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Islamism in Morocco: A Sign of Maturing Democracy – Malika Layadi

By Malika Layadi

Last Wednesday, the Woodrow Wilson Center hosted an event on the current state of Islamism in the Middle East and North Africa. Given current geopolitical developments, it came as no surprise that the prognosis in the Middle East was dire.

Dr. Nathan Brown addressed the situation in Egypt and Palestine; Mr. Leslie Campbell discussed Yemen and the Gulf. Both came to the conclusion that Islamist groups in the Middle East are reconsidering the primacy of politics and turning to more violent and radical paths.

In the midst of the chaos, North Africa emerges as a beacon of hope. Wilson Center Senior Scholar David Ottaway emphasized the pragmatism of the Islamist movements in the Maghreb, Libya excluded, and their willingness to participate in politics. In Tunisia, the Ennahda party graciously conceded power after it lost to the secular Nidaa Tounes in the October 2014 parliamentary elections. In Morocco, the Islamist PJD party, while still in power, has shown a willingness to abide by the country’s political process.

Though the Wilson Center panel described these trends as examples of coexistence, one might also argue that  having Islamists in power shows a maturing of democracy, at least in Morocco. While the PJD holds traditionalist views that may conflict with leftist, centrist, and even other right-wing parties’ views, this difference in ideology is exactly what strengthens Morocco’s political plurality and paves the path for the continuation of its move towards democracy.

The PJD’s rise to power has led the other political parties to strengthen their identity and adopt more distinct agendas. The Istiqlal party, for example, is now moving away from its legacy as the pan-Arabist party of the independence movement, to a more current ideology and  program. This introspection has given rise to a more informed, diverse, and beneficial discussion about Morocco’s political future.

Just as importantly, being in a position to participate in politics, and more specifically to govern, the PJD has channeled its Islamist ambitions into a meaningful and positive political outlet. Far from repeating the upheaval that characterizes Islamism in the Middle East, the PJD has adopted a more moderate approach, prioritizing the development of Morocco over the establishment of a religious state. As Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has said, “The PJD is a political party concerned with solving Morocco’s socio-economic problems, not a religious movement.”

Through the inclusion of Islamism in its political landscape, Morocco has been able to foster a diverse dialogue between its different parties, channeling all efforts – as ideologically disparate as they may be – into advancing and consolidating Morocco’s democratic transition.

Ms. Layadi is a research assistant at MAC.

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