Morocco: Political Parties in

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political parties have been an integral part of morocco since the early 1930s.

The severe constraints under which the parties have had to operate, the parliament's lack of real power vis-à-vis the monarch, and the fragmented nature of Morocco's society have combined to prevent political parties from establishing a basis of support beyond particularist, sectoral interests, and personal ties and have rendered them vulnerable to both manipulation and repression. Overall, Morocco's political parties have served a significant, albeit adjunct, function in what has been essentially a monarchy-dominated, traditional, patrimonial system of rule. This continued to be the case at the beginning of the twenty-first century, notwithstanding the increasing liberalization of public life during the
1990s, and particularly the establishment, with the king's blessing, of the alternance government in 1998, which was headed by longtime left-wing opposition leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi.

The Comité d'Action Marocaine (CAM) was established during the early 1930s to promote nationalist demands. A later incarnation, the Istiqlal Party, played a central role in the nationalist struggle during the decade before Morocco's independence in 1956. The Istiqlal and its offshoot, the Union Nationale des Forces Populaires (UNFP), led a vigorous challenge during the first decade of independence to the king's efforts to rule as well as reign. The result was an unmitigated triumph for the king. Opposition political parties were coopted and repressed. Methods of repression included bannings, arrests, imprisonments, and, in the case of the UNFP's Mehdi Ben Barka, assassination. In addition, the monarchy supported the establishment of the Mouvement Populaire (MP), the short-lived Front pour la Défense des Institutions Constitutionelles (FDIC), the Rassemblement National des Indépendants (RNI), and, in the 1980s, the Union Constitutionelle (UC), in order to counter the opposition.

From the mid-1960s until his death in 1999, King Hassan II governed with the assistance of the promonarchy groupings and parties. From the mid-1970s, he had considerable success in controlling the pace of political change, including the holding of general elections at intervals suitable to his political requirements (1977, 1984, and 1993 and 1997), pushing through cosmetic constitutional reforms, and mobilizing nearly the entire political spectrum on behalf of his Western Sahara policies. Prior to the electoral reform of 1997, two-thirds of the members of parliament were elected by popular vote, and one-third indirectly, by various corporate and professional bodies. The system was heavily subject to manipulation.

The Istiqlal, the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (which had split in the early 1970s from the UNFP), and the Parti du Progres et du Socialisme (PPS) played the political game, to a large degree, according to the king's rules: Between 1977 and 1984, Istiqlal even participated in the ruling coalition. At the end of the 1980s Morocco's diplomatic and military successes in regard to Western Sahara, sustained macroeconomic gains, and successful restructuring of the external debt strengthened the regime's confidence in its ability to loosen its grip a bit. On the other hand, widespread poverty, Western pressure regarding human-rights issues, and the specter of increasing radical Islamic activism compelled the regime to broaden political participation. The most important Islamic grouping, Jamiʿat al-Adl wa al-Ihsan (the "Justice and Charity Group") is officially banned from political life but is tolerated by the regime. Its supreme guide, Shaykh Abdsalem Yasine, was held in custody for most of the last quarter of the twentieth century, and finally released in 2000 by King Muhammad VI.

In May 1992 the Istiqlal, the USFP, the PPS, the rump UNFP, and the splinter Marxist-Leninist Organisation pour l'Action Democratique et Populaire (OADP) formed the Democratic Bloc (al-kutla), a parliamentary group pressing for constitutional and electoral reform, and especially for enhancing the powers of parliament. Three of the center-right partiesthe UC, the MP, and the Parti National Démocratique (PND)formed the Entente Nationale. Both the Istiqlal and the USFP achieved gains in the 1993 parliamentary elections. Istiqlal won 43 seats in the direct balloting and the USFP won 48. Both suffered drops in the indirect balloting. Each had achieved 52 seats, making them roughly equal in size to the UC and MP as the largest parliamentary factions. King Hassan offered the kutla opposition a total of 19 ministerial positions in his proposed new cabinet, but reserved the key posts of prime minister and the interior, foreign, finance, and justice portfolios for his close associates. Both the Istiqlal and the USFP refused the terms and remained in the opposition. At first, the king established a government of nonparty technocrats. In early 1995 Hassan offered the prime ministership to Istiqlal head Muhammad Boucetta, but the continued presence of interior minister and regime strongman Driss Basri was the primary sticking point, and the offer was rejected. Subsequently, a new government was formed that included 20 representatives from the Entente "loyalist" parties.

The 1997 elections marked a watershed in Moroccan political life. Constitutional reform had resulted in the establishment of a second house of parliament, and the existing chamber of deputies would now be elected entirely by popular vote. Morocco's system of "authoritarian pluralism" was clearly modified, and the kutla parties had chosen to accept the path of incremental reform. In the 1997 elections the USFP won the most seats (56 out of 325) and the most votes (just under 14 percent) of any single party. The Istiqlal dropped to 32 seats, occasioning charges of voter fraud. Other leading parties in the election were the UC with 50 seats, the RNI with 46 seats, and the MP with 40. A primarily Islamist party, the Mouvement Populaire Démocratique et Constitutionnel (MPDC) won 10 seats. The regime's sanctioning of Islamist political activities was part of its time-honored efforts to divide and control the fragmented political system. The results of the elections allowed King Hassan to realize his program of democratic alternance, namely the rotation of political power between two major blocs. The new government, headed by the USFP's Abderrahmane Youssoufi, was formed in 1998, and included representatives from the Istiqlal, the centrist RNI, the Mouvement National Populaire, and smaller parties. A number of cabinet posts remained in the hands of the "king's men," including Interior Minister Driss Basri.

The Youssoufi alternance government began with high hopes for the genuine democratization and liberalization of political life and the promotion of greater equality and economic prosperity. By the end of its more than four years in office, the glow had worn off; the pace of change remained slow, and public affairs were still dominated by the palace, with parliament having little influence. In the 2002 parliamentary elections the USFP dropped 7 seats, to 50, the Istiqlal gained 16 seats, to 48, the UC lost 34 seats, to 16, the RNI dropped 5 seats, to 41, and the MP lost 13 seats, to 27. Most noticeable was the leap forward by the moderate Islamist party, now called the Parti de la Justice et du Developpement (PJD), which became the third-largest party with 42 seats. King Muhammad VI designated his confidant and interior minister Driss Jettou (Basri had been removed in November 1999) as prime minister, and he formed a broad cabinet that included representatives from seven parties. The decision to appoint a prime minister who was not an elected party official confirmed anew the secondary status of Morocco's political parties, notwithstanding the regime's expressed commitment to liberalization.

see also ben barka, mehdi; boucetta, muhammad; comitÉ d'action marocaine (cam); front pour la défense des institutions constitutionelles (fdic); hassan ii; istiqlal party: morocco; mouvement populaire (mp); parti national dÉmocratique (pnd); rassemblement national des indÉpendants (rni); union nationale des forces populaires (unfp); union socialiste des forces populaires (usfp); western sahara; youssoufi, abderrahmane.


Maddy-Weitzman, Bruce. "Morocco." Annual chapters in Middle East Contemporary Survey, 1824, 19942000. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; Tel Aviv, Israel: Tel Aviv University, 19962002.

Mednicoff, David M. "Morocco." In Political Parties of the Middle East and North Africa, edited by Frank Tachau. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

bruce maddy-weitzman