Before he uttered a word, Mr. Abdelilah Benkirane, the new Moroccan Prime Minister, was made to understand he will be challenged. As he stood before the lectern to address Morocco’s bicameral Parliament, parliamentarian women stood up holding printed slogans expressing their indignation at the trifling representation of women in his new government and chanting their intention to be no milquetoast opposition. Outside the parliament, another group of women demonstrated; their voices squawked through loudspeakers to deplore the regression of the status of women. Mr. Benkirane was hardly nonplussed as if he expected such an outburst.
In his speech, he outlined his government’s multi-tiered program to address the set of challenges that have overwhelmed his predecessor and dejected the public. He predicted a 5.5% growth over the next four years and a 1.6% reduction in the unemployment rate to 8%; he promised to stabilize the inflation at an appropriate 2% and to slash the budget deficit to 3% of gross domestic product. He vowed a better execution of the “Cities without Slums” program by expediting the construction of 840,000 housing unit. Eradicating corruption and poverty are his national priorities. Honoring Morocco’s agreements with the European Union and other partners, and fostering new international relations are the framework of his foreign policy. Protecting Morocco’s monarchic institutions, its borders, and national security are the bedrock of his government ‘strategy. The new constitution will be its guiding light.
To many, Mr. Benkirane ’speech was motivating, even inspirational. A pugnacious political opposition, mostly disgruntled former ministers and officials turned representatives and councilors, described the speech in a frothing rebuke as nothing more than a wish list and rote slogans. They deplored the lack of details on how the recently formed government will execute. They inveighed against the lack of urgency and criticized Mr. Benkirane’s long view. It is clear that the opposition is vehemently unwilling to take the high road and make a good-faith effort toward political impartiality. It has already started building a wall of obstruction and concocting schemes to subvert any initiative the government proposes in order to delegitimize the PJD’s ascension to the Executive.
Mr. Benkirane’s agenda is riven with conflicts and contradictions. If we are to base our analysis on facts, Mr. Benkirane’s critical tasks seem highly inexecutable. To maintain the inflation at 2%, the government will have to raise interest rates and discontinue government subsidies; it will require enacting austere fiscal policies that will throw Morocco into an economic depression neither the public, nor the government – unless it aims for a bloody revolution – is ready for. To revitalize the economy by drawing international investment, fostering entrepreneurship, and lowering the unemployment rate will require, among other steps, decreasing interest rates. How Mr. Benkirane will reconcile opposing economic strategies is unknown at this time. He seems to fudge on key issues; he sometimes talks about reducing inequality; in others, he promises expanding opportunities. In light of Europe’s economic recession, a 5.5% growth over the next four years is improbable.
Mr. Benkirane’s popularity could be chalked up to his audacious denunciations, during his rallies, of unprincipled politicians and his unrelenting confrontations with Abbass el-Fassi’s government over the inconstancy of its members. But so far, there are no reassuring signs he is the bellwether Moroccans believed he would be once at the helm of the government. Since winning the election and his subsequent appointment by the King as Prime Minister, he has seeing his image change in the collective psyche of Moroccans. His floundered attempts at forming a government portrayed him as a weak-kneed concessionist. By handing over ministerial portfolios to individuals who have participated in previous administrations, some such as Mohand Laenser since the early eighties, people, especially the young and disenfranchised segment of society, consider him now a member of the Makhzen establishment he has once railed against. Allowing Mr. Aziz Akhanouch to resign from the Independents’ National Rally party to join the new government and carry on his duties as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is a clear constitutional transgression.
And it is not the only one.
Creating ministerial positions without assigning portfolios to accommodate the power-grabbing aspirations of organized political interests the public deems undesirable is another one. The negligible representation of women in the new government is yet another example of how dismissive Mr. Benkirane could be of the new constitution when it oppugns his Islamist leaning or his political duplicity. The unemployed have grown convinced they have been hoodwinked into believing that Mr. Benkirane is a reform-minded outsider who will put the kibosh on their woes. However, they quickly realized how the patriarchal level-headedness he demonstrated before the election has morphed into a churlish assertion of regulatory power only a few weeks after he assumed power. Last week, four unemployed youths who hold higher degrees self-immolated in Rabat when they became exceedingly harassed by the police during a sit-in. Demonstrations organized by activists in major Moroccan cities have been violently confronted by security forces resulting in the detention and hospitalization of hundreds of participants. Human rights and individual freedoms are slowly and steadily deteriorating.
These are strong indicators that Mr. Benkirane has transitioned from a belligerent opposition leader to a consummate “makhzny.” They reinforce the view many Moroccan analysts share that the electoral success of the PJD was orchestrated and only serves to placate the mounting populist aversion to the status quo.
As their hopes blink out into oblivion, the Moroccan people are no longer swayed by the bloviation of politicians and businessmen who act as if they will flog the nation into prosperity when in fact they are depleting its resources. They understand that Mr. Benkirane is nothing more than the new court jester; the blame falls squarely on the King. They have grown intolerant of the unvarnished condescension directed at them from the palace. The recent inauguration by the current heir apparent to the throne of a zoo in Rabat is a clear illustration of how nothing will be changing in Morocco. Moroccans saw an eight year old child around whom high ranking city officials and politicians could not walk upright out of fear; they lavished upon him profound veneration, kissing his hand and never calling his name as if doing so were a blasphemy. Instead, they referred to him as “The Name of my Master.” The inauguration gave insight into the upbringing of Morocco’s future king. Before he understands the underlying principles of governance, the strategies of politics, the glorious history of the people he will inherit and upon whom he will be king, he is taught first and foremost that he is the apotheosis of mankind, that people need to be obsequious servants at his whim.
Where is the dignity in that? No Moroccan in his right mind pines for the era of Hassan II, nor does he look forward to the era of a Hassan III who believes the people ought to serve him and not the other way around. No wonder demonstrators around the country today are chanting: “You king, you vile enemy of the masses.”
A. T. B. © 2012