Morocco’s Justice and Charity Party and the Left: A Critical Reflection Chawqui Lotfi
Published in English on Jadaliyya.com and in French on Badil Tawri
Read the original here.
Written by: Chawqui Lotfi
Translated to English by: Allison L McManus
There has recently been controversy regarding the Democratic Path Party’s position concerning Islamist movements, particularly the Justice and Charity Party (Al Adl Wal Ihsane) following an article that appeared in Lakome. In reality, it appears that the position was not meant to be a call for an explicit alliance with Al Adl Wal Ihsane. It was rather recognition that the crux of the conflict is not between “modernists” and “dogmatists” and that there is necessity for a large opposition to counter an immediate and principal entity, the makhzen (ruling elite). El Harrif, secretary general of the Democratic Path Party, raises the issue of how to position the party in relation to a force that does not share the same vision but is in the same opposition to power with a massive presence. This question is salient and cannot be dismissed offhand. Here, we make a contribution without claiming to offer indisputable or exact answers.
The starting point is an analysis of Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Al Adl). Returning to the Democratic Path Congress’ documents, there are just analyses of the meaning and place of religion in and the nature of a revolutionary current believers experience. But even at this level, it seems that the question is more complex. The distinction between popular Islam and the Islam of power, real as it is, is a poor explanation of the dynamic political possibilities. The existence of a popular Islam with progressive values needs to be viewed relatively. Popular Islam is marked by a fatalist conception of social relations and is impregnated with patriarchal values. In reality, paradoxically, this kind of approach seeks to find in Islam, as a religion, that which might be conjoined with a progressive struggle, simply forgetting that it is not Islam that makes Muslims, but rather the inverse.
But Islam as a religion is one thing; the political character of Islamist currents is another. Al Adl is not a religious movement, but a sociopolitical movement that uses religion. The question is knowing if in the arena of political Islam in Morocco there exists, even in an embryonic form, the possibility of forging a Muslim liberation theology. It would be, with concrete conditions of our own, the equivalent to the atmosphere that allowed liberation theology in Latin America. However, this is to ignore the irreducible historic differences in the construction of a “Christianity of the poor” and the differences in context (for example, the Cuban Revolution). This is not to say that it is totally impossible, but rather that it does not seem to be a realistic prospect in the near future. Such an emergence would presuppose social, political, moral, ideological, and cultural victories of a secular and popular movement. It would also require antagonistic and convincing classes bringing forth social consciousness in their practical and material existence. In this sense, it is another thing to think that it would be possible to bring this about, given the existing currents in political Islam.
We do not share the political appreciation of Al Adl that is put forth in the analyses of the Democratic Path’s Congress. We do not think that they have proven “advanced positions.” The notion of a civil state is not merely a “confused” and “imprecise” notion. It is a tactic taken to account for the emergence of a popular movement built on democratic and non-religious demands. It is a tactic that, based on actual experience, is taken to validate the idea of a process of electoral consultation as a form of access to power. Al Adl has never publically addressed its position regarding the caliphate, even timidly. They neither define a civil state as a source of legitimate political power, nor as a mode of exercising it. In reality this signifies that power would be exercised by activists of political Islam, rather than by the religious in a strict sense.
On this point, the concession given is a unity of opposites: no Islam without democracy and no democracy without Islam. These are opposites because where one is based on the principle of popular sovereignty and the existence of positive rights, the other is based on the principle of revealed faith and shari’a (with or without ijtihad.) Put otherwise, Islam as a political religion is the principal referent, cultural and political, of the individual and collective social organization and it rests at the heart of Al Adl’s ideological matrix. The “law of God” is always superior to the “law of man.” No discussion.
We do not think that their positions on the Commander of the Faithful (amir al muminine), the equality of men/women, democracy, the separation of religion and state, and imperialism, are only “hesitant;” on the contrary, they are very clear. What is surprising is that there is really no analysis of the reasons for Al Adl’s retreat from the February 20 movement. These reasons seem confusing but are, in reality, clear enough. Even more surprising is that there is no analysis of the nature of class in the movement, and in particular of its leadership. Contrary to widespread analyses and despite image and discourse, this leadership does not suggest a movement with plans to instigate a major political crisis. Likewise, it does not necessarily signify a rupture with the political regime. It knows the process of conversion to “political realism” that has been the major tendency of political Islamic movements in the region, spearheading the counter-revolution into a position of alliance or compromise. These alliances have occurred even with the keepers of the old imperialist regimes (even if this does not exclude partial contradictions with them) in order to retain their base.
Al Adl is a popular movement, the social base of which relies principally on different layers of petit-bourgeoisie, unclassed students, the “excluded,” bazaar merchants, etc., but which is also essentially linked to the higher echelons of the middle class. In the actual process of social and political confrontation, Al Adl seeks to enlarge its influence and to consolidate its establishment, but does not actually have a political strategy concerning the taking of power. It does not want to be under the pressure of a pluralist mass movement anchored to social and democratic demands. This is an important element.
To go even further, Al Adl, if it has a problem with the monarchy, has no problem with the makhzen, of which it hopes to feature elements in its own project. Their relationship with the monarchy is one of confrontation, but it is not an antagonistic one. The last interview with Al Adl’s new Secretary General, Mohamed Abbadi, in the Moroccan daily, Al Massae, made this clear for those who know how to read between the lines. In another context, fascism was the enemy of parliamentary democracy but rested, despite its popular social base and support from the petit bourgeoisie, the political expression of sectors of the bourgeoisie. It replaced one form of political regime for another, assuring the continuity of the state apparatus. The Iranian Revolution was no different and the Islamist governments actually drew on the same state apparatus. Al Adl is no different. It is not against the makhzen but only against one form of the political regime. And even this opposition is relative. Who could outrightly reject the possibility of historic compromise if power, in crisis, decided to open a door to Al Adl as means of assuring its sustainability? Have we not seen bitter enemies become faithful servants? In the last analysis, what commands political relations are class interests. If presented the choice between a popular uprising spurred by a social and democratic state of emergency and that of maintaining order, Al Adl would not hesitate an instant.
