Why has the Islamic party of Morocco reelected its former leader? – Middle East Monitor
After ten years in power, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco suffered a catastrophic defeat in the legislative elections on September 8. Led by Saadeddine El-Othmani, the party saw its 125 seats reduced to just 13 out of a total of 395. This dramatic defeat of the Islamists in parliament led to the massive resignation of the PJD leadership, and its National Council decided to hold an exceptional session. National Congress barely 10 days later to appoint a management committee. This committee prepared on October 31 the Ordinary National Congress of the party, which re-elected the former secretary general Abdelilah Benkirane.
Senior PJD leaders had called on members not to vote for Benkirane as they did not believe he would be able to unite the party and revive it as a major political force in Morocco. They claimed he was a “confrontational figure” and that neither Moroccan voters nor politicians would support him. They cited the monarch’s apparent dissatisfaction with him.
However, Benkirane won 81 percent of members’ votes in Congress. Indeed, during the discussion, there were more than 70 interventions, most of which called for his reinstatement. Where did this overwhelming vote of confidence come from?
Before being ousted by King Mohammad VI in 2017, Benkirane led the PJD to two unprecedented victories in 2011 and 2016. Can he help the party regain its popularity and importance?
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Benkirane was sacked by the king after demonstrating to Moroccans that everyone in the country is equal, including the monarch. He sent messages through his charismatic addresses that a monarchy is fundamentally a dictatorship, and that despite allowing elections to be held, the king is still a dictator in anything but name. He went so far as to refuse to kneel before the head of state, as is the custom in Morocco, where the royal family considers itself above the people. In a maintenance with Al Jazeera in 2012, Benkirane explained that “The king is our king and we hold him in high regard [but] Moroccans do not kneel for anyone other than God! “
In a 2016 maintenance, he insisted that he was “not required to please the king, only God who created me and my mother”. This comment angered the royal family because it suggested that the royals are not special people, but are the same as everyone else.
He changed major concepts that were believed to be indisputable facts in the Kingdom. He also blamed the king for his government’s setbacks because the former failed to cede enough power for a government to act independently and implement the long-awaited reforms. After being fired, Benkirane reminded a PJD rally that: “The king is not God. He’s a man, and as a man he is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
This, many PJD members believe, is the essence of the party. This is the original ideology based on justice and equality.
Additionally, Benkirane sharply criticized government policies regarding the normalization of ties with Israel, the Arabization of education, and the legalization of cannabis. Following the approval of the bill to legalize drugs, Benkirane used his Facebook page to announce his resignation from the PJD, insisting that he had no connection with the secretary general – Prime Minister Othmani – and other PJD ministers.
These firm positions on national and partisan principles have convinced the PJD that Benkirane will not accept any compromise of their interests in the future and is capable of blocking political deviations. “The party must seek a new approach, which is a positive and beneficial element for our state and our society before being beneficial for our party,” he told the Ordinary National Congress after his re-election as general secretary party.
Unlike the attacks on him by the candidates for the role, he showed a lot of respect for them. His new collaborators are both supporters and opponents. “As long as you choose me, I will be the secretary general of all of you,” he told members of the PJD.
READ: Moroccan PJD outlines party political strategy
The governing coalition was made up of parties allied with the king who won the majority of seats in parliament. The opposition is practically non-existent, and this will surely lead the country to chaos and instability. Members of the PJD as well as ordinary Moroccans and even the government and King Mohammad are betting on the charismatic politician put a firm hand on popular opposition in the streets and institutionalize it. Indeed, the king congratulated Benkirane on his re-election.
Analysts and observers are uncertain whether Benkirane will be able to rehabilitate the PJD, end internal divisions and rekindle the credibility of his Islamic ideology, or not. They agree that it will not be an easy task, and some believe it will fail. We have to wait and see if he can make the party as strong and effective as it once was.
The opinions expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.