Let history be the judge of Abderrahmane Youssoufi

Let history be the judge of Abderrahmane Youssoufi
Comment: Youssoufi took many controversial decisions during his time as Morocco's prime minister. Time will tell us if they were the right ones, says Ali Anzola.
5 min read
15 Apr, 2015
Youssoufi was prime minister for four years [Getty]

The former Moroccan prime minister, Abderrahmane Youssoufi, has finally decided to break his silence, 13 years after he left government and retired from politics, giving his first exclusive interview to al-Araby al-Jadeed's Basheer al-Baker.

As always, Youssoufi's remarks were brief and to the point, requiring readers to look deeper and analyse his comments.

Out of commitment to a promise he made to himself when he resigned from his party and left politics, he did not touch on internal Moroccan politics, saying only that he would leave history to be the judge of his time in office.

The opposition's first prime minister

Youssoufi's premiership was an important turning point in modern Moroccan history.

For the people who do not know Youssoufi, he was the first Moroccan prime minister from the left-wing opposition chosen by the late King Hassan II to lead the government, in 1998.

This was an important turning point in modern Moroccan history. The late king was suffering from a disease he was hiding from the closest members of his inner circle, and when he felt his end was near he tried to make sure the transition after his death would be as smooth as possible.

The first thing he did was to officially pardon all political prisoners. He then put forward a new constitution which, for the first time, the left-wing opposition agreed upon. He also opened a small window for the Islamists to participate in politics, started the country on the path of economic liberalisation, and took the first steps toward allowing more freedom of speech.

However, the old king's crowning achievement was convincing Youssoufi, a bitter opponent to his rule, who took up arms against him and was sentenced to death in absentia several times, to become prime minister, in the so called "consensual succession".

This was a transfer of power based on political consensus, pending conditions for a genuine transition to democracy through the ballot box.

Youssoufi recalled that when the former King summoned him to the palace for negations, all of his family members were there, including his heir, current King Mohammed VI.

Youssoufi was presented to them as "the arms smuggler that wanted to topple your father's rule". None of the details of what was discussed in the meeting have ever been made public. Youssoufi later said in parliament when he was prime minister that he swore on the Quran in front of the King, even though he is a secular leftist, to keep the happenings of the meeting a secret and to this day he has kept his promise.

After Hasan II's death it became clear things would not go as planned, because in 2002 at the end of Youssoufi's term there were parliamentary elections, in which Youssoufi's party the Socialist Union of Popular Forces took first place from among the political parties that took part and in accordance with the constitution the prime minister should have been the leader of the winning party.

The Moroccan sphinx

But Mohammad VI chose to appoint a technocratic prime minister, which angered Youssoufi and his party, which released a statement condemning the King's decision for not respecting the "democratic path" laid down by the constitution.

Youssoufi then immediately decided to resign from his party, leave politics for good and go into a silence that earned him the nickname of "the Moroccan sphinx".

Since then, and until his exclusive interview with al-Araby, which he said would be his last, he has protected his secrets. But during this long period of silence Youssoufi gave us what become known in Moroccan political literature as the Brussels speech, which was a revealing, self-critical and analytical speech on the experience of the first succession government in the Arab world.

In 2003, a year after he left government, Youssoufi was invited by the Belgian parliament to talk about the democratic experience in Morocco. He said the consensual succession that he led had not created the democratic succession that had been hoped for.

Youssoufi had to choose between national interest and political and partisan considerations.

In an honest and revealing moment of self-criticism, Youssoufi said: "We found ourselves with just two options. The first was dictated by national interest. The second leaned toward political and partisan considerations."

He said he had to choose between participating in the government at a time when we knew the king's health was poor and because of this, Morocco would have to deal with hard times or wait for our the king to take the throne and negotiate with him on the particulars of his role.

"So we chose to bear our national responsibility and chose the interests of the country to take part in a calm transition," he said.

Youssoufi acted as a head of state, not as the leader of the biggest opposition party at the time. He knew his decision would affect his party's standing, which has since entered into a period of gradual decline.

Youssoufi not only took criticism from the authorities, who did not respect their deal with him, he also was attacked by his allies, who did not understand his reasons for doing what he did.

Because of this, he retreated into silence. Perhaps he is waiting for history to be his judge.

Youssoufi won the respect and admiration of his critics before that of his friends, a rare thing in the world of politics, an achievement few have managed to equal.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.