Moroccan wolf in sheep’s clothing

Like in other parts of the region, Saturday’s victory by ‘moderate’ Islamists bodes poorly for positive relations with Israel.

Voting Morocco election 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Macao )
Voting Morocco election 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Macao )
The Justice and Development Party (Hizb Al-Adala Wa At-tanmia), which is identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, has won the elections in Morocco held on November 26, 2011.
The party won 107 of the 395 parliamentary seats. According to a constitutional amendment, King Mohammed VI will have to assign the task of forming the government to the leader of the largest party – Abdelilah Benkirane, head of the Justice and Development Party.
This party is the political wing of the Uniqueness and Reform movement which represents the Muslim Brotherhood in Morocco. Its victory constitutes a further triumph for the Islamist movement in the context of the “Arab Spring,” so soon after the victory of the Ennahda movement in the Tunisian elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood branches around the region are full partners to the worldwide movement’s ideology. Each one, however, has freedom of action to devise its own tactics in line with specific political conditions. In Morocco, the Justice and Development Party chose to downplay the extreme Islamist message and mainly focus on fighting corruption and improving the economy, issues that took the lion’s share of its electoral platform.
That platform, in its brief political section, stated that the party would aim to strengthen dialogue and cooperation with all of the EU countries and Canada while, in Morocco’s relations with the United States, pursuing an appropriate diplomacy and safeguarding national interests.
The formulation in the Israeli context was restrained, and included a commitment to the “defense of the just issues of the people and first and foremost the issue of Palestine, and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of its independent state whose capital is Jerusalem, the Palestine problem being a national problem.”
The ideological platform of the parent party, the Uniqueness and Reform movement, reveals its true Islamist face. The section on the movement’s goals states that it seeks to instill the Islamic religion in the heart of the individual, the family, the society, the state, and the ummah (“community,” meaning the Arab world) and to help spread Islam throughout the world. The movement expressed unequivocal support for the armed struggle against Israel in the context of the second intifada, and for terror attacks against US forces in Iraq. It referred to “Zionist and American aggression” as “the greatest and most dangerous manifestations of terror that modern history has known.”
In recent years Abdelilah Benkirane, leader of the Justice and Development Party and the designated prime minister, has made harshly anti-Israel statements that deny Israel’s right to exist and favor the armed struggle against it. His quotes include:
“Israel... is waging a war against the people of Palestine... we regard Israel as a hostile state.” (Al-Mashaal weekly in 2011)
“The inhabitants of Arab Morocco do not think there is only a duty to identify with the Palestinians, but want to wage a jihad struggle alongside them.... Moroccans see the Islamic resistance movement Hamas as the mother of resistance and steadfastness. The Moroccans very much love the Hamas movement... and love to recall at every occasion the acts of heroism and sacrifice of this great and mighty movement.” (From a 2009 interview to the Hamas website, documented on the Uniqueness and Reform movement’s website)
Benkirane, along with tens of other Muslim religious savants, signed two manifestos that openly declare support for jihad as the only way to liberate Palestine in its entirety and call for a hostile stance toward the United States. One manifesto in support of Gaza not only refused to condemn the Palestinian struggle, but also granted legitimacy to it:
“The importance of seeking to prepare an untrammeled Islamic legal manifesto that will clarify the Islamic dimension of the Palestine issue and the legitimacy of the jihad and the struggle against the occupying Jews.”
The document advocated the adoption of an economic boycott “against Israel and the Zionist entity.... An economic jihad to help our brethren in Gaza.... Emphasis on support for the path of struggle and for the legitimate jihad in Palestine as the means of its liberation.”
Another manifesto called for an end to the siege on the Palestinian people and stressed that “we the undersigned on this manifesto emphasize the complete support of the ummah for the legal and noble Islamic position of the leaders of the Palestinian people, who belong to Hamas and other jihad organizations, in refusing to recognize the state of ‘Israel’ and its fraudulent right to exist in Palestine. We regard recognition [of Israel] as a violation of the tenets of Islamic law and the consensus of the ummah.”
The second document emphasized the right of the Muslim Palestinian people to struggle aggressively for its land, and rejected the legitimacy of agreements or treaties that renounce the right of struggle, or the right of return of the refugees, or the right of the Islamic identity of al-Quds in particular and of Palestine in general.
“[They are] an offense to the ummah, a deviation from its fundamental principles, and a sacrifice of its interests...We view the jihad-fighting Palestinian resistance, with all of its organizations, as one of the shining stars in the skies of jihad-fighting Islam.”
In sum, the media’s accounts of a “moderate” Justice and Development Party winning the Moroccan elections do not accurately reflect this party’s ideology. The purported “moderation” is a tactic aimed at gaining a political foothold, a capacity, as part of the government, to enhance the public’s readiness for Islamic jurisprudence as the source of the country’s constitution and laws.
A party that is a wolf in sheep’s clothing has won the Moroccan elections, and despite its platform’s declarative commitment to strengthen ties with the West, the party’s outlook, its leaders’ statements, and the platform of its parent party point clearly to the stance of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to the West and its culture and views Israel as a cardinal enemy.
The victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Morocco further energizes the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for the elections beginning on November 28, and encourages the Brotherhood’s branches that are fighting the existing regime in other countries. The domino effect that began with the revolt in Tunisia is coloring the Middle East green, as the Islamic revolution gradually alters the regional balance of power and, eventually, could well forge a new front to challenge the existing world order.

The writer is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This article first appeared on the JCPA website ( and is reprinted with permission.