Many see Abdelilah Benkirane’s moments of candor and transparency as a breath of fresh air in Morocco’s political governance today. In a clear departure from the false demagoguery proffered by previous prime ministers, he provides a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality Moroccans have long been denied, but have always suspected. The appointed heads of previous governments were either ideologically purified children of privilege and political scions, or obsequious civil servants and party leaders who, despite the prestige of their offices, were nothing more than unctuous clerks lacking the gumption and conviction of true leaders. They didn’t have to worry about governing well and honestly so long as they are executing the dictate of the King and his imperious votaries, a nexus of corruption and patronage.
Mr. Benkirane understands this very well. He may be an idealist who believes in a changing Morocco, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the system as a top down patriarchy of stunning efficiency. There is a clear indication of that when he implied by his infamous “aafa Allah aan ma salaf – let the bygones be bygones” that former high ranking officials will not be held accountable for their incompetent and possibly criminal leadership. Any intensified scrutiny into the etiology of the nation’s ills will lead to the King and his inner circle that, for decades, have privatized profits, but nationalized losses. No foreign or domestic policy, economic strategy, military initiative, or religious interpretation has ever been strategically conceived and implemented without the approbation of the King.
Sometimes, Mr. Benkirane, despite his political acumen, lets his truculence get the better of him and he trespasses on the patience of the King. He forgets his right and left limits and extends his line of fire to those who act under the aegis of the palace. Last month, when he accused Fouad Ali El himma and Mounir Majidi of filibustering his administration’s efforts to reform, he was forced to publicly apologize. He could have acknowledged his indiscretion privately, but there is a lesson to be learned in this public political coitus. Mr. Benkirane, a standard-bearer known for his political obduracy, needed his dignity wrung out. Schooling him on “makhzenian” sadomasochistic politics became necessary; the Moroccans needed to see with painful clarity who has true agency and realize there is no one on the scene yet with the spine to stand up to the elite. As long as he is pandering to the King and his cabal, Mr. Benkirane can attack anybody else and gin up any self-serving polemic.
I am one to believe that Mr. Benkirane’s probity is a tool to settle scores and abdicate his responsibility to fulfill campaign promises. Last Monday, in a statement before the parliament and to the media, he announced it will take time for his budget minister to devise a workable economic model for recovery and stability. He confessed the country is headed towards economic austerity; the deficit figures reported by Salaheddine Mezouar, the previous Minister of Finance did not add up. The situation is so dire that Morocco had to call on the International Monetary Fund earlier this month to request a precautionary credit line of $6.2 billion. That’s in addition to over $2 billion borrowed from the World Bank and the African Development Bank in the past two years to optimize farming irrigation systems, improve electricity production and public transportation, prop up educational reform and rural roads programs, develop the financial sector, reform public administration, support infrastructure projects, and finance the Ouarzazate solar power project.
Many of these projects have already failed, or are so flagrantly mismanaged by an unaccountable and grossly opaque and graft-ridden bureaucracy that their dismal flop is inevitable. Policies to improve living conditions in rural areas and combat illiteracy, to eradicate poverty and slums, to reduce unemployment, and to reform the health, judicial, and education sectors have all yielded derisory results. Three weeks ago, Mohamed El Ouafa, Minister of Education, officially admitted that the emergency program (2009 – 2012) designed to overhaul public education has failed. The program was introduced with a fanfaronade by Ahmed Akhchichine, El Ouafa’s predecessor, . Its budget exceeded $370 million. Is there a motion to hold Mr. Akhchichine accountable? Absolutely not! You see, Mr. Akhchichine is a protégé of Fouad Ali El Himma.
A study by Morocco’s recently reactivated Competition Council indicated that over 63% of business transactions are facilitated by bribes and 54% of businesses surveyed are driven by patronage. These are dejecting numbers. Mr. Benkirane was quick to point out that eradicating corruption, as he had promised during his campaign, will prove difficult. It is certainly a long-term project and success is not guaranteed.
For every promise made during his electoral campaign, Mr. Benkirane and his ministers have disclosed information to explain why it would be difficult to fulfill. In the coming months, Morocco’s deficit is projected to grow as it is posed to carry out the biggest grain import in thirty years; social woes are worsening; civil rights are declining, according to international human right organizations, as demonstrators are being violently suppressed and detained incommunicado. Mr. Benkirane’s government lacks the strategy that will protect the country from the vicissitudes of the global economy and advance it towards democracy. He is falling back on a familiar script when he said: “When I say that I am only the head of government, that is not to play down my importance. But it is the king who is our guarantor of stability and the key person with responsibility for constitutional implementation.” So, what took you so long to come out of this political closet and join the rest of the harem?
A. T. B. © 2012