Moroccan opposition figures trade barbs over political Islam ahead of leadership elections

Party member Abdellatif Ouahbi said behaviour of the Authenticity and Modernity Party regarding events and political actors was marked by reductionism.
Sunday 02/02/2020
Hakim Benchamach, Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) secretary-general. (Twitter)
Permanent tension. Hakim Benchamach, Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) secretary-general. (Twitter)

CASABLANCA - Officials from Morocco’s main opposition Authenticity and Modernity Party, which is seen as close to the palace, traded barbs over political Islam ahead of leadership elections.

Party member Abdellatif Ouahbi said behaviour of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) regarding events and political actors was marked by reductionism, which focused its efforts as if they existed only to face political Islam.

“Between democratic struggle and reconsideration of the PAM position vis-a-vis the Justice and Development Party (PJD), a politician first thinks of diversifying his allies,” Ouahbi said at a news conference January 23 announcing his candidacy for the PAM leadership.

“The state reason requires in-depth analysis to deal with political actors without taboos or intellectual inertia,” said Ouahbi.

PAM Secretary-General Hakim Benchamach dismissed Ouahbi’s statement as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“Evoking the commandery of the faithful by speaking of political Islam is a form of questioning one of the foundations of the monarchy,” Benchamach said.

“These words cannot come from a person supposed to be aware of the minimum required of the principles of the constitution and, moreover, a jurist who assumed parliamentary functions and responsibilities on behalf of the PAM.”

Moroccan King Mohammed VI is the commander of the faithful, the highest religious authority in the country.

Benchamach said that instrumentalising religion to garner votes was a mark of ignorance of the foundations of the Moroccan constitutional system and a denigration of the institution of the commandery of the faithful, which “is a constitutional and historical foundation of the Moroccan state.”

He lashed out at Ouahbi’s “vile” words, which he said do not serve the interests of those whom Ouahbi takes as allies from political Islam and harm the PAM.

Ouahbi called for the PAM’s “disengagement” from the state, promising a new approach backed by a new political discourse.

Former PAM Secretary-General Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah, who is also vying for the party’s leadership, accused Ouahbi of insulting the party’s history.

The PAM was founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, a former minister of interior and adviser to the king, in 2008 to counter the rise of political Islam led by the ruling Islamist Party of Justice and Development.

“To question the PAM’s independence is to insult our activists and history,” Biadillah told Moroccan news site Medias24. “Then, as a candidate for the PAM General-Secretariat, I hope that the PAM leadership will respond to these very serious allegations.”

Analysts said PAM’s image has been badly affected by crises and internal conflicts. They said they doubt that the party will be one of the main contenders in the legislative elections in 2021 because of the lack of a united front.

The PAM finished second in the legislative elections with 102 seats after the PJD, which won 125 seats.

“Our party has gone through a period of tension and crisis. Today it needs appeasement and gathering,” said Biadillah.

Ilyas El Omari resigned as PAM secretary-general in August 2017 but froze his decision during a national council session, pending an extraordinary meeting and leaving the party in limbo.

Activists in the party accused Omari of a “tribalist” management of the party by placing his relatives and friends at the top of the electoral list in northern Morocco, which prompted the departure of several figures.

In May 2018, Omari confirmed he would step down after a committee meeting tasked with preparing the extraordinary session of the National Council to elect a new leader. A few days later, Benchamach was elected as the party leader, the fourth person to lead the PAM in less than 12 years.

It did not take long before the party was embroiled in another crisis. Last June, Benchamach dismissed Ahmed Akchichine, president of the Marrakech-Safi region, for sowing division and amplifying tensions in the party.

Akchichine was appointed in January 2019 to the PAM political bureau to implement a plan Benchamach introduced to unite the party around a single project. A few months later, Benchamach accused Akchichine, one of the party’s founders, of failing to advance the plan and acting against the party’s reunification.

Benchamach’s decision came a few days after Akchichine and 11 other members of the political bureau signed a statement rejecting decisions made by the party leader, including the dismissal of Mohamed Hamouti from the presidency of the federal office.