Benkirane is playing games

Sunday 09/07/2017
A smile to soften bitterness. Former Morocco\'s Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane arrives at an extraordinary session of the National Council of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Sale near Rabat, last March. (AP)

Tensions flared inside Morocco’s ruling Justice and Develop­ment Party (JDP) after eight months of violent incidents in the northern city of Al Hoceima. Scores are being settled between intra-party camps: One led by JDP Secretary-General Abdelilah Benkirane and the other led by Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani.
The first camp is taking ad­vantage of the tense situation in Morocco’s Rif region and political conditions to strike the government below the belt, hoping to bring it down or at least vindicate Ben­kirane’s camp.
Operating behind the scenes, Benkirane encouraged supporters to abandon Othmani. He and his followers could not get over being pushed aside last March during negotiations for the appointment of a new government. This is the worst internal crisis experienced by the JDP since the 1990s.
Benkirane’s camp has accused the opposition of treason and of betraying the party’s principles. Information that is potentially dam­aging to Othmani’s government has been leaked to the media.
Not so long ago, the JDP was pro­moting itself as a disciplined party, always mindful of Islamic ethics. Recent revelations, however, dam­age that image. The other political parties at least refrain from washing their dirty linen in public.
The violent incidents in Al Hocei­ma were heaven-sent to Benkirane’s camp. He must be rejoicing over the government’s predicament. He ap­parently believes the situation gives credence to his view that his dis­missal from the government was a mistake. The Moroccan government is paying the price of that decision. Of course, he fails to mention that the instability in Al Hoceima and neighbouring areas began three months before his dismissal.
When the situation in the Rif became serious, Benkirane did not hesitate to freeze the JDP’s ac­tivities, especially the secretariat’s, perhaps out of fear of causing the dormant crisis to erupt inside the party. He did, however, encourage his followers to attack the govern­ment and distance itself from it.
Some party members demanded that Benkirane take a stand about the Rif events and offer to medi­ate between the government and the demonstrators. The intention was to embarrass the government and make the party look innocent of the government’s initiatives but everybody knows that the ultimate objective was to return Benkirane to the forefront of the political scene.
The straw that broke the camel’s back at the JDP was Benkirane refusing to issue a declaration on behalf of the party’s secretariat showing support for the govern­ment. He also refused to clarify the accusations levelled by party members against members of the government. Some fear that the crisis inside the JDP will badly hurt the party.
The Al Hoceima events created a tense political situation in Morocco, with accusations and counter-accu­sations. The opposition Authentic­ity and Modernity Party proposed that a fact-finding commission about the events in Al Hoceima be formed in parliament. It also requested an investigation into the delay in implementing scheduled development projects in the Rif and that the guilty parties be held accountable.
If a confrontation is started be­tween the opposition and the gov­ernment majority parties, it is very likely that fingers will be pointed at Benkirane’s former government.