Maybe this is what has created these fundamental contradictions, which the Party for Justice and Development (PJD) also shares, but these do not signal certain sectors’ social and democratic radicalization under the pressure of a mass movement. This radicalization is not seen anywhere, at least in any significant manner, in the whole of the Arab world. This is regardless of the specificities of whatever current of political Islam. And in Morocco, it is not possible to ignore the profound significance of the retreat of Al Adl from the February 20 movement. The official reasons are pretexts. It was before anything, aside from tactical considerations regarding the base of the PJD, an overture and a political message about power: “We have demonstrated that we are a force that counts, a force to be reckoned with, but we are also capable of showing that our army is disciplined and that we will not go to war.”
The other element that is very seldom taken into account concerns the problems of the strategy of contestation. Al Adl is an objective force that, like it or not, will be present in the political arena and will defend its own objectives. However, its political, social and ideological nature is impervious in two regards: the construction of an autonomous mass mobilization, and of a dynamic of convergence of struggle beyond its control. This is because of hostility towards the working class who are set in motion on the basis of their own aspirations, and the radical rejection of the social and democratic question that is at the heart of revolutionary processes in the region. Its logic, although Al Adl is not alone in this case, is fundamentally hostile to any mass movement that it cannot harness. Thus, we cannot simply make the observation that it is in opposition to power without a critical reading of its conservative manner of opposition and of its suppression of any augmentation of social and political forces. Al Adl, like the PJD, is opposed to the tangible struggle presented by social issues, and no popular uprising will be possible without a base movement that offers a political expression for such issues.
It is impossible to be content to say that opposition exists in their endeavors without seeing that opposition as part of an immediate struggle and a manner of creating an alliance of forces. The enemy of my enemy does not make my friend. It is understood here that a return to the “Arab Spring” is not anywhere the result of alliances or political accords; at best, these are technical agreements linked to structural reorganization. No coordinated support from the radical left to the “brothers” has existed. Certain “alliances” or “ways of agreement” have not helped the emergence of mass independent struggles, even if they have tangentially been able to help those present in the streets. Has this not been one of the lessons of the past two years? The possibility of transforming the tide of political Islam into a movement of opposition to capitalist globalization and imperialism by debate, dialogue, and confrontation, hides or obscures the profoundly reactionary content of this movement and its social and political nature.
In contrast, it is absolutely legitimate and necessary to ask the question of how to weaken the influence of this movement and to win its large base over to a project of radical struggle. But the first condition in doing so is not to consider the movement a hesitant ally or a strategic adversary but, at this stage, perhaps a decisive ally in the struggle against the regime. And the second condition is to first develop a social base and tangible force around the progressive and revolutionary current. This will allow for the changing of power relations vis-à-vis the current of political Islam. Is the challenge to maintain a politics that allows the emergence of such a hypothetical current while dialoguing with the actual movements of political Islam, of which none have proven social or political radicalism? Is it to form a direction on the basis of a current that one supports but that does not exist?
The challenge that is presented to us is more in the realm of social, political, and cultural conquest of the popular neighborhoods. The radical left must become a force capable of reappropriating the field of solidarity without falling into forms of social clientalism or the practices of traditional NGOs that must find ways of collectively supporting the immediate interests of inhabitants. All experiencing similar problems, neighborhoods have become an area of mutual aid, mutual support, and class solidarity. Social and political grounding does not forcibly begin with big political words but rather with the capacity to foster a collective reaction to immediate and concrete problems and to combine these into a common approach. If there were a lesson to take from Christian community bases, this would be it, but with our own tools: popular culture, women’s neighborhood associations, coordination against high costs of living, human rights, unemployed worker’s movements, segments of the unions open to building a moral and political legitimacy as an alternative to the charlatans of secrecy and the services of the makhzen. One could certainly demand that the state satisfy the immediate wants and needs of different aspects of daily life, but at the same time, popular movements could also assert their political and moral authority in social practice by taking charge of these tasks.
In the face of increasing poverty, the democratic and worker movement will, in a grand sense, succeed at reappropriating social solidarity. Otherwise, it will be “recuperated” by hidden currents or by the prevailing power to lend it legitimacy. The movement would be well served to invent “popular houses,” places of social solidarity and activism, and ranks of collective resistors grounded in neighborhoods and open to a totality of popular mobilization.
The challenge that is posed to us is to work towards the emergence of an autonomous movement of secular and progressive women that will not be contented to demand a simple male/female equality, but who will bind themselves in an indestructible manner to social and patriarchal problems. An organization of the radical left cannot ignore an open struggle against domestic violence, the right to abortion, and countering sexism in society. And these organizations are comprised of progressives.
The challenge that is posed to us is the intransigent defense of individual liberty and the right to free sexuality, far from the moralizing gaze and judgment of reactionaries, who see and understand nothing of the aspirations of today’s youth. This youth is at the antipodes of a repressive moral order promoted equally by those in power as by the Islamists. Those who think in terms of principal and secondary enemies sometimes forget their profound complicity in maintaining an oppressive order and in the defense of capitalism, whatever the contradictions between power and reactionary Islamist currents, their radical common opposition to a societal project. To quote Marx: “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”