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Istiqlal Party: Morocco


Leading party in the Moroccan nationalist movement, 19461956, and chief competitor of the monarchy during the first postindependence decades.

Istiqlal was founded in 1943 by the core leadership of the banned Parti National. Headed by Ahmed Balafrej and Allal al-Fasi, it drew its strength from the traditional bourgeois elites of the northern cities, particularly Fez, the emerging national bourgeoisie, and more leftist urban professionals. Its charter, issued on 11 January 1944, demanded independence from France with a constitutional monarchy under the sultan. The publication of the charter and the resulting arrest of Balafrej provoked serious urban unrest in January and February 1944. Fasi returned to Morocco in 1946 after nine years in Gabon and assumed undisputed leadership of the party. By 1950 Istiqlal's membership was 100,000. After 1951 Istiqlal supported the sultan against the French authorities. In 1952 the party was suppressed following riots in Casablanca, but it played an important role in the negotiations for independence (19531956).

Istiqlal assumed a dominant position in the initial postindependence Moroccan governments, but internal splits and competition from the palace prevented it from establishing lasting dominance. In 1959 Istiqlal was weakened by the secession of some of its more dynamic leaders (for example, Prime Minister Abdullah Ibrahim, Mehdi Ben Barka, Mahjoub Ben Seddiq, and Muhammad al-Basri), who formed the Union Nationale des Forces Populaires (UNFP), which favored far-reaching social reforms and vigorous development programs through nationalization of key economic sectors.

The monarchy refused to acquiesce to Istiqlal's efforts to reduce its powers. From the end of 1962 to 1977, King Hassan II repelled challenges to his rule and consolidated his political supremacy. Like the other opposition parties, Istiqlal was harnessed into service by Hassan during the mid-1970s in support of his Western Sahara policy. In Istiqlal's case, that was hardly unexpected, since it had been the original standard-bearer of the claim of historical rights to "Greater Morocco," which in the doctrine's purest form included all of Mauritania and parts of Algeria, Senegal, and Mali, as well as the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Fasi died in 1974 while in Romania to explain the king's Western Saharan policy; Muhammad Boucetta replaced him as secretary-general. Boucetta and other Istiqlal leaders were co-opted into the government in 1977, but following the 1984 elections, Istiqlal returned to opposition ranks. Although no longer the leader of the nationalist movement, Istiqlal maintained a significant place in the political landscape, thanks in part to its affiliated
labor confederation, the Union Générale des Travailleurs Marocains (UGTM), and its influential daily newspapers, Al-Alam and L'opinion. In May 1992, with the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), the Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme (PPS), the rump UNFP, and the tiny Organisation pour l'Action Démocratique et Populaire (OADP), Istiqlal formed the "Democratic Bloc" (al-kutla) to press for constitutional and electoral reform. Istiqlal won forty-three seats in Parliament in the direct balloting portion of the 1993 elections, a gain of nineteen seats from 1984, but only eight seats in the indirect portion of the vote, a decline of nine seats. Along with the USFP, Istiqlal was now roughly equal in size to the pro-palace Union Constitutionelle and the Mouvement Populaire as the largest parliamentary factions. They refused the terms offered to them for joining a new government, and thus remained in opposition. In the 1997 elections the Istiqlal received nearly the same number of votes as the leading vote-getter, the USFP, but owing to the vagaries of the system, declined to thirty-two seats. Charging widespread fraud, the party's congress called for the election's annulment and rejected participation in any new government. Two months later, however, the USFP was chosen to lead the new government, and the Istiqlal, under the newly elected secretary-general, Abbas al-Fasi, joined the forty-one-member cabinet, receiving six posts, with Fassi becoming minister of health. The USFP-Istiqlal relationship in government was frequently rocky. In the 2002 elections, the party increased its strength in parliament to forty-eight seats, and eight cabinet seats in the new government headed by the king's loyalist Driss Jettou. Fasi's new position was minister of state without portfolio. However, many in the party were disappointed with the party's junior status in the government, and unhappy with Fasi's leadership. One focal point of internal opposition was led by Abd al-Razzak Afilal, the leader of the UGTM.

see also balafrej, ahmed; ben barka, mehdi; ben seddiq, mahjoub; boucetta, muhammad; ceuta; fasi, allal al-; fez, morocco; hassan ii; ibrahim, abdullah; melilla; mouvement populaire (mp); parti national; union gÉnÉrale des travailleurs marocains (ugtm); union nationale des forces populaires (unfp); union socialiste des forces populaires (usfp).


Mossadeq, Rkia el-. "Political Parties and Power-Sharing." In The Political Economy of Morocco, edited by I. William Zartman. New York: Praeger, 1987. pp. 5983.

Pennell, C. R. Morocco since 1830. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Waterbury, John. The Commander of the Faithful. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1970.

bruce maddy-weitzman

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