Two weeks after the Party of Justice and Development (AKP) captured the presidency in Turkey, Morocco is to hold parliamentary elections in which a party of the same name is expected to make significant gains and become the country's leading political party.
In Morocco's September 7 parliamentary elections, the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) will, for the first time in its history, be running its list in all electoral districts. Estimates of popular support for the PJD have ranged from 20% to 50%; the party's head, Saad Eddine El-Othmani, has given the conservative prediction that it will capture 60-70 seats out of a total of 325. Facing the PJD is the current governing coalition, which has announced that it will continue to function as a united bloc after the elections and, in a barely veiled reference to the PJD, said that it "will stand in a united line against the enemies of democracy."
The post-election scenarios in Morocco's fragmented political scene are too complex to be reliably predicted. Much will depend on the magnitude of the PJD's expected victory. In any event, real power in Morocco is in the hands of King Muhammad VI, who appoints the prime minister as well as the ministers of defense, the interior, and foreign affairs. Moroccan election law also places an artificial ceiling on the number of seats any one party can hold in parliament. Thus, the importance of the 2007 elections lies not in any immediate revolutionary potential they may have, but as a gauge of the long-term conservative-Islamic drift that is changing the face of the Muslim world's westernmost outpost.
The following is a look at the Moroccan Party of Justice and Development and the 2007 parliamentary elections:
The Party of Justice and Development – Background
The Moroccan Party of Justice and Development was formed when a veteran party headed by Abdelkrim Khatib opened its ranks to Islamist activists in 1996, following up on ties formed over the years in support of Muslim causes in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The new Islamist cadres came mainly from what was later to be called the Movement for [Allah's] Unity and Reform (MUR), with which the PJD maintains intimate ties to this day. In 1997, the party, now essentially a political branch of the MUR, ran in the parliamentary elections, competing in 40% of electoral districts and winning 14 seats in the Assembly of Representatives. In 2002, the party ran in slightly less than 60% of electoral districts, and won 42 seats.
There is a very active debate in Morocco as to the Party of Justice and Development's ideology, political program, and projects for the future. The fact that the party does not always maintain a consistent line only adds fuel to the debate. As a recent example, up until the last week of August 2007, the conclusion of the official party history on the PJD website read: "This is the course [followed] by a party that has never ceased to pronounce the declaration of faith [i.e. "There is no god but Allah" etc.] over the Moroccan political reality… and it is as determined as can be to bring this reality to the [stage of] implementation of Allah's law and the benefits this law brings to the land and the people."
In the last week of August, the website underwent an overhaul. A more succinct overview of the party's history is now included in a statement titled "The Party's Vision for the Morocco of Tomorrow," which does not include any mention of implementation of Islamic law. The new version defines the party as "a nationalist political party that strives, on the basis of Islamic authority and within the framework of the constitutional monarchy based on [the king's role as] Commander of the Faithful, to take part in building a modern and democratic Morocco…"
The PJD: Positions on Domestic Issues
Democracy and Islamic Law
In recent years, the PJD has toned down its Islamist rhetoric and has presented itself as a centrist party focusing on social justice and economic development. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, party head Saad Eddine El-Othmani said that the PJD was trying to profit from the experience of the Turkish AKP, "and that is why we took social justice and economic and social development as our priorities."
Take, for instance, the introduction to the PJD's 2007 electoral platform: One has to read through several pages presenting the party's economic program before encountering a reference to "strengthening [Morocco's] Islamic civilizational identity." The telegenic Saad Eddine El-Othmani has also explicitly denied that the party has any intention to try to enforce shari'a law through advancing new legislation against alcohol consumption or extramarital relations. The aforementioned change in the party website is another example of the PJD's attempt to appeal to the political mainstream by dropping references to Islamic law.
