King Mohammed VI’s unprecedented revolutionary act of appointing as prime
minister the head of an Islamic party is good for democracy.
historic appointment demonstrates, once again, as in Tunisia’s recent elections,
that an Islamic party can be democratically voted into power in the Middle East,
and the decision respected by the vested interests of the
Whether those vested interests be the army, which ruled in
Tunisia under General Ben Ali, or the monarchy, which runs all arms of
government in Morocco, they can let democracy flourish.
Morocco shows us
an enlightened, reformminded monarchy reaching out to all sectors of society and
opting for increased democracy.
Admittedly, the king continues to control
But his appointing a prime minister from an Islamic party,
the direct predecessors of which were both anti-monarchical and banned by the
king’s late father, shows rapid democratic progress.
In appointing the
leader of the party with the largest number of votes (the Islamic PJD), the king
is seen to have kept his word and abided by his new Constitution, even though
the party achieved only 107 out of 395 possible seats.
Critics of the
outgoing government claim that democratic progress has been far too slow, and
some protest that only 45 percent of the electorate voted, according to official
That’s a low figure, but it is an 8% improvement over the 2007
election, and it is an especially impressive accomplishment, in light of the
Movement of 20 February call to boycott the election. The Council of Europe’s
observers declared the elections fair, and there was no associated
Churchill claimed that the best argument against democracy is a
five-minute conversation with the average voter. But after speaking to many
voters, it is clear to me that an Islamic-led coalition is perhaps better placed
than any Moroccan government of recent times to carry out necessary reforms.
Why? Precisely because the Islamic parties have been kept out of all previous
coalitions, the progressive PJD is relatively untainted by corruption, at least
at this moment.
GOOD FOR Morocco also, therefore, because it needs
stable, democratically endorsed rule, to combat major problems of poverty,
unemployment, illiteracy and corruption. The population is over 31 million now,
around three times greater than what it was at independence in 1956. And about a
third of the population is under 18 years old.
The average GDP per capita
is under $5,000 per year, and around 15% of the population live under the
poverty line. Much needs to be done.
The PJD’s secretary-general will
succeed in setting up a Islamic-led government with a stable majority. Stability
is a “consummation devoutly to be wished” among the slings and arrows of today’s
The appointment by a moderate monarch supported by the West
of an Islamic prime minister sends a message to the world that there need be no
clash of civilizations, and that Islam can live happily with Western democratic
This can give a shining example to other nations in need of urgent
reform, such as Egypt, and many other Arab potentates. Jordan’s Abdullah II, for
instance, following Mohammed VI’s example, has also promised to appoint as
premier the head of the party winning the most support in elections.
do I have such faith in this Islamic Party of Justice and Development (PJD)?
Abdelilah Benkirane, the PJD’s bearded, 57- year-old secretary-general, said
that the PJD is “open to everyone” and will change its program to appease
coalition partners. Outgoing Premier al-Fassi of the nationalist Istiqlal party
is expected to join the coalition with his 60 seats. He has described PJD’s
victory as “a victory for democracy.”
The Union of Socialist Progressive
Forces (39 seats) is also expected by many to join the coalition.
a coalition of these three parties alone will have a clear majority.
program’s core will have a double axis,” Benkirane told the international
television station France 24 “democracy and good governance.”
well, if implemented. His party has pledged tax reform in order to take more
from the rich and improve the kingdom’s deficit.
Outside Morocco, the PJD
is considered a moderate Islamic party, and has made it clear it will neither
ban alcohol nor impose the veil.
From a European perspective, French
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe hit the right note by stressing “One cannot ask
that every Islamic party be stigmatized. That would be a historic error. On the
contrary, we must talk to those who don’t cross our red lines, namely respect
for elections, the rule of law and human rights.”
However, in Morocco
itself, the PJD is thought by some of its opponents to be highly
King Hassan II, father of the current monarch, even banned
one of the PJD’s progenitors.
PJD’s critics claim it changed its policies
on the surface after the 2003 Casablancan bombs, only in order to cultivate a
moderate image for electoral advantage. Other Islamists were convicted for those
crimes, and the PJD did not wish to be tarred with the same brush. Also, it
seems the PJD was instrumental recently in preventing a Freedom of Conscience
clause from being inserted in the new Moroccan constitution.
if any party has the will to combat corruption and vested interests, it is an
Islamic party untainted by participation in previous administrations. How far
its wings will be trimmed by its coalition partners remains to be
Mohammed VI’s new inclusiveness is one all Middle Eastern leaders
should adopt.The writer runs a UK-based international law office and is
a frequent commentator on North Africa.