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MOROCCO - The Changing Muslim Parties - Part 10.

Islamic parties have never been able to gain a very strong foothold in Morocco in the post-independence period. There are several reasons for this, including Morocco's distance from the epicentre of militancy in the 1980s, the secular ethos that has spread from Europe which is within eyesight from the northern tip of the kingdom, and the late King Hassan's shrewd leadership. One party has managed to survive in the country with a relatively high profile - namely Al Adl Wal Ihsan (Justice and Charity) - and its spiritual leader Shaikh Abdessalam Yassine is considered as the leader of the Islamist opposition in Morocco.

Shaikh Yassine was until mid-May 2000 under house arrest, ordered by the late King Hassan. The new ruler, King Mohammed, ended the aged Yassine's incarceration as a gesture with two meanings: (1) that he was less tough and could be more tolerant than his father on political issues, and (2) that he was strong and confident enough to release the man whom many consider to be the number one threat to the leadership. Both signals seem to have been understood and accepted because Yassine has kept a relatively low political profile since his release - although there is no guarantee that things will stay like this.

King Mohammed is in many ways reaping the results of his father's approach over the past decades. Through careful manoeuvring of external policies and a tough approach to religious opposition forces within the kingdom, King Hassan had managed to insulate Morocco from violent Islamic militant groups of the type active in Algeria and Egypt. Al Adl Wal Ihsan, for example, has not engaged in violence to achieve its objectives.

In Morocco, big confrontations between the state security forces and Islamists have been rare. It is more common for the government to clash with the secular opposition; in contrast to the Islamists, Morocco is one of the few Arab countries where the secular opposition groups have a well-developed power base. But this too has changed somewhat as Islamists have expanded at the expense of the secular groups over the past three to four years.

Most observers agree that the prospects for radical Islamists in Morocco are not positive so long as they espouse a hardline approach which does not fit with the king's moderate line in international affairs, and his vision for the country's economic revival. If the Islamists do adapt, it is conceivable that they would be in a position to enter the parliament - in a model somewhat similar to what is happening in Jordan.

One Islamist entity that has already adapted to the existing system in Morocco is the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which is a moderate Islamist grouping holding ten seats in the 325-seat parliament. Some small Islamic groups, which merged in 1996 to form the Movement for Unification and Reform (MUR), were allowed to participate in legislative elections on Nov. 14, 1997. Other Islamic groups are allowed to publish their own newspapers. However, under no circumstances would the king tolerate any attempt to overthrow the existing super-structure. King Mohammed can be expected to follow in his father's footsteps if any attempt is made to challenge the monarchy.
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Article Details
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:6MORO
Date:Oct 9, 2000
Previous Article:LEBANON - The Limited Scope For Sunni Militancy.
Next Article:MOROCCO - The Release Of Shaikh Yassine.

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