Anti-Islamist protest stirs controversy in Morocco
Casablanca - Thousands of Moroccans heeding calls on social media gathered in Casablanca to protest the “Islamisation of society” ahead of parliamentary elections.
The rally September 18th divided protesters and the media after videos posted on social media raised questions about who was involved in organising the protest against the ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD).
While some supporters of the opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) took part in the demonstration, PAM Secretary-General Ilyas el-Omari denied that the party had any involvement in the rally.
“Neither have we been invited nor asked to participate in this event. Within the party, we are for freedom of expression, provided it is consistent with the law,” Omari told Horizontv.ma.
Omari made it known last March that he intended to fight the ruling Islamist PJD reference documents that convey “this other interpretation” of Islam.
Videos on YouTube showed demonstrators expressing anger at the PJD-led coalition government for failing to deliver on promises and called on Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to “leave”.
Some who were there on “local authorities’ request” to protest corruption and other social issues said they were stunned when they found out that demonstration was organised against PJD. Others said they did not know what the protest was about, according to videos posted by various media outlets.
“Moroccans are facing joblessness, pollution problems, corruption and the latest demonstration was biased. They are accusing the Islamist party to take control of the society and it’s not true,” said Hassan el-Baiga from Laayoune.
Houda Bounsir slammed Benkirane on Facebook for not doing enough for the North African kingdom apart from “raising the prices of commodities and making the poor poorer”.
The Facebook page, which called for the “unauthorised” protest, remained anonymous, leaving questions just a few weeks before legislative elections. However, some unions and parties responded to the call by taking part in the rally.
Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad denied any link with the protest. “We were surprised by the march,” Hassad told TelQuel.ma.
He explained that his department had followed the call for the protest on Facebook and that no application for authorisation had been made to the ministry, which decided not to ban it.
“This is not the time to ban a demonstration, a few weeks before the elections,” he said.
Many political parties denounced the anti-Benkirane protest as “regrettable” and “astonishing”.
“It is clear that everyone has the right to criticise the PJD or Benkirane but this type of event remains regrettable,” said Mohand Laenser, secretary-general of the Popular Movement (MP).
Ismail Alaoui, former general-secretary of the Progress and Socialism Party (PPS), expressed astonishment at “the way the protest was organised, the bits of information that have emerged in the electronic media and the Interior Minister’s statements”.
Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid took to Facebook to deplore his exclusion from the preparations of the elections, scheduled for October 7th.
“In the last local elections, the minister of Justice and Freedoms made the decisions in consultation with the Interior minister in everything that had to do with elections. Today… we are witnessing strange events,” wrote Ramid.
“The minister of Justice and Freedoms is not consulted and decides nothing, which means he cannot be held liable for any mediocrity, regression, abuse or deviation,” he added.
Hassad downplayed the rift with PJD by insisting that his ministry has always worked with confidence.
“The Interior minister ensures that the mission entrusted by the king to both his department and the Justice ministry to oversee elections will be successfully completed, and we will solve it together,” said Hassad.