A New Revolt in Morocco?: An Interview with Mohamed El Marouani Salah Elayoubi & Ahmed Benseddik
Published in English on Jadaliyya.com and in French on Le blog de Salah Elayoubi.
Read the original here.
Interview by Salah Elayoubi and Ahmed Benseddik
Translated to English by: Allison L McManus
Ahmed Benseddik and Salah Elayoubi (AB and SE): We remember the eulogy that you gave at the funeral of Sheikh Yassine. Those of us who did not know you could appreciate your talents as an orator given the severe charges you delivered against those whom you described as “normalizers and collaborators in tyranny and corruption.” Who are you, Mohamed El Marouani?
Mohamed El Marouani (ME): I have a BA in economics, with a focus in econometrics, and a graduate diploma (Diplome des Études Supérieures DES) in management. I currently conduct research on questions regarding political Islamic thought. I am also writing a doctoral dissertation on “the theory of the legitimacy of political power in Islam.”
I am married and the father of three children, I am the senior manager and director of studies at Maroc Telecom and previously held a position at the National Institute of Post and Telecommunications’ management cycle.
I served as president and founder of the Movement for the Oumma from 1998 to 2011, I am the national coordinator for the party of the same name. Ex-activist and union official, I have also founded numerous civic associations, and coordinated and participated in actions in the defense of human rights (debates or demonstrations in protest or in solidarity with political prisoners or prisoners of conscience.)
Ex-political detainee, I was condemned to twenty-five years in prison, reduced to ten years on appeal, before being liberated on 14 April 2011 in the wake of the protests of the February 20 movement.
I am the author of several publications that address different themes including constitution and democracy, teaching, economy, and others, more notably a work on the political power of Islamic political thought–historically and contemporaneously.
AB and SE: What is your relationship with Sheikh Yassine and al Adl wal Ihsane?
ME: Sheikh Yassine, may God bless his soul, was one of the few leaders in this country who continuously and relentlessly demonstrated an unrivaled courage against despotism and corruption. His famous letters and addresses are both testaments to the grandeur of his personage. Despite incarceration, house arrest, persecution, and psychiatric confinement, he never wavered.
Moreover, the man was an intellectual; he carried a societal project, was gifted with the incontestable qualities that are necessary for leadership, as well as the charisma that goes with it. These were necessary to accompany and to advance al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity Movement) to the important place it occupies today in the field of Moroccan politics.
The relationship that we have woven with him as much as with his organization, was based on mutual respect, cooperation and solidarity.
AB and SE: You were sentenced to twenty five years in prison before being been pardoned by the king? What were the circumstances of your arrest and condemnation?
ME: Since 2006, the makhzen (network of Morocco’s political and business elite) has been putting into place a political plan, with a security obsession, to restructure, or rather reformat, the political scene in Morocco, of which the major guidelines are:
1. Forcible or consensual dismantling of the administrative parties to rework a political context that is adequate to the whims of the makhzen.
2. Repression of independent media.
3. Weakening of the electoral power of the PJD (even though the PJD does not pose any threat to the makhzenian political regime according to the political map).
4. The continious tightening of the security surveillance against al Adl wal Ihsane in an attempt to contain them, as was well indicated by P. Vermeren in his work The Unfinished Transition.
However, the winds blew against the desires of the camp of oppression with the advent of the February 20 movement, which accelerated the demise of the entire scheme. It is in this political context that our arrest and condemnation unfolded. The makhzen has developed the habit of authorizing only the parties that conformed to its political vision. They do not want to authorize a political party that would retain its liberty and autonomy and not comply with the makhzen’s despotic nature. Having failed to subjugate the party and to convince its leaders, they decided to muzzle us and began an inequitable court process during which the universal principal of presumption of innocence was knowingly violated by then Minister of the Interior, Chakib Benmoussa. The judgment fit–unequalled mediocrity.
AB and SE: How were you so severely condemned one day, and just a little while later, you are simply liberated? Was this not another proof of the same methods of manipulation and dissuasion methods that are used by the makhzen? And is that not a confession of your innocence, and maybe that of others who have been condemned as well?
ME: No doubt about this! The makhzen was persuaded that conditions were ripe to install its strict political hegemony in the political field. It would not depart from the same Keynesian approach that all despotic regimes have of political life: “In the long run, we are all dead.” The project, always the same, is to break down all contestation of, or the tentative struggle against, despotism, and corruption.
But it did not count on the February 20 movement, which, in the wake of what has been called “the Arab Spring,” to counteract its plans and essentially become our liberation. It was a justified response for those who attempted to undermine our most basic rights and tarnish our reputation, and to cut us at the base and alienate us from the public.
But if our liberation was a matter of fact, imposed on the Makhzen by the mobilization of the Moroccan people, which gave birth to the February 20 Movement. I must say, however, there is a damper on this victory: other Islamist detainees continue to languish in prison– a sort of currency exchange to contain the ongoing change in our political decisions. This is completely wasted, for our determination to fight peacefully for the establishment of a true rule of law where Moroccans might enjoy a decent life and where wealth is distributed in an equitably remains intact.
AB and SE: The court of appeals has refused the authorization to the political party “Al Oumma” that you have put forth since its creation. It is without a doubt a sign that you are still under watch, despite the grace that you have received. Is the refusal justified?
