavored to reform yet they did not have enough power to take any practical steps to achieve this. This government, on the other hand, decided to gradually adopt the free price mechanism and using the available funds to directly support the people in need. The government also decided to end all forms of the rentier economy, and to stop granting permits of transportation, quarries, and hunting in the high seas. It was also determined to apply the standards of transparency, through publishing lists of beneficiaries of these licenses, and it adopted a new set of regulations to control these areas through fostering free competition based on clear charters. It also tackled several corruption cases and referred them to the judiciary to interrogate the accused parties. It also made several procedures to promote local and international investments, such as facilitating standards, enhancing transparency, in addition a number of measures to alleviate social poverty, like introducing the medical support system, which ensures a minimum medical coverage for the people in need, raising the minimum retirement age, increasing aid given to students, and launching the social solidarity fund. The Islamists proved agile and confident in introducing real reforms, although the country was in a critical situation. The reform efforts were faced by opposition by anti-reform groups, which resorted to hinder such them by raising doubts and instigating troubles in order to distract the Islamists and engage them in other trivial battles. Identity and Values The Islamic movement has constantly endeavored to preserve and enhance the Islamic identity of the society and the principles it was founded on, and it has always opposed the attempts to impose the Western values on the Moroccan society which attempt to estrange it and distort its Arab and Islamic identity and isolate it culturally and linguistically from the rest of the Arab world. Such attempts are sometimes justified by stressing the distinctive Moroccan identity and curtailing the increasing influence of the East. On the other hand, no concerns are raised by these advocates regarding the increasing westernization of the country and the spread of francophone language and culture. Other advocates present themselves as protectors of personal freedoms, such as homosexual rights, eating in public during Ramadan, sexual freedoms, legalizing prostitution, abortion drugs and alcohol while rejecting capital punishment. The approach adopted by the Islamists, especially the Unification and Reform Movement (MUR) and the JDP was exclusively remonstrative, whether by the URM as a reform proselytizing movement working within the framework of nonpartisan civil society organizations, or by JDP as an opposition party using party politics to push for changes. The year 2012 witnessed three importance changes with this respect: First: JDP has moved from the opposition to the government, in particularly difficult circumstances represented mainly by economic, developmental and social constraints. This is coupled with the commitment of the government in its platforms to give priority to fight corruption and oppression, which required them to rethink their priorities with respect to identity and values in the society. Second: The interest shown by some parties that lost in the elections to exploit the issue of identity and values in the media and carry it over to the international arena. Third: The constitution gave further powers to the civil and non-governmental organizations, whether in terms of contributing to drafting laws and taking decisions with the elected bodies and public authorities, and in activating and evaluating them. These circumstances made it incumbent on the URM to reposition itself according to the new political and constitutional situations. The Relationship between Da’wa and Political Engagement 1. Why is this relationship problematic? The relationship between Da’wa (proselytizing Islam) and political engagement is widely discussed in the literature of Islamic movements in the Middle East or North Africa. The debate is among those who stress the importance of integrating the Da’wa with politics in order to ensure that the political engagement adheres to the Islamic principles, and those who call for drawing a line between Da’wa and political activity in order to increase the space of pragmatism when dealing with the different political situations, which is a space of the possible and the feasible, while the Da’wa is restricted by ideals. This issue is also raised by secularists who accuse Islamists of exploiting religion to attain political advantages and call for the separation between religion and politics. 2. Models of the relationship between Da’wa and Politics: In line with the theoretical debates and discussions about the connection between Da’wa and political activity, there were different practical models highlighting this issue. Some of these models call for the total integration between the two elements, where a movement or a group becomes a political party, practicing Da’wa and politics simultaneously, like the Hams movement in Algeria, Elnahda movement in Tunisia, and other movements that preferred to establish a political party that stays under the supervision and control of the movement, where the party becomes the political wing for the movement, a strategy that has been recently adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan with the Islamic Front Party, and recently in Egypt when they founded the Freedom and Justice Party. Other movements though stemmed from the political party, such as The National Congress Party of Sudan. The Turkish model, on the other hand, completely differentiated between Da’wa and politics. The Justice and Development Party clearly indicated in its charter that it is a political party, and it commits itself to the secular principles of the Constitution. The Da’wa work is undertaken by the Nursi movement which does not involve in politics, and is not affiliated with any political party. The same approach is adopted in Morocco, where responsibilities is clearly delineated between URM and the PJD and the distinction is clearly drawn between Da’wa and political activity, since the two entities have a strategic partnership where they share the same projects and goals while remaining organizationally separate. 3. The Relationship between URM and PJD: A. Evolving Relationship: The URM, having contributed to the convening of the extraordinary conference of the Constitutional and Democratic Popular Movement (now PJD) in 1996, adopted the approach of specialization, and stated in 1998 that political work is a specialized activity. Therefore the movement and the party were legally and practically independent bodies, where neither of them has control over the other, although they cooperate and coordinate in line with the memorandum delineating the relationship between them. This relationship evolved in three stages: First: the stage of complete political participation by the movement, until the party was restructured in the extraordinary conference held in 1996 and its active involvement in its electoral campaign in 1997, and this approach continued until the fourth conference. Second: The stage of direct support, where the movement provided it with financial and human resources. This stage began after the fourth conference, and continued through the 2003 elections, until the fifth conference in 2004. Third: The stage of distinction and strategic partnership, where the Shura Council approved in July 2004 a document titled “Political participation and the relationship between the movement and the party” which stated three basic elements in this relationship: - Strategic partnership between the two bodies as partners in the same reform project. - Complementarity between the two bodies in order to avoid overlapping responsibilities and duplication of work. - Clear and separate responsibilities, rhetoric and leadership. B. The Theory of distinguishing between Da’wa and politics: The paper that was titled “Political participation and the relationship between the movement and the party” which was approved by the Shura Council of the movement in 2004, laid the theoretical and official ground for drawing the lines between Da’wa and politics. This theory reflects the “developments the movement has witnessed in its political participation and its relationship with the party” and the evaluation of “some of the shortcomings of equating between the movement and the party”. This paper eventually identified the paramount importance of distinguishing between Da’wa and political engagement in two separate lines of work”. The document also pointed that despite the fact that politics is among the interests of the movement, that doesn’t mean it shall involve directly in politics, arguing that the comprehensiveness if Islam as viewed by the movement could be accomplished in different manners. The document also draws on the specialization document adopted by the movement in order to clarify that comprehensiveness as a vision does not necessarily imply unity in the fields of work in the movement. The main functions of the movement according to the document were Da’wa, education, and the shaping of the society, while political engagement for the movement members shall be through the political party. The document distinguished between direct political engagement, as found in political parties, and indirect political participation, as found in non-partisan civil society organizations. It states that “the movement shall be engaged with politics within a general framework, concerning itself with major issues such as identity, the causes of the nation and the Ummah, and indirectly practicing politics as a non-partisan civil society organization. C. Manifestations of the distinction between Da’wa and politics in 2012 In 2011, the MUR indirectly engaged itself with poltics when it called with its partners for the initiativefor democratic reform, and organized several events in cities and villages to mobilize for peaceful reforms. It also prepared a document on constitutional reforms that was presented to the concerned committee. The MUR supported the constitution, called to vote in favor for the constitution, and encouraged people to cast their ballots in the early elections. At the same time, it shunned any direct political engagement, since it did not nominate any candidate to run for elections in its name, nor suggested any candidate to the party or intervened in the nomination process inside the party. It was not also involved in developing the rules related to nomination of candidates to stand for elections. In 2012, which marked the formation of a new government led by the JDP, its strategic partner, the movement supported the new government, through press releases, congratulation letters to the majority coalition, and in the media. On the other hand, it did not interfere in the forming allegiances nor in the formation of the government and the cabinet or its program, since this means involving itself directly with political affairs, which is the specialization of the party. This meant that the movement is not obliged manage political affairs on a micro level, such as direct political debates, political campaigns and other activities, since this will help the movement to go on normally and unhindered in its proselytizing moral formation work. The future of the relationship between Da’wa and politics 1. The available options and alternatives The new political experience has paved the way for a new round of discussions inside the movement on the relationship between proselytism and politics, i.e. the movement and the party, and the movement and the experience of government, especially in light of the new developments and changes, in order to consider possible alternatives and options, which could be summarized in three points: 1. The complete integration with political affairs. Supporters of this option look at the novelty and fragility of the new experience which required full support and engagement by the movement in political affairs beside the party that could benefit from the movements efforts in moral formation and proselytism to guide the experience and back it. 2. Keeping a reasonable distance from the government experience. Supporters of this option consider the current situation as fragile and subject to change and the experience could succeed or fail, and for this reason the movement should remain immune against any possible failure in the political sphere. 3. Support without integration and distinction without alienation. Since Support is part of the strategic partnership between the two organizations who share the same project, and distinction is a necessary outcome of the organizational independence for both of them, based on the idea of the shared project instead of the shared organization. 2. Increased distinction and demarking of boundaries: The latest political changes that were inspired by the Arab Spring and in the context of a new reform experience in Morocco induced a number of new variables and trends, on the constitutional and political level, and the civil society level, which made it obligatory on the MUR to rethink its relationship with the JDP, and naturally the relationship between politics and proselytism, and that in turn made the movement take a new position and change its strategy. A. The constitutional changes attach considerable importance to the civil society non-governmental organizations, and gave them opportunities to participate and influence the public policies, decisions, and projects within the elected bodies and official institutions, in addition to their role in activating and evaluating them. B. The recent political developments when the political ally moved from being in the opposition to being in the leadership of the government. C. The new trends in the work of civil society organizations, evident in the approach adopted by some political players who failed in the elections and lost their popular support to move their battles from the political sphere to the sphere of media campaigns, international rights groups and organizations, in addition to foreign pressure, through sloganeering of personal freedoms, universal rights, and international conventions. Based on an in-depth analysis of these developments and new trends, the MUR came to the following conclusions: A. Appreciating the approach adopted by the movement in respect with the distinction between proselytism and political engagement, and thus between the movement and the party since 2004. B. stressing the importance of drawing increased distinction between the two in terms of discourse, leadership and fields of work. C. The importance of improving the specializations within the groups affiliated with the movement, and determining their new position in line with the functional approach and the strategy of competition, where they are encouraged to do the following: - Making use of the new opportunities presented by the current constitution - Adopting an active approach based on initiatives instead of the approach based on confrontation and reaction. - Adopting an all-inclusive approach which integrates the legal dimension into the Islamic discourse. - Engaging with the current activity in the international organizations and enhancing the relations with the institutions that advocate the good values in the society and the family. In conclusion, the option of demarking the boundaries between proselytism and politic and enhancing the civil engagement of the movement is the right option at this stage in Morocco. It protects the strategic options adopted by the movement regarding the distance between the two bodies, the importance of distinguishing between them in their tools and in the ensuring the complete independence of the political decision. It also enables the movement to provide support for the party without being forced to leave its strategic positions, which requires the movement at this critical stage to raise awareness in the society and enhance its presence in the civil society organizations in order to strike the necessary balance in respect with the social interaction with the government, and enhancing the role of the society in advocating transparency, integrity, equal opportunities, good governance, and in the fight against corruption and bribery, and these are the elements upon which the government should decide its priorities and options

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