The apparent discrepancies between the PJD's 2007 model and its Islamist history can be explained by the party's belief in incrementalism, which has also determined its history of limited participation in elections. There are reports that such limitations may have been informally forced on the party, but this is not El-Othmani's version of events – and even if this is so, it only serves to show that the PJD is willing to play in a field where it feels the cards are stacked against them. The PJD has slowly gotten Morocco accustomed to its presence as an important opposition party and has attempted to show itself to be a responsible player in the country's democratic transition – all the while gradually increasing its parliamentary representation. Even in the 2007 elections, not all of the party's senior figures were originally in favor of running slates in all districts; the reasoning was that the PJD should not put itself in a position of possibly entering government as long as real power remained in the hands of the king, and that it should first concentrate on constitutional reform. However, the majority of the leadership felt that the time was already ripe.
A more theoretical exposition of this incrementalist approach is to be found in a treatise authored by Saad Eddine El-Othmani titled "[The Question of] Political Participation in the Jurisprudence of Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya." The treatise, which is posted on El-Othmani's website, is an attempt to refute the views of more radical Islamists who oppose participation in elections, by citing fatwas by Taqi Al-Din Ibn Taymiyya, the medieval Islamic scholar revered by Wahhabis and salafis.
The basic argument throughout El-Othmani's treatise is the case for incrementalism: "[I]t is obligatory [to choose] out of what is available that which is more satisfactory, and it is usually the case that it is not to be found in a state of perfection." Along the way, El-Othmani reveals his own appraisal of Moroccan society: It is not heretical (kafir), but rather a mujtama muslim maftun – a phrase that could be translated as "a Muslim society that has been seduced (from the right path)." El-Othmani writes that this is "a lesser degree than that of outright heresy." He argues that public affairs are not a clear-cut matter of the permitted and the forbidden, but rather leave room for the exercise of independent judgment; thus, those who see the possibility of doing good through political participation are permitted (or perhaps even obligated) to do so.
El-Othmani's own respect for Ibn Taymiyya comes through clearly; the choice of this particular scholar was due to his popularity not just with the treatise's intended readership, but with the author as well. "Sheikh Al-Islam Taqi Al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya is rightly considered the standard-bearer of the salafiyya, the renewer of the Islamic sciences, and the reviver of jihad, in scholarship and in practice…" That El-Othmani praises Ibn Taymiyya so highly is a clear sign of his salafi orientation, since the medieval Hanbali scholar holds no special place of pride in Morocco's native Maliki school of jurisprudence.
But El-Othmani does not interpret Ibn Taymiyya in the same way as some of the more radical jihadist factions do; he warns that an insufficient understanding of shari'a principles and their application to reality can lead to positions that are contrary to Islamic law. The implicit reference here is to those who rely on Ibn Taymiyya to claim that non-Islamist regimes are heretical and need to be fought.
Another exposition of the PJD's views on democracy and Islamic law comes from Bilal Al-Talidi, a prominent PJD member and journalist for the Islamist daily Al-Tajdid who often engages in public relations on behalf of the party. In an article for the Al-Jazeera website, in which he addresses claims that the party deploys ambiguous language in its public discourse, Al-Talidi writes that in order to understand the PJD, one has to understand that it is not a normal political party, but rather is essentially a da'wa (religious outreach) movement that realized that it must employ politics as an extension of its moral-religious project for society. He suggests that some of the ambiguities in the party's positions are simply the result of the ongoing attempt to adapt its concerns into a coherent political project.
He then applies this logic to the question of democracy and Islamic law. According to Al-Talidi, values should not be forcibly legislated onto society – for example, the Islamists (if they were in power) should not forbid the mixing of men and women on the beaches "until they have already made strides in convincing people of this new value and until it becomes accepted by all of the people, or the majority of them." Politics is thus the handmaiden of da'wa – what da'wa sows, politics reaps. "Whenever, thanks to the harvest of da'wa, a value comes to enjoy social legitimacy, it becomes incumbent on politics to fortify it by enacting clear policies and laws around which the people will rally." Al-Talidi sees politics and democracy as the meeting-point where society can decide between competing views of society – essentially, between the Islamist view and the secularist view. Beyond the issue of majority rule, Al-Talidi does not address any of the other issues that often come up in discussions of democracy and shari'a, such as individual liberties, freedom of the press, and so forth.
