By Robert M. Holley (Washington, DC, Dec. 22, 2011) — The Party of Justice and Development (PJD) is described as a “moderate” Islamist political party in large measure because its platform focuses on economic growth and jobs, social development, justice, accountability, and transparency in government. It doesn’t support what many regard as “Islamist” positions — such as imposing Islamic law on the government or society.
Indeed, PJD leaders call themselves a political party with an “Islamic reference.” It is more useful to compare it with the Christian Democrats in Europe than extreme “Islamists” like the Taliban in Afghanistan or mullahs in Iran. Another helpful comparison is the governing PJD party in Turkey, which also has an “Islamist” reference but operates within the strong secular norms of Turkish society.
Most Western news reports have failed to examine the differences and national circumstances that distinguish the Islamist movements in countries like Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt.
The PJD in Morocco has less in common with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt than one might assume from the popular press. It has experience governing in legislative and executive offices of key cities and regions inMorocco. It functions in an open, competitive political environment in Parliament with at least eight large, well-developed parties among more than thirty that contested the recent election. PJD leaders know they need to cooperate with other parties if Morocco is to meet the needs of its citizens. With 107 seats in Parliament, the math of reaching a stable 200+ seat majority makes cooperation a political imperative.
They are committed publicly to finding common ground with these parties, and must do so in the context of a Moroccan society that has an established middle class largely committed to secular values, a vibrant civil society, and a market-oriented economy tied to its prosperous tourist industry. To attempt any dramatic course change would surely provoke very swift and substantial resistance.
Finally, the PJD-led government will have to lead in the context of Morocco’s forward-thinking and popular King Mohammed VI, who has already initiated more than a decade of widely supported economic, social, and political reforms. He also remains, under Morocco’s new Constitution, Commander of the Faithful with final say over all religious affairs. The PJD accepts the King’s role, as well as the reforms he spearheaded, including Morocco’s Family Law code granting greater rights to women.
This is the context and common ground within which the PJD will lead in Morocco. Indeed, after meeting with the King and receiving his appointment as Head of Government, PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane assured Moroccans his job was to find jobs for his people—not provide commentary inside the mosque or tell them how to run their personal lives.
Economic growth, jobs, education opportunities, good governance, and fighting corruption are the measures by which PJD’s success will be judged. Expectations are high. The PJD has already made clear it intends to continue to strengthen Morocco’s very good relations with the US and Europe, as well as focus more attention on sub-Sahara nations and their partners in North Africa. Better regional relations, especially with Algeria, are key for ending the impasse on the Western Sahara, which the PJD is firmly committed to maintaining underMorocco’s sovereignty.
The PJD has developed a reputation since its founding in 1998 for taking very seriously its responsibilities in Parliament and local government. Moroccan voters will hold it to its word.
Robert M. Holley is Executive Director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy