Youssoufi: I was waiting for the Arab Spring

Youssoufi: I was waiting for the Arab Spring
Interview: Former Moroccan prime minister Abderrahman el-Youssoufi shares his thoughts with Basheer al-Baker on developments since the Arab Spring revolutions.
5 min read
14 April, 2015
Youssoufi was Morocco's prime minister from October 1998 to October 2002 [al-Araby]

Abderrahman el-Youssoufi was Morocco's prime minister between 1998 and 2002 during a crucial phase in the country's history. His government oversaw the transition of power from Hassan II, who died in 1999, to his son Mohammed VI.

Youssoufi retired from politics at the end of his tenure. He has not spoken at length to the media since. Al-Araby al-Jadeed's Basheer al-Baker interviewd him at his home in Casablanca.

Basheer al-Baker (BB): Please can we discuss contemporary Arab affairs.

Abderrahman el-Youssoufi (AY): Al-Araby al-Jadeed [the new Arab] is what we need. It is a well chosen name for a newspaper considering the situation Arabs are in today after the Arab Spring. From the edition [of the newspaper] I'm holding I can see it is new in both form and content. I hope your readers have the same ambitions and will uphold the values and meanings of this nascent publication. I think it will be a milestone in the Arab media scene. Congratulations.

BB: How did you react to the Arab Spring and what is your outlook for the region?

     I was shaken by the Arab Spring , but it did not surprise me.

AY: I had been waiting for the Arab Spring to happen for a long time. I spent my life in politics, and I lived in exile for 15 years. I was shaken by the Arab Spring , but it did not surprise me. I had always believed the Arabs would take charge of their destiny.

The bloody conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya is painful but may be necessary. The major revolutions that changed mankind's destiny were never easy. The French revolution suffered many setbacks before the French won their constitutional rights. No revolution is easy, but they can produce positive results in the end.

BB: How do you view the situation in Syria?

AY: We have to admire the Syria people who have fought for freedom and dignity for four years. It is remarkable what they have endured at the hands of a regime that is only interested in power. 

BB: Do you believe the Arab and international community has reacted appropriately?

AY: No. The Arabs reacted with rigidity and then retreated. The recent Arab summit nearly invited the Syrian regime to attend after excluding the opposition. It is not logical that the Arab position has failed to change after four years of killing and dispossession. Arab solidarity with the tragedy of the Syrian people is weak.

BB: What would you say to the Syrians?

AY: Syrian activists today are exemplary. However, it is strange they are unable to unite. It is true that liberation movements cannot fit everyone perfectly, but unity is the strongest weapon. If Syrians are fighting for democracy, why can they not fight together for this goal? I hope this will happen sooner rather than later, as it is the best way to get rid of the regime.

BB: Many today, especially in the West, argue the Syrian regime should be part of the solution.

AY: The level of destruction we have seen means the regime should not be part of a solution. The revolution needs to triumph. However, the West's only interest in Syria is to protect Israel's security, which determines its position towards the regime. The position of Iran, Russia, China, and even Brazil and Venezuela is disgraceful. They are either protecting the regime, as is Iran and Russia, or defending and excusing. There does not appear to be any serious support for democracy in the region.

BB: How do you view events in Tunisia?

AY: Tunisia should be credited for initiating the Arab Spring. It is also admirable how political parties, elites, and civil society have worked together to produce a positive outcomes after the revolution. 

BB: What about Libya? 

     Morocco and Algeria are two of the only countries in the world with closed borders.

AY: Both internal and external factors have negatively affected the situation in Libya and caused the infighting we see today. There is more common ground between Libyan partes than the divisions that sparked the conflict. The dialogue sessions hosted by Morocco have a good chance of being successful, and they are the only way out of this crisis. 

BB: And Iraq?

AY: The situation in Iraq deteriorated after the US-led occupation of the country in 2003. Occupying forces dismantled the Iraqi state causing the sectarian divisions we see today. It opened Iraq's doors to the gales now blowing across it from all directions.

BB: How do you perceive the current situation in Arab north Africa, which is marked by tensions especially between Morocco and Algeria?

AY: Morocco and Algeria are two of the only countries in the world with closed borders, which has greatly delayed development. It is unfortunate that our relations are improving with African nations and the EU, but not between African Arab nations.

BB: Are you still not interested in discussing politics publically?

AY: This is the first interview I have given with the media since I left politics in 2002 and it will be the last. I have made this concession because of our friendship and my attraction to the name al-Araby al-Jadeed.

BB: How do you see the state of Moroccan youths?

AY: Moroccan youths are an important resource. They are a source of pride and are knowledgeable and cultured. We hope that those youths they will work for a new Morocco. This includes women as well as men.

BB: In 1999 when Mohammed VI took the throne you called on Moroccans to benefit from having a young king in power. Did they listen to you?

AY: Yes, after nearly 16 years I am not disappointed. The young king was not a disappointment and he has understood the problems and aspirations of the Moroccan people. Morocco is moving in the right direction.

BB: Has the king consulted you about the country's affairs since you left government? If so, when was the last time?

AY: Yes, he asked me to help with several foreign missions relating to the Sahara issue. But when I retired from politics, he respected my decision. The last time he consulted me was about the formation of the present government in 2011 led by Abdelilah Benkirane.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.