The latest in un-ironic Moroccan politics: RNI to join coalition?

Mezouar and Benkirane get giggly. Image via Lakome.

The awesome Lakome (which is a wonderful source of news and commentary on Moroccan politics) is reporting that the royalist National Rally of Independents (RNI) is in talks to join Benkirane’s Party of Justice and Development (PJD) in the ruling coalition government. Of course, the speculation is contingent upon the king’s final approval. This comes a few weeks after drama unfolded between Hamid Chabat (Istiqlal Party leader) and Benkirane over who would kiss the king’s ass more, causing the king to inconveniently intervene via telephone while on vacation in his Betz palace in France. I wrote about this and how that whole “political crisis” was empty of politics and displayed more of the power dynamics than anything else.

So the possibility that RNI is making moves to join the coalition is hilarious, well-timed (for Mezouar and his gang at least), and not surprising. Hilarious because it was only a few months ago that Mezouar was bashing Benkirane and the PJD over the “slow pace” of reforms. Well-timed because the RNI has been largely irrelevant and they’ve managed to capitalize on what is perceived as a political crisis to squeeze themselves back in the picture just in time for people to remember they exist as a party for the next elections. Not surprising because this is the game of Moroccan politics.

Poor Aziz Akhennouch though. He ended up resigning from his party for no reason! But I’m sure that this won’t hurt things that much for him. Hell, my money’s on him for being chosen in the next round of royal advising appointments.

Blogger’s note: I forgot to mention how in my first assignment as a freelance writer, when I went to cover the opening of the Morocco Mall, the first person I made eye contact with at the “VIP ceremony” during Jennifer Lopez’s performance was a drunk and stumbling Mezouar. His bodyguards were escorting him out. I regret not capturing that moment on video. And he was still Minister of Finance then too. He had to have been a lightweight since he left so early.


Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Aziz Akhennouch, resigns from his party, RNI

Read more on the original story via La Vie Eco [fr]

This is being reported by multiple private and state media sources, including the above article which links to La Vie Eco, an affiliate of Aziz Akhennouch’s holding group. He has been a member of the palace-created Rally of National Independents (RNI) since 2007. RNI is also the party of recently appointed royal adviser and former Minister of Tourism, Yassir Zenagui and former Minister of Youth and Sports, Moncef Belkhayat (the center of the A8gate scandal earlier this year).

Aziz Akhennouch’s name is also closely tied to the recent Morocco Mall, the largest shopping destination in Africa. In a newsletter published by Wafa Immobilier, an affiliate of Attijariwafa, whose largest stake holder is the royal family, it cites Aziz Akhennouch as the head of the Morocco Mall project before he was appointed minister. Now while his wife, Salwa Akhennouch, currently holds the title of “President of Morocco Mall” and gets credit for investing in 50% of the total cost from her holding group, Aksal Group, the couples’ business affairs are extremely close. When I attended the press conference for the opening of the mall, Aziz Akhennouch was right by his wife’s side, whether that was a sign of spousal support or him securing his stake—I consider it both.

Aziz Akhennouch’s business dealings are no secret and they’re arguably what got him his position as a minister. Akwa Group, Aziz’s business empire, dominates the energy (oil, gas, petroleum), real estate, technology, and telecom industries. Apparently, he refused a salary as minister, probably because that salary is but a fraction of his monthly turnover.

Him leaving RNI is an interesting move to make, especially on the first day of 2012. However it can best be summarized in one word: opportunism. Since RNI positioned itself in the opposition, along with their good friends over at PAM, he would not have been able to hold on to his position as minister. However, the above article claims he has not made a decision to enter another party. Yet if he does remain a minister, he will be doing so as a political independent. (Don’t ask me about the legality of that because I’ve read the Moroccan constitution about 16 times since its release, and still don’t understand it).

Morocco’s entire political landscape can best be described by folks who go in and out of parties for the sake of securing a titled position, a little Luis Figo meets Joe Lieberman action. Moreover, the relationship between Aziz and Salwa Akhennouch exemplifies the sort of networks established after colonialism which pair both politics and business with no clear separation between the two. Morocco’s entire political economy is built on these extensive networks, even from the very top with the royal family’s holding company, SNI, which is heavily invested in the private sector. Your economic success depends on your political loyalty. Rarely will you find an outspoken critic of the regime in a position of authority in the private sector. This all feeds to the equation of authoritarianism, and the basis of an elite like the Makhzen, who despite being protested against, is extremely hard to dismantle because of their presence throughout various spheres.

But it makes for fun entertainment when you go to a VIP event at the Morocco Mall opening, only to be greeted by a stumbling drunk Minister of Finance (also the head of RNI) in the company of other drunk politicians and businessmen, all singing the praises of the monarchy to ensure the extra zeros in their bank accounts.

And that’s your Moroccan POL ECON 101.

Bonus clip: Moncef Belkhayat, Salahhedine Mezouar, Aziz Akhennouch, and Yassir Zenagui acting like annoying frat boys.