In recent years, and especially since the 2003 Casablanca bombings, which placed the PJD on the defensive, the party has sought to draw a clear distinction between itself and the various terrorist factions in Morocco, and it regularly declares that it has chosen the path of moderation and is opposed to all extremism (religious and secularist). One of their commonly-expressed positions is that the PJD, as an Islamic party, knows how to speak to the youth, and that strengthening Morocco's Islamic identity is the best bulwark against terrorism.
While the above is a good characterization of the PJD's general approach to the issue, the emphasis and tone can vary widely, as a comparison of two articles by PJD leaders in Al-Tajdid will illustrate.
In an August 31, 2007 interview in the daily Al-Tajdid, party leader Mustapha Ramid named four factors that, in his view, contributed to the emergence of terrorism in Morocco: 1) a tendency to religious extremism, which he describes as a negative but marginal phenomenon; 2) the fact that some draw inspiration from martyrdom operations against the colonialists "in Palestine and elsewhere" and erroneously employ the same tactics against the Moroccan government and people; 3) difficult social conditions; and 4) the psychological reaction to policies that are "extreme in their remoteness from religion and its values."
In a polemical September 14, 2006 article in Al-Tajdid titled "Atheist Extremism and the Moral Responsibility for Terrorism," Bilal Al-Talidi took a much more emphatic position than Ramid and placed the full blame for terrorism on "atheist extremists": "When the atheists provoke this people and strike out at its values, destroying the foundation that provides the people with forbearance and keeps [them] from falling into the hands of despair and frustration, we cannot predict the lot that some among the people may choose… [The atheists] are gambling with this country's stability, and they bear the full responsibility for what is going on today…"
The PJD: Positions on International Issues
The Moroccan Party of Justice and Development is a fierce opponent of U.S. Middle East policy across the board. This is expressed, though in somewhat couched language, in the party's 2007 platform, where foreign policy is relegated to the final chapter. On the one hand, the PJD expresses support for "the principal of dialogue and negotiations in solving international disputes," but on the other hand, it emphasizes "the right of peoples and nations to resist (muqawama) occupation" and stresses "the distinction between the right to resist occupation and terrorism." This right is not extended to the Sahrawis in the Western Sahara, which according to the PJD platform must remain Moroccan (under Morocco's current autonomy plan). Special attention is paid to the Palestinian issue, whose only solution is the right of return for Palestinians and the liberation of all Arab lands from Zionist occupation.
A clearer idea of the PJD's positions on foreign policy issues can be gleaned from the Al-Tajdid daily newspaper. While Al-Tajdid is not the official party organ, it is the newspaper of the PJD's parent movement, the Movement for [Allah's] Unity and Reform (MUR), and its staff largely overlaps with the PJD leadership: In addition to Bilal Al-Talidi, there is the current managing director, Abdelilah Benkirane, who is a member of the MUR's Executive Committee and also a prominent leader and ideologue in the PJD; also, former editor-in-chief Mustapha Al-Khalfi is a member of the PJD's National Committee.
Al-Tajdid briefly rose to international attention in early 2005 after it published an editorial to the effect that the tsunami in Asia was divine punishment for the sex industry and that Morocco was liable to be similarly chastised if it did not take measures against its own sex industry. When commentators on Moroccan state television took the PJD to task for the editorial, the party responded that Al-Tajdid is not an organ of the party, and some prominent PJD leaders publicly disavowed the article. In short, no single Al-Tajdid editorial can be taken to be the official position of the PJD, but the two are very much part of the same movement, and when Al-Tajdid maintains a consistent editorial line over time on a major issue this can be taken as a good indication of the PJD's view.
Position on the U.S. and the West
The following photomontage calling for a boycott of American products appeared on every page of Al-Tajdid's website from July 30, 2006 through July 2007:
The main caption reads: "If you can't support the mujahideen, [at least] don't pay for the criminal Zionists' bullets." The caption in the upper left reads: "Let's keep our country clean."
One recent example of Al-Tajdid's approach to the West was the following June 13, 2007 editorial: "In the view of the arrogant ones in the West, the Arabs and the Muslims are nothing more than slaves and guinea pigs… There is a human race that is above all others and has the right to everything, while even the most basic rights of the others are eliminated. In this way, the American forces and their mercenaries in Iraq have orphaned 5 million Iraqi children and killed 750 thousand Iraqis, most of them children, women, and the elderly… and nonetheless the U.S. continues to boast of defending freedom and human rights.
