The following is an excerpt for my latest piece on Jadaliyya, contextualizing the recent cabinet changes in Morocco and the political implications behind it:
The fluidity through which parties float from the coalition to the opposition and from the opposition to the coalition reveals more than just the pursuit of political interests (i.e., Istiqlal wanting to disassociate itself from the price hikes on food and fuel). This fluid movement practically renders the parliamentary election process in Morocco futile. Even if the parliamentary elections were intended to feed a narrative of a liberalizing political system, the shifting movements of political parties reverses any changes brought about by an electoral process. Moreover, the inability of parties to tow a consistent political line places more reliance on the monarchy as an institution, especially when it constantly intervenes in inter-party disputes at the expense of policy-making. The palace (the king and his shadow cabinet) is increasingly viewed as a stable mediating actor, rather than its true nature as an institution that operates with unchecked powers and impunity. It is through this strategy of capitalizing from the partisan squabbles among political parties that the monarchy has anchored itself in Morocco’s political landscape as a “uniting” and seemingly “necessary” actor.
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.
Put together a brief piece for Jadaliyya on the politics behind Erdogan’s reception in Morocco and how it fits into makhzen’s political landscape.
A widely mediatized and well-timed state visit can double up both as a political opportunity and as a convenient distraction. Such was the case, or as it seems, for Erdogan’s tour in the Maghreb, starting with a first stop in Morocco, followed by Algeria, and ending with Tunisia. Despite attempts at public relations spinning, the violent repression of protests in Turkey has overshadowed international media coverage of Erdogan’s state visits. In Morocco, however, domestic media is more focused on another element of Erdogan’s recent visit: the lack of a royal welcome. While Erdogan’s visit was announced weeks ahead, King Mohammed VI remained in France, where he has been on vacation since May. Instead, a powerless and increasingly isolated “Head of Government” Abdelilah Benkirane was left with the uneasy task of welcoming Erdogan during a time of heightened political intensity in both Morocco and Turkey. It was only a week before Erdogan’s visit that Moroccan police violently dispersed a peaceful protest in Rabat where members of the 20 February Movement demanded the release of political prisoners. Beyond the uncomfortably staged photo-ops and dry press releases, Erdogan’s visit to Morocco reveals the nuanced nature of state visits and their political uses.
It is useful to rewind back to the first week of April 2013. For days, both French and Moroccan media were abuzz with François Hollande’s first official visit to Morocco. Moroccan human rights activists used it as an opportunity to push for Hollande to place public pressure on the Moroccan regime to address ongoing human rights abuses, despite the passing of what was hailed as a “landmark” constitution in 2011. Instead, what unfolded was a gaudy display of the formerly colonized laying down the red carpet for the former colonizer in such a way that only reinforced the imperial hierarchy. Quite literally, red carpets were placed on every major road and roundabout Hollande was intended to visit. With Mohammed VI by his side, and the young heir prince, Hassan, tagging along as state media cameras followed and officials lined up to bow and greet, royal protocol and post-colonial subservience was on full display. While the Moroccan regime milked the visit, Hollande’s first major scandal in office dampened any hope of positive coverage abroad in France. Hollande’s former budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, was engulfed in a tax fraud scandal that took center front stage in French media. And while Hollande’s prime minister was left with the task of addressing the scandal, Hollande was fluffing the feathers of the Moroccan regime in multiple appearances on state media—including a toast during dinner with the royal family and Benkirane, a speech in parliament, and a press conference in Casablanca’s Lycée Lyautey.