ME: To our great misfortune, the judiciary power is not independent and suffers from profound structural problems. For instance, the Administrative Tribunal ruled that it was against the creation of the Al Oumma party, even though the royal delegate for the Defense of Rights and Law, a neutral party, had handed down a favorable judgment. It was a scandalous verdict, especially knowing that the judgment had been based on questions of limitation periods in the registration of electoral rolls, a ministerial decision, and in flagrant violation of the law and its implementation decree. An argument that would essentially require the rejection of all the registrations that were submitted for the 25 November elections by the current members of parliament.
In reality, the refusal to authorize the founding of the party was purely political and cannot be disassociated from the general context, made of the repression of liberties, fabricated processes against the activists of the February 20 movement, and political imprisonment under inhumane conditions.
AB and SE: Many amongst the February 20 protesters seemed convinced that a deal – by all means informal – had been tacitly agreed to between the PJD and Al Adl Wal Ihsane, as well as other Islamist movements, to give Benkirane and his government a chance to experiment with their political program. Some of them suspect that this was an accord under the auspices of makhzeni instigation. They are suggesting treason. What do you think of this?
ME: I can not permit myself to respond in their place. You could always ask them this question. As for what concerns us, our positions remain unchanged as long as the actual context remains the same. We are still on the side of the oppressed, opposed to despotism, tyranny, and corruption. The withdrawl of al Adl Wal Ihsane, with whom we share a good number of viewpoints, was an internal political decision of the association. We must respect it. Moreover, if they have left the demonstrations, they have not left the scene, but rather affirmed their own political line. Finally, it is necessary to underline that nobody could ever suspect al Adl Wal Ihsane of having had affinities with teh regime
AB and SE: In Tunisia and Egypt, the Islamists’ first reaction in the aftermath of the revolution seemed to be targeting the secular movements, searching to dominate the constitution, and using the Sharia as a threat without ever putting forth democratic solutions. What is the place of democracy in your mind?
ME: First of all, it is necessary for us to add some nuance to these sentiments. What is happening in Tunisia and Egypt does not have anything to do with adopting democracy or not. Egypt and Tunisia are living through a period of democratic transition that we can liken to a “turbulence zone.” In such a context, we can expect two types of events; events that we can describe as normal or natural, tied to political debate that mobilize civil society and put in place diverse political projects: nationalist, liberal, leftist, and Islamist. This diversity should be used for the benefit of a sound democracy and for the richness of exchanges, as the last word belongs to the people via transparent elections in the context of freedom. It is, altogether, the path taken by every democracy. The other kinds of events are linked with the convulsions of the ousted regime that wishes to destabilize the democratic process.
Every democratic transition has known moments of tension that have passed as soon as a political and constitutional framework has been put in place.
As for democracy, it remains to this day the best and the most advanced system humanity has put in place to organize human societies and manage strategic decisions. Is this a place to recall that the state in Islamic thought is a civil state that can take any form possible in accordance with the consensus of members of society? Our political project is built around two axes: the people as the source of power, and the supremacy of the law. Nevertheless, it is necessary to distinguish between the source of power and the source of law. Sharia can be both one of the sources of law and the main source of law. We can draw the conclusion that everything depends on the will of the people and this is the principal rule of democracy: the respect of the majority without compromising the rights of minorities and the political opposition.
AB and SE: You have not failed to address the political messages of the PJD. What assessment can you make following this government’s first year in power?
ME: I believe the government is the product of the political context and cannot act beyond its political and constitutional limits. It is the reason why we have not witnessed a fundamental change in the strategic choices of Benkirane’s governmen that would encourage us to change our political position. A simple example: the regime continues to oppose our right to freedom of expression and organization.
Three conditions need to be met to be able judge whether or not the government is efficient: broad popular support, a sound and open political context and a democratic constitutional framework. On the side of political support, polls do not pass the figure of twenty-seven percent. The political climate is marked by political imprisonments, the repression of the right to expression and organization. The constitutional framework is marked by the hegemony of the royal institution even in the implementation of the government program. Moreover, the following figures illustrate the worsening state of affairs:
Democracy Index: Morocco went from number 116 in 2010 and 119 in 2011, anchoring Morocco in the sphere of totalitarian countries, while Tunisia went from 144 to ninety-four in the same period, permitting it to leave this sphere and to earn a place as a hybrid regime in the course of installing democracy.
Corruption Index: Morocco went from number eighty in 2011 to eighty-eight in 2012 according to a report by Transparency International.
Concerning freedoms, Morocco experienced a fall in freedom of the press from the 135 place in 2010 to the 138 in 2011, according to the Reporters Without Borders’ report on freedom of the press in 2012.
The constitution leaves no freedom for any political party to exercise power and implement its programs. This situation transforms any government, working this executive monarchy, into a servant of the regime.
It is thus not an exaggeration to say that the government has actually succeeded in playing the role the Makhzen wanted it to play. Therefore, this government has succeeded in embellishing the face of the Makhzen so that the latter could reproduce “the years of lead” with some cosmetics. While political life is in agonies, we can see that the camp of despotism is regaining the inititative to control public affairs.
AB and SE: Wikileaks, as well as the book The Predator King evoke the implication that the king and his entourage are party to abuses of power, extreme corruption, and multiple scandals, including acts of economic predation. The palace has never denied these two sources. Why in your opinion?
ME: The royal institution has a spokesperson whose responsibility is to reply to these accusations. His deafening silence signifies assent.
AB and SE: How do you see the political situation in Morocco and its future?
ME: The makhzen persists in its guilty ignorance of the popular discontent expressed in the street. It refuses to honor its own commitment for a democratic transition, as well as its social and economic promises. The law and fundamental liberties continue to be trampled on in an agonizing political arena. Many factors make me think that the ingredients are coming together for a new revolt.