Since the establishment of parliamentary elections in the mid-90’s, Moroccan politics has seen a repeated pattern: opposition parties do well in polls, they are asked to join the government, and they are finally co-opted by the system they used to oppose.
This canny scheme, designed by Hassan II, one of the shrewdest Arab rulers of the 20th century, has worked perfectly for the Moroccan monarchy. It has allowed the king to rule behind the scenes, deflecting criticism to political parties, and eroding the opposition to the Monarchy. In fact, the strategy has worked so well that when the wave of rebellion from the Arab Spring arrived to Moroccan beaches it was rather tamed.
After the co-optation into the system (and neutralization) of the main opposition party during the last decades of the 20th century, the Socialist Party, now it is the turn of the PJD, the moderate Islamist party. Like in the rest of the Arab World, political Islam has been the language of dissent in Morocco during the last years, so the PJD won a clear victory in last year legislative elections.
So far, the PJD has played into the “royal game”, and its secretary general, Abdelilah Benkirane, has accepted the offer to be the primer minister. After moderating its positions during the last years, it seems that the PJD is ready to abandon its objectives to reform the country in exchange for some government posts and official choffeurs.
However, some factors may push a PJD-led government to be less submissive than Abderrahman Yussufi’s (the former Socialist primer minister). To begin with, theoretically, Benkirane has more powers after the democratic reforms announced by Mohammed VI last year. In addition to this, because the Arab Spring and the successful example of neighboring Tunis, popular pressure for change may be bigger than a decade ago. Last but not least, the recent example of the Socialist party, which lost most of its popularity after being co-opted, should loom large in Benkirane’s calculations.
If Mohammed VI is able to ride out the storm witnessing other Arab rulers without transforming Morocco into a real Constitutional monarchy, pretty much like the Spanish one, it will not only be the result of his intelligence, but also the complete failure of Moroccan political class, Islamists included.