"In Afghanistan, NATO is killing thousands of civilians, spreading destruction, and trying to subjugate an entire people under the pretext of putting an end to so-called terrorism and the Taliban regime… In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, on orders from Washington, is invading Somalia in order to occupy it and depose a regime [i.e. the Union of Islamic Courts] that brought back stability and security [to the country] after 16 years of anarchy…
"The West is starving roughly four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank… because they democratically elected the Hamas movement to rule them…
"Everything has been turned upside down, and all legal and moral principles have been dropped – especially when we see states that are considered powerful… warning and threatening Libya for the sake of five Bulgarian nurses who were convicted in court of a crime that, if it occurred in the West, would have turned the world upside down.
"This is the bitter truth in the first decade of the 21st century, when we see more than 438 children dying, one after another over the course of five years, after having been injected with HIV-positive blood … For the West, this is something of little importance that does not need to be discussed. But when we see a death sentence passed on the five nurses, this is a disaster in the opinion of the governments of London, Washington, Sofia, and others…"
Al-Tajdid takes most of its reporting on Iraq from the Al-Hai'a Net website – the official website of Harith Al-Dari's pro-insurgency Council of Muslim 'Ulama in Iraq. This results in headlines like the following one from June 29, 2007 protesting Coalition surge operations: "The Council of Muslim 'Ulama in Iraq Calls on the Free World to Stop the Oppressive Tyranny." The article described the Coalition as "nothing other than an international coalition for mass murder, the destruction of the homes of civilians on their heads, and banishing those that remain…"
At a meeting in 2006, the Palestinian diplomatic representative in Rabat, Wasif Mansur, spoke at a meeting organized by the Socialist USFP party held in the city of Sale. According to the PJD website, Mansur blamed all of the Palestinians' current problems on Hamas' refusal to recognize signed agreements, as this had led to the international boycott. When the regional PJD party secretary (among others) made statements in support of Hamas, Mansur verbally attacked him, questioning his patriotism and complaining that "you and your newspaper (referring to Al-Tajdid) are [always] criticizing and reviling Fatah."
Mansur's accusation was accurate – Hamas is one of the dominant voices in Al-Tajdid. The newspaper takes almost all of its Palestinian coverage, and much on other issues in the Middle East, from the Hamas news agency Al-Markaz Al-Filastini li'l-I'lam, yielding headlines such as "'Abbas Declares War on the Resistance" (June 27, 2007). Throughout the recent intra-Palestinian conflict that ended with Hamas' armed takeover of the Gaza Strip, Al-Tajdid's website featured audio commentary on the events in Gaza by Dr. Ibrahim Hamami, an ardent Hamas supporter living in London who is a commentator for Al-Markaz Al-Filistani li'l-I'lam. Also, on June 23, 2007, Al-Tajdid's website posted the following cartoon by the pro-Hamas Palestinian cartoonist Umayya Juha:
The street sign reads: "Welcome to a beautiful and clean Gaza." The writing in the upper left reads: "The Al-Qassam [Brigades] and the Executive Force." The cartoon remained on the Al-Tajdid website for several weeks.
Opponents of the PJD
Many of the PJD's political and ideological opponents portray the current elections in Morocco as a stark choice between progress and reaction. For example, Mohammed El-Yazghi, head of the largest party in the current coalition government, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), said at an August 24 elections press conference: "Morocco has clear choices before it. There is one camp that is working to keep our country on the path to a successful democratic transition… and there is [another] camp that resists change and modern democratic reform and wants to push the country into a tunnel of obscurantism and ignorance…"
In the lead-up to the elections, a number of leading cultural figures and heads of civil society published an appeal authored by the poet Abdellatif Laabi and titled "For a Democratic Pact," saying that Morocco's future was hanging in the balance and calling for a united civil front against the Islamists: "Morocco has achieved over these last years undeniable advances on the path of democratic choice… The wind of liberty that is blowing over our country has lifted many taboos that long curbed the national debate. It has made possible the blooming of a new citizens' awareness and has encouraged, in an unprecedented fashion, civil society's initiative and creativity…
"But there is another side to the coin. This emancipatory spirit… is running up against… crosswinds that have been blowing for decades, and that today have picked up speed and become a tornado menacing the humanist foundations of the Moroccan home. In place of the absolute arbitrariness that impounded the democratic project in the past, today there is an obscurantist groundswell that wants to rule our society according to a still more archaic model and that has in its sights all of the values for which the progressive movement has fought…
"It is high time that the democrats in our country take the exact measure of this peril… The time has come to react… so that the democratic project, which brings liberty, pluralism, modernity, and material and moral progress, be seen clearly and overwhelmingly as the only one capable of giving the people their dignity, responding concretely to their aspirations for justice, equality, and security, and giving them once again the prospect of a viable future with the promise of a flowering [for the people] and for future generations..."
