Muslim voices Challenge Qualms of Islamists in Power

Representatives from Islamist parties in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia came to Washington last week to talk about the future of democracy under Islamist-led governments. They were uniformly impressive and well-prepared to challenge key concerns being voiced about Islamists in government: support for human rights, gender equality, protection of minorities, and the direction of their foreign policy priorities.

Moroccan American Center staff attended two events—a luncheon at CSIS featuring the Moroccan Minister of Communications, Mustapha Khalfi, and a day of panels at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) that included the Communications Minister and representatives from Ennadha in Tunisia, the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, the Moslem Brotherhood in Jordan, Egypt, and Libya, and others.

It is not a stretch to say, based on the CSIS session that I attended, that they are quite aware of US concerns. Minister Khalfi has spent time previously in Washington and came ready to answer with details of how the new Moroccan government is facing an array of social, political, cultural, and economic issues that are the test of the new constitution and the new government.

The Minister was quite clear about how the new government intends to move forward. After recognizing the King’s role in framing the constitutional and reform process, Khalfi raised other factors that made Moroccoan exception to the upheavals in the other Arab uprisings. He mentioned the political culture of coalition-building that has been a constant in Morocco, particularly on the local level. This experience has been quite useful as the major players and issues are clear, making negotiations more transparent and to the point. Also, the role of civil society was strongly emphasized as a means for the public to mobilize to focus the attention of the Parliament and political parties on their issues.

To Khalfi, the core challenge is implementing the new constitution by concretizing legislation in a number of key areas: power-sharing; enshrining respect for the multi-dimensional Moroccan identity; reshaping the legal code to protect freedoms and liberties; proceeding with regionalization, which includes political, economic, cultural, and social issues and is the key to resolving the Western Sahara crisis; and ensuring good governance through enhanced transparency, accountability, and reform of the judicial system. The Minister said that at least 40 laws need to be passed as part of the initial implementation process.

Other issues addressed by Minister Khalfi included the importance of rebuilding public trust in the political process, the next test being the upcoming local elections; grappling with the specter of the country’s economic and social ills; re-orienting the economy away from dependence on a Europe that is in crisis; and building a strong basis for regional cooperation and stability.

The CEIP presenters were equally articulate, arguing that the real test of Islamists in power is just beginning. The final verdict will rest on how well democracy and Islam are integrated. The question is not which existing model works best; the answer is what meets the people’s expectations in each country.

This article was originally published on Morocco On The Move.

Some like it not: no emerging consensus on the new government

I returned to Rabat two months after the election that brought in a moderate Islamic party to lead the new coalition government. Having spent the last three days at a conference in Marrakech, I was astounded by the news of five young graduates who immolated themselves during a protest for jobs. When one contrasts the hopeful expectations of the participants in Marrakech with the great sadness of young people destroying themselves through some mixture of despair and recklessness, it brings into sharp focus the challenges ahead.

It is difficult to follow the news about the damaged young men without wondering how the new government will meet this severe test one day before it was scheduled to unveil its program in Parliament on Thursday. In discussions with government and opposition supporters it becomes clear that many fear there are short fuses for long-term problems such as closing employment and education deficits. The strongest asset for the new government is the mixture of old and new, professionals, technocrats, and politicians who understand that business as usual will not suffice. Even the palace, which has ensured that its representatives are in key ministries, has been taken aback by Wednesday’s dramatic actions, marking a turn from the usually peaceful demonstrations in the capital.

I spoke with former and current members of Parliament, supporters of the new government, and those who are taking a wait-and-see attitude. While there is no consensus on how it will perform, there is agreement that the immolations are a reality check on thinking that they have the time to make hard decisions. The new government seems poised to take up the challenges quickly if one follows its public statements. Having spent so much time negotiating the distribution and structure of the various ministries, there appears to be a commitment to visible results even if it requires shifting priorities away from reducing deficits and government expenditures.

While Morocco has initialed several commecial and investment agreements with Spain, the EU, and several Gulf countries over the past three months, implementation will take time. In addition, it is hard to convince graduates that after attending university they should return to less populated areas where there are jobs, many of which don’t require any kind of degree. How the government manages expectations and its relations with the palace will demonstrate quickly if the intellectual and operational leadership is there to convince Moroccans that their futures are secure and their lives will improve. No public relations campaigns will work–only results.
This article was originally published on Morocco On The Move.