August 29, 2007
Preview of the Moroccan elections, part III
It is a very fitting symbol that former interior minister Driss Basri died today Monday of cirrhosis (he was a heavy drinker, as many sécuritaires tend to be nowadays), a few days into the official electoral campaign for the Moroccan House of Representatives (1). Deputy minister of the interior from to 1974 to 1977, he was Morocco's all-powerful minister of the interior from 1977 to a few months after the death of the late king, Hassan II, in 1999. If the few elections held before his time - general elections of 1963 and 1970, local elections of 1960 - were too few and perhaps too early to establish Morocco's democratic credentials (that of 1963 was clean while that of 1970 was a sham), the ones held thereafter were managed in a way that allowed him to run the whole gamut of his manipulative, divisive, corruptive and deeply undemocratic electoral techniques.
Driss Basri liked to wave his dubious academic credentials (2) to fend off accusations of heavy-handedness, and to distinguish himself from former strongmen Mohamed Oufkir and Ahmed Dlimi, both officers scarcely known for their intellectual capacity or political acumen. His real expertise was however in the field of "electoral engineering", wink wink, nod nod, say no more... In that field, the Basri electoral machine met few matches.
Gerrymandering wasn't even needed back then (it is probably a sign of relative progress that it is the main manipulative instrument at the hands of the ministry of the interior today), and as for stuffing the ballot boxes, any thirld world country and many regions or cities in the first world (just think of Florida in 2000, Chicago in 1960, Corsica since Napoleon, Paris under Chirac's and Tiberi's mayorships and probably quite a few Italian precincts) could easily claim the top of the podium. What really distinguished Basri's electoral shehanigans was his manoeuvring, which fitted somewhat with John Waterbury's otherwise widely criticised - but this is another debate - segmentarity theory (3).
Basri, acting of course on royal instructions, was not content with winning elections that were in fact lost in the polling booths - as keen as he was on never letting the then opposition (4) win the elections or even come a close second, he also was in ensuring that the opposition parties, and especially their leadership, always had enough to lose from breaking with the makhzen to keep them on board. His ill-famed predecessor as the strongman of the régime, general Mohamed Oufkir, a brutish colonial officer, was more of the sledghammer type, taking personally part in the indiscriminate shooting of hundreds of youths and students in the Casablanca riots of March 23, 1965, and rumored to have killed with his own hands Mehdi Ben Barka, socialist and tiers-mondiste opposition leader of international fame kidnapped in Paris in 1965 never to reappear again. This ferociously repressive line, which was of course that of King Hassan II, led the opposition parties to condone political violence: while the left-wing of the UNFP, the ancestor of the USFP, initiated a catastrophic and bloody venture into Che Guevara-like guerilla in 1973, both the Istiqlal and the UNFP had contacts with the 1971-72 plotters (5). The hardline approach had just served to isolate the King.
Driss Basri thus cleverly devised his own line. While repression, censure, torture and violent clampdown of any form of popular protest were widely and willingly used under his term, (his long years at the head of the interior ministry were part and parcel of the années de plomb, or "years of lead") he also resorted extensively to seduction, corruption and flattery to give opposition parties - or more correctly their leaderships - a stake in the political system. The main opposition parties, the Istiqlal and the USFP, were allowed to win some local councils in large towns (Agadir, some local councils in Casablanca and Rabat for the USFP, Fès and Marrakech for the Istiqlal). The ministry of the interior being in charge of the supervision and the financing of local councils, it allowed Basri to use patronage as a means to accomodate and mollify opposition leaders. The election of the smaller parties' leaders, always a risky venture under Morocco's first-past-the-post electoral system, initially the formerly communist Ali Yata, leader of the PPS (ex- Parti communiste marocain) from 1945 to his death in 1997, and then Mohamed Bensaïd Aït Idder, a former resistance fighter and leader of the extreme left-wing OADP, was not discouraged, to put it mildly.
Basri's tactics went even further: his speciality was fomenting splits in the opposition parties, which he did as late as 1997, when the FFD (Jabhat al-qiwa ad-dimoqratia - a non-descript and opportunistic party) left the PPS a few months before the general elections, at a time when the PPS was in the throes of internal dispute with the left-wing of the party, led by Simon Lévy, who by the way was probably the last Jewish political leader of national stature in Moroccan politics (6). The extreme left-wing OADP was also afflicted by a very similar scission, its right wing leaving the party to from the PSD (which has since then joined the USFP in a very fitting move), also a few months before the legislative elections of 1997.
