The Moroccan Justice and Development Party: What keeps it alive?

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Mhamed Biygautane
Mhamed Biygautane

While political fiasco continues to reshape the region with a full-fledged civil war in Syria, military ouster in Egypt and a lawless state in Libya, analysts observe the political drama being staged in Morocco. Despite the political stability the country enjoys, questions and concerns rise over the promised democratic and constitutional reforms. The Justice and Development Party (JDP), that has been ruling for more than a year, keeps disappointing the public’s trust with the manner in which it governs, and also its shifting its discourse and narrative towards what pleases the Monarchy. Abdelilah Benkirane, the “head of the government,” is not only mocked for his extremely colloquial language and lack of the eloquence that political leaders normally enjoy, but his overly exaggerated defense of the monarchy as well. Once holding a defiant oppositional stance towards the institutional role of the king, Benkirane has now been labeled the “puppet figure” that serves the Makhzen’s, the establishment’s, interests. This questions the entire political paradigm that resulted from the post Arab Spring period. Is Morocco’s political trajectory back to where it started before the February 20 movement? Is the monarchic institution ever going to ascend to a truly constitutional one?

The image of the king in the country

It is an undeniable fact that the King Mohammad VI is the current anchor of stability, security and unity in the country. Without his presence, Morocco would have witnessed the same tragic fate of Syria, Egypt, Tunisia or even Libya. Moroccan people have strong emotional ties with the young king who tried his best since he was the crown prince to be close to the people, serve their interests and fight for their rights. Unlike Hassan II who notoriously ruled the country with an iron fist, Mohammad VI has gained the unconditional love and appreciation of his people. However, this does not mean that the Moroccans do not aspire to a democratic government that tarnishes the old abuses of power by ministers and statesmen. With the advent of the Arab Spring’s events, Moroccans took to the streets calling for political reforms, strengthening the rule of law, fair representation of people in the parliament and establishing a more dynamic and robust economic growth. This in turn would create ample job opportunities to curtail the alarmingly increasing unemployment rates in the country.

Yet, they did not question the legitimacy of the king while they called for restricting some of his powers over the democratically elected government. King Mohammad VI is respected by the Moroccan people as the epitome of unity and security. Morocco is ethnically divided into the Amazighs (indigenous people of Morocco), Arabs, Bedwens and more importantly, politically dominated by elitist Fassi families who are deeply entrenched in the power apparatus and have close ties to the monarchy. The presence of the king eliminates any possibilities of clashes among these parties and secures safety and peace. Furthermore, the Arab Spring’s main lesson is that democratic transition should be an incremental rather than abrupt.

The political stage in Morocco: A laboratory for experiments

The Justice and Development Party came to power by default. The absence of another alternative was the best card they played. Moroccan people are more liberal than to want to be represented by an Islamist party. However, it did not take so long for Benkirane’s party to prove not only that it did not quite understand the art of effective government administration and policy making, but also did not know much about the management of people and conflicts.

The Centre Right Istiqlal Party resigned from the coalition creating a vacuum that took three months to fill. The main driver for such a resolution was Benkirane’s mismanagement of the government resources and implementation of mal-informed policy decisions that resulted in worsening the government’s budget deficit. He was constantly accused of “acting like the head of a political party rather than the head of a government that represents the people.”

In the meantime, the Moroccan public was to pay the price. The ailing economy kept worsening, budget deficit escalating and Benkirane’s government shocked the region by increasing the prices of oil and gas, removing subsidies over some food items and increasing pensions. The way these decisions were calculated is still a mystery to many analysts and observers. Yet, Benkirane still made his way through and blatantly appeared in many TV interviews arguing that the government still controlled the prices and the proof was that those of tomatoes and bananas were still the same.

Government reshuffle: Back to the old regime

At a time when Islamist governments have collapsed in Egypt and Tunisia, in Morocco; however, the JDP is just making its cushion more comfortable. After three months of deliberations and extensive negotiations, a new government was formed. The outcome of the Oct. 10 government reshuffle demonstrates, quite extensively, the abortion of the political reform system initiated since the advent of the so called Arab Spring. The new coalition partner, the National Rally of Independents, has very close ties to the monarchy and was the creation of King Hassan II to challenge the leftist parties in 1970s. The mechanisms that govern the modus operandi of the new cabinet (named Benkirane II) are set out by the king. Worse than anything else, most of the faces that form this cabinet and hold critical ministries were prominent players of the ancient regime that Benkirane accused, on many an occasion, of nepotism and corruption. The new minister of foreign affairs, as a case in point, could not secure the ministry of economy for himself during the negotiations to form the first cabinet (Benkirane I) given the allegations of corruption that were brought against him. His luck could not be grander; he secured one of the most sensitive ministries in Benkirane II.

Under the tight government budget, increasing prices of food and energy, bloating budget deficit, the current cabinet has 39 ministers as compared to 30 in the previous one. Benkirane happily boasts that six women, compared to one in the previous cabinet, form the current cabinet.

What comes next?

When speculations were looming that Tunisia would experience the best democratic transition, Morocco could have been an exemplar in keeping abreast with the aspirations of the populace in securing a smooth political transition in North Africa. The Arab Spring wave went smoothly, with no dramatic repercussions on the security and safety of the country and people. A new constitution was implemented, a democratically elected government came to power and the head of the government, for the first time, came from the party that garnered enough votes to form a majority government. Nevertheless, the incompetency of this government to deliver and its recent coalition with a prominent party of the ancient regime promise little change on the horizon.

Unemployment rates are staggering among university graduates, especially medical doctors who are stunned that the new government has not yet announced if they will have an opportunity to pursue their specialty and studies.

The government keeps silent on other policy issues it had promised to prioritize in its agenda.

Where is this taking the country to? Certainly the months to come will have more stories to tell about new experiments the new cabinet will be trying. JDP will not necessarily be ousted as it did not come up with anything new. It is just a smooth continuation of the Makhzen’s policies that are to live on in the years to come.


Mhamed Biygautane’s research focuses on the political and economic developments of the MENA region with special focus on the Maghreb countries. He has published more than 70 studies on political economy of development, knowledge Management in the Public Sector, modernization and reforming of public sector and improving its performance, governance challenges in the Arab world. He also serves as a Middle East and North Africa Expert in the European Geopolitical Forum where he provides strategic advice on the economic development of the MENA region. Mhamed has been featured in international and regional TV channels such as the BBC, Dubai One, Kuwait TV, Dubai TV and newspapers like the New York Times, Gulf News, Al-Khaleej and other prestigious outlets.