The statement ends with an appeal to all of the progressive forces in society to join in the pact and "raise high the flame of hope, humanist values, and progress."
Do the Elections Really Matter?
Given the power of the monarchy and the constitutional and legal limitations on the influence of political parties in Morocco, some observers have played down the importance of the 2007 elections. In an op-ed in the daily Al-Masaa, Ali Anouzla, editor of the weekly Al-Jarida Al-Oukhra, wrote that, hype notwithstanding, the rules of the game were fixed in advance, and the elections would just bring more of the same: "…Just as happened in previous elections, the votes in the current elections will be divided among the participating parties. The rules of the game do not allow any party to receive more than 20% of the vote, and the formation of the future majority will require a coalition of more than one political party. It follows that we will see a replay of the experience of the previous government, and of the government before that… The same faces will return to fix up an official, half-idle government, and the parliament will sit… in a room that is always half-empty, and the real governments work in the shadows, like ghosts…"
Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of the two influential liberal weeklies Tel Quel and Nichane, made much the same point. His August 4, 2007 editorial titled "Your Majesty, What Are You Saying?" was a response to King Muhammad VI's July 30 address on the eighth anniversary of his accession to the throne.
In his speech, which clearly aimed to reassure political elites at home and allies abroad, the king had said: "…The elections are not a struggle over the identity of the state or the components of its regime: an open, moderate Islam, constitutional monarchy, national and territorial unity, and social democracy. These are fixed principles that are a matter of deep-rooted national consensus, and no nation can exist without fixed principles and sacrosanct [values]. In addition, the essence of the elections does not lie in competition over the nation's large decisions – which are a subject of national agreement and the pillar of modern development – such as [being] a state ruled by law and institutions, citizenship based on commitment to human rights and obligations, economic liberalism, free enterprise, social solidarity and justice, and openness to the world. This is what we are entrusted with continuing, however conditions may change..."
Benchemsi, while himself a staunch anti-Islamist, argued that, if this is the case, then the elections are not very democratic at all, and the parties are competing only for the opportunity to execute the king's policies. His critique earned him the confiscation of the August 4-5 editions of Tel Quel and Nichane and a trial for "insolence" towards the king, which carries a possible prison sentence of five years.
What difference will it make then if the PJD scores a large victory on September 7? In the short term, Anouzla and Benchemsi are correct in saying that the absence of full democracy will sharply limit the significance of the elections – even if the PJD were to win a landslide in the popular vote. In the medium- to long-term, though, such a victory would have important implications. It would impact Moroccans' self-perception, and the world's perception of Morocco – no minor affair for a Western ally with a reputation for religious and political moderation.
More concretely, though, it would have a direct impact on Morocco's declared "democratic transition." At present, there is a wide desire among the country's political class in favor of further devolution of authority from the monarchy to elected officials. If the Party of Justice and Development scores a large popular victory in 2007, the left and liberal parties will likely rethink their support for this process, fearing that it could place Morocco on the fast track to becoming a radical stated ruled by shari'a law. In this case, the PJD will have overplayed its hand, arousing antagonism without having achieved much in the way of real power.
On the other hand, if the PJD wins a respectable, but not overwhelming, portion of the popular vote, this will likely dispel fears that have arisen over the last year or so and will further shore up the consensus in favor of a further devolution of power to parliament and the government. In that case, the path would be open for Morocco to progress in the democratic transition and eventually join Mauritania in a small but growing club of North African democracies. The onus would then be on King Muhammad VI to prove that the current constraints on democracy in Morocco are truly meant only as a guarantee of a successful transition, and not as an indefinite prolongation of regal privilege.
*Daniel Lav is Director of MEMRI's Middle East and North Africa Reform Project.
 Interview with ABC (Spain), August 23, 2007.
 Al-Sabah (Morocco), August 24, 2007.
 See, for example, "2007: Le PJD en ordre de bataille," Tel Quel (Morocco), November 25, 2006.
 http://www.pjd.ma/article_print.php3?id_article=135. The party actually ran under a different name in 1997; the "Justice and Development" name was adopted in 1998.
 http://www.pjd.ma/parti.php. The previous version can still be seen at http://www.pjd.ma/article_print.php3?id_article=135, but it can no longer be accessed through the party website's home page.
 Aujourd'hui le Maroc (Morocco), March 22, 2007.
 ABC (Spain), August 23, 2007.
 Tel Quel (Morocco), November 25, 2006. MP Mustapha Ramid was the main voice arguing in favor of continuing to limit participation in the elections.
 Ironically, this point dovetails with an editorial by Omar Dahbi that appeared earlier this year in the Aujourd'hui le Maroc daily, though Dahbi's point was to criticize the Islamists' support for Hamas suicide bombers. See: MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1534, "Moroccan Columnist Criticizes Islamists Who Denounce Terrorism against Muslims but Not All Terrorist Acts," April 6, 2007; Moroccan Columnist Criticizes Islamists Who Denounce Terrorism Against Muslims But Not All Terrorist Acts.
 Al-Tajdid (Morocco), August 30, 2007.
 Al-Tajdid (Morocco), September 14, 2006.
 The list of senior Al-Tajdid staff can be seen at http://attajdid.ma/def.asp?codelangue=6&info=31&date_ar=2007/7/25; details for Mustapha Al-Khalfi at http://22.214.171.124/livedialogue/arabic/Guestcv.asp?hGuestID=QWOp9p. More generally on the relations between the MUR, the PJD, and Al-Tajdid, see "Islamistes – La Demonstration de force," Tel Quel (Morocco), November 11.
 For a summary of the affair see "Faut-il bruler Attajdid?" Tel Quel (Morocco), February 5, 2005.
 The photomontage originally appeared as an accompaniment to a July 29, 2006 article by Saudi Sheikh 'Ali Bin Omar Badahdah titled "The Positions and Actions Needed to Aid Our Brothers in Palestine and Lebanon." The article portrayed the conflict with the Zionist Jews as an existential struggle rooted in the Jews' hostility to Islam in the time of the Prophet. Al-Tajdid (Morocco), July 29, 2006.
 Al-Tajdid (Morocco), June 13, 2007.
 Al-Tajdid (Morocco), June 29, 2007.
 Al-Ittihad Al-Ishtiraki (Morocco), August 24, 2007.
 Al-Masaa (Morocco), September 3, 2007.
 MAP, July 30, 2007: http://www.map.ma/ar/act_royale/plonearticle.2007-07-30.8694520671. The king also made a similar statement in his August 20 address, in which he said that "neither the critical issues, nor the large works and structural reforms undertaken, nor the guaranteeing of security and stability are up for suspension or delay." MAP, August 20, 2007: http://www.map.ma/ar/act_royale/plonearticle.2007-08-20.4532299429.
 Nichane (Morocco), August 4, 2007; "Nichane saisi, TelQuel detruit…" Tel Quel (Morocco), August 2007 (hors series); "Le proces de la darija," Tel Quel (Morocco), September 1, 2007.
 There is in fact an additional factor that would complicate this equation. In addition to the MUR/PJD, there is another large Islamist movement in Morocco called Al-'Adl w'Al-Ihsan. This banned-but-tolerated group rejects the monarchy and does not participate in elections, and thus its precise degree of popularity is difficult to gauge. It is also not clear whether a significant portion of the PJD vote will emerge from Al-'Adl sympathizers, or whether they would have to be considered a separate body of popular support for Islamists, in addition to the PJD electorate.