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Islamism and Democracy 2

I have a friend, a university student, who feels that it’s pointless to talk about democracy in a system where all power flows from the top; and that this concentration of power is one of the biggest obstacles to Morocco’s development. So he favors a system where the king’s authority is strictly limited, and where the real power resides in laws written by an elected parliament, and enforced by an independent judiciary that doesn’t owe its authority to the king. My friend is a secular leftist, whose family has supported the USFP in the past. His priorities for Morocco are constitutional reform, educational reform, transparency and accountability in government, an end to the monopolization of the economy by a few powerful families, and a drastic improvement in the material well being of Morocco’s impoverished majority.

These are all goals that one would expect to be shared by a socialist party like the USFP, heir to the legacy of Mehdi Ben Berka, and whose leaders risked prison, exile or worse during the Driss Basri years, the “Years of Lead.” Yet my friend sees the USFP of today as no longer a leftist party, no longer a party that speaks for the people; but rather, one whose leaders have accommodated themselves quite comfortably to the wealthy interests who run Morocco. As he put it, “The USFP is too proud to take bribes from the little guy, whom they expect to follow all the rules and procedures on the books, but they’re happy to participate in a system where profiteering at the highest level is commonplace.” As a result, he didn’t vote in the parliamentary elections of 2007, and in this year’s local elections he cast his ballot for the PJD, because he sees it as the party most likely to bring democratic change to Morocco.

My friend’s vote was a strategic one, not one of complete agreement with the PJD program. Nevertheless, he’s studied their program in detail and finds points of agreement with his own priorities for Morocco. First of all, he respects the fact that their candidates have been vetted against corruption, and there are no profiteers on the PJD list. “These are serious people who have succeeded in professional life outside of politics, and who won’t use their position for personal gain. Those who abuse their position are expelled from the party. No other party can say that.” He notes that the PJD practices internal democracy when choosing its party leaders, rather than letting the party be used as the vehicle of a few powerful individuals, as with so many other political parties in Morocco.

He rejects the idea that the PJD has no political program beyond imposing Islamic values on schools, courts and the daily lives of Moroccans. He insists that this is a distortion promoted by the Makhzen, and by other political parties speaking from self interest. “I saw a debate on TV a few years back called ‘Should We Fear the PJD?’ The PJD representative brought his party’s program, but the representatives of other parties only wanted to talk about the Taliban and other examples of Islamic extremism. Finally the PJD guy threw up his hands in disgust, saying, ‘I came here prepared to debate our agenda, but you’re doing everything you can to avoid the subject.’”

Most of all, my friend respects the PJD’s commitment to constitutional reform that would limit the king’s authority, and their refusal to join the national government under the current system. They would have no real authority to implement their program anyway; and if they tried, they would fall into the same trap the USFP fell into in years past, discrediting themselves in the eyes of the people by accepting the privileges of power while failing to deliver on their promises.

If there were an effective Left in Morocco, my friend would be with it, but the Left has been neutered by years of severe repression under Hassan II, followed by co-optation under Mohammed VI. So instead, he turns to the PJD as the party of clean government in the public interest. The PJD has a record of opposing the sort of showy public works projects (boulevards with fountains and colored lights) that give well-connected interests a chance to skim their percentage from every contract. Instead, the PJD favors spending public funds on projects that will directly benefit people in their daily lives, such as improved public sanitation or better-equipped schools. Most importantly, they support constitutional reform as a precondition to effective government on the national level. If a party were to emerge on the Left that made that argument, and that could show it was working on behalf of Morocco’s impoverished majority, I believe they would have my friend’s vote. But he says that no such party exists in Morocco today.

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