Political Islam lite

Political Islam lite
The ruling Justice and Development Party are defying expectations in Morocco and acting like political realists.
3 min read
13 Nov, 2014
A Moroccan voter casts his vote [AFP]

The former King of Morocco, Hassan II, used to say: “Power is like a grindstone. It gets easier the more you grind, but if you are not careful it will crush you”.

This nugget of wisdom from a man with decades of experience in authority applies to the current Islamist government of Morocco.

Last week Mohammad Yatime, one of the intellectuals in the ruling Justice and Development Party [PJD], confronted a public controversy. His son, Salah Eddine, won $50,000 in a Marrakesh casino, which is not exactly in keeping with the ideology of the PJD.

“My son makes his own decisions. I don’t control his life by preventing him from doing anything. That is how I raised my children,” said Yatime. This is a notable departure from the ideals of Islamists who used to forbid their followers from gambling.

Islam is not the solution

The Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has also come unstuck recently. He told the newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat that he considers himself a Muslim but not an Islamist, and that he is trying to be upright but does not always succeed. He said he came into government to solve the economic and social problems facing Moroccans, not to be a religious authority.

In a meeting with PJD youth he told them: “After today do not repeat the slogan 'Islam is the solution' because it has no meaning. Say 'Islam is the truth' instead”.

     Do not repeat the slogan 'Islam is the solution' because it has no meaning.

- Abdelilah Benkirane

In another move that flies in the face of expectations, Minister of Justice and Liberties Mustafa Ramid presented a bill to parliament this week that would make travelling to war zones illegal. More than 2,000 Moroccans have already left the country to join the Islamic State group (formerly known as ISIS). The new law carries penalties of up to 15 years in prison and hefty fines.

This is in stark contrast to the Islamist campaigns of the seventies, which supported jihadis in Afghanistan and encouraged Moroccan youth to fight the atheist Soviet Union. Some of these young people went on to join al-Qaeda and similar groups.

Minister of Women, Family and Social Development Bassima Hakkaoui, who is a controversial figure because she wears a veil and is criticised for not representing the views of more liberal women, has also got in on the act. Contrary to expectations Hakkaoui has pushed for legislation that criminalizes sexual harassment and punishes men who rape their wives.

Going with the flow

These examples of Islamist conduct, this time with their noses to the grindstone of power, can be analyzed in two ways. The first is that the PJD - and by extension the Muslim Brotherhood - changes its opinions according to the wind of public opinion, shifting the rifle from one shoulder to the other when it goes from opposition politics to a position of power. The second analysis is that the Brotherhood is gradually changing from a fundamentalist group to a conservative democratic party.

Anyone without authority has a tendency to be a dreamer and an idealist, even extremist. But power has a habit of making people realists and moderates. They see things from a different perspective — especially when they are democratically elected.

Politics is the best teacher of realism. Those in power either know how deal with it or they are crushed.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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