Morocco carefully integrates Salafists

Sunday 27/11/2016
Hammad Kabbaj, a controversial cleric and Salafist member of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), gives an interview in the Moroccan city of Marrakech, last September. (AFP)

Rabat - The blending of Moroccan Salafists into some politi­cal parties is a result of an “intellectual re-examina­tion”. The early political participation of Salafists and their adjustment to partisan work began when they joined the Party of Re­naissance and Virtue (PRV), head­ed by Mohamed Khalidi. The PRV dealt with the Salafist rationale and strengthened the bonds with the symbols of the jihadist-Salafism, notably Hassan el-Kettani, Abdel­wahab Rafiki (known as Abu Hafs) and Mohammed al-Fizazi.
Here, we may inquire: Was it not possible for Salafists to initiate a political party that brings them to­gether around the same authority and programme so as to create an organisational structure with the aim of unifying ranks?
Abd al-Ilah al-Sati, a researcher in political science and Islamic groups, said: “The political authorities are still testing the icons of Salafism to determine the extent of their ad­justment to the prevalent political discourse and the mechanism of po­litical activism within the constitu­tional bodies.”
“The political authorities in Mo­rocco are not ready to run the risk of allowing the creation of a unified political body of Salafists, especially that the outcome remains in doubt,” Sati added.
The Justice and Development Party (PJD) failed to lure Salafists when local authorities rejected the candidacy of Salafist Sheikh Ham­mad Kabbaj in Marrakech. But the effective organisational machine of the Istiqlal Party was quick to inte­grate a number of Salafist leaders, notably Rafiki, who was fielded as a candidate for the electoral district of northern Fez.
While in prison, Rafiki published Ansifouna (Do Us Justice), a tract in which he condemned the brutal Casablanca attacks of May 2003 and pronounced his opposition to takfir and support for the Moroccan prin­ciples and sanctities, in reference to the monarchy.
According to some researchers, the intellectual re-examination by a number of Salafists comes as an effort to normalise with require­ments of the political process, such as democracy, elections and indi­vidual rights. Other researchers say that Salafists are claiming re-exam­ination to bypass the state and the society.
“Until now, the performance of the Salafist figures, who were freed after a royal pardon, points to vigor­ous attempts to normalise with the requirements of the official political state,” said Sati.
“A number of Salafist figures joined the ranks of some national political parties. Others chose the path of public statements in favour of the state’s official discourse. Oth­ers opted for the promotion of the official discourse, namely Moham­med Fizazi.”
Last February, Rafiki, Hassan al- Usri, Hisham al-Temesmani and founding member Hamza Kettani left the PRV. Running as a candi­date on the electoral list of the Is­tiqlal Party for the city of Tangier, Temesmani was one of the most prominent Salafist figures in Mo­rocco and Spain, where he served as president of the Islamic Centre of Greater Toledo.
The Istiqlal Party has been tra­ditionally represented in Tangier since 1980s by businessmen from the Rif region.
Rafiki said he chose Istiqlal “be­cause it is an established political party that has the finest scholars, militants and leaders within its ranks”. He stressed that there were shared projects with Istiqlal, no­tably “the revival of the national Salafist thought, the Moroccanisa­tion of Salafism, in a way that dis­misses all forms of extremism, radi­calism and intolerance. The aim is to produce an enlightened approach in dealing with the religious text so as to understand the current reality, its requirements and constraints.”
Yet, could it be a desire to obtain a seat in parliament that has driven Rafiki to join Istiqlal? Rafiki said that his decision was not only associ­ated with the elections but also with the “decision of former detained Salafists to join Istiqlal, with the aim of working towards confront­ing extremism and terrorism and strengthening the Moroccan iden­tity.”
In this context Sati said: “The an­nouncement of these Salafist figures of their intention to run in legisla­tive elections comes as part of the process of integration into political life. This process started even before the royal pardon through a number of intellectual re-examinations.
“Some political parties have lured Salafist figures to their ranks, with simply one objective, that of the electoral pragmatism. The politi­cal parties are actually looking for favourites who are able to snatch a seat in parliament.”
Neither Salafist candidate was elected and their lack of experience in politics may have taken its toll in the election. Nevertheless, the little adventure within moderate politi­cal parties is a sign that prominent Salafist figures are seeking to learn from the failed Salafist political course in some countries since the “Arab spring”.
And, it appears that the Moroc­can state is trying to eliminate every extremist seed within the Salafist movement, through the mecha­nisms of dialogue and integration in political life. And so, Salafist figures, without exception, have shown a readiness to normalise with the of­ficial principles of the Moroccan state, mainly by abandoning the takfiri discourse.