But Basri was not content with splitting the opposition: he was also weary of having too strong and unified royalist parties. The 1963 elections, viewed as the cleanest in Moroccan history, had seen a sweeping victory for the opposition parties, with the Istiqlal getting 32% of the votes and the UNFP 24,5%, i.e. a crushing majority of 56,5% of the votes for the two main parties of the National Movement. The royalist party - the FDIC - hastily created a couple of months before the elections by then interior minister Ahmed Réda Guédira, a close friend of Hassan II, only received 36% of the votes, mostly in rural and more malleable areas of the country. With the first-past-the-post system and some amount of gerrymandering, the FDIC got 69 seats, playing level with the Istiqlal (42 seats) and the UNFP (27 seats), with 6 seats going to independent candidates. Guédira had stood his ground, being independent-minded (7) and had even created tensions between himself, the King and the army. Parliament was dissolved in 1965, after King Hassan II imposed emergency rule after the March 23 Casablanca riots.
That mistake was never to repeat itself. This applied both to the relatively clean elections - the following ones were to be grossly manipulated - and to the relatively independent royalist party. The caricatural 1970 elections, widely boycotted by most parties and grossly manipulated, returned a Parliament of unaffiliated MPs. The slightly less caricatural 1977 elections, which saw the return to electoral politics of the National Movement (Istiqlal, USFP and PPS), produced an overwhelming majority for the so-called Independents, who later formed the RNI party (At-tajammouε al-watani lil-ahrar, right-of-center), headed, I kid you not, by the King's own brother-in-law, Ahmed Osman, who had married Lalla Nezha. That party, a typical parti administratif, was a mere instrument of the King's attempts at controlling the political scene, even serving as a shadow opposition in 1983-1984 when the USFP had walked out of Parliament. The deep personal inimity between Osman and Basri, the latter probably jealous of Osman's close access to Hassan II led to the creation of the UC (Ittihad ad-doustouri, right-wing and slavishly royalist), headed by the UNFP renegade Maati Bouabid. A splinter group within the RNI left the party to from the PND (Al-hizb al-watani ad-dimoqrati, non-descript right-wing and opportunistic bunch of local potentates), supposedly to represent the interests of rural Moroccans. The PND was by the way headed by Abdallah Kadiri, a former military officer and a personal friend of Basri's...
Rural Morocco's political representation was long a preserve of the Mouvement populaire (MP - Al-haraka ach-chaεbia), led by the eccentric nonagerian Mahjoubi Aherdane, a Berber former colonial officer in the French army who resigned from his post for nationalistic reasons. Opulent landlord in the Oulmés region, self-styled poet and painter, of erratic ideological persuasion, Aherdane has been excellent at driving people from his party, which he leads in the fashion of a tribal faction. Aherdane even managed to be ejected from his own party, creating the MNP, while many other splinter groups were created - the MDS (led by the notorious torturer Mahmoud Archane, infamous during the années de plomb), the UD, Al Ahd, and certainly others I've forgotten. Ideological reasons have never played any part whatsoever in these splits, animated mainly by personal or regional motives. The MNP, the MP and the UD have now reunited in the UMP, the Union des Mouvements populaires. Even the ethnic factor has been overstated: while the leadership of the UMP is predominantly Berber, I was surprised, when reading the results of the 97 elections, to notice the large amount of candidates from the MP, MNP and MDS wearing fassi names (8). Ideological factors, except loyalty to the makhzen, are largely non-existent: while Mahjoubi Aherdane has been known to err between the extremes of the ideological divide (he once said that Morocco didn't need a Constitution since it had the Quran, and is a longstanding friend of Dr Abdelkrim Khatib, honorary president of the islamist PJD (Hizb al-εadala wa at-tanmia - islamist and royalist, of the Muslim brotherhood mould), his son, Ouzzin Aherdane, who at well over 50 heads the youth section of the party, is a fiery militant of the Berber cause who's often lapsed into outright hostility towards Arabs and muslims in the many Berber magazines he's published since the 80's.
Even here, although part of the numerous splits within the MP have been caused Mahjoubi Aherdane's archaic and autocratic leadership style, Basri was known to have facilitated some of those, especially the creation of the MDS at the initiative of former police commissioner Mahmoud Archane, who's probably the most well-known torturer still around from the années de plomb. Mohand Laenser, who ousted Mahjoubi Aherdane from the MP in the 80's, was a minister then, as he still is today, and could not have staged such a coup without royal assent.
It would be wrong to think that these practices have stopped: they have merely subsided, since the fragmentation of the Moroccan political scene, with thirty-three parties competing in the 2007 elections and a few other who haven't bothered, means that no clear opposition, save of course the PJD, emerges. The current electoral system, in place since 2002 and based on proportional representation ensures that no party can emerge with an outright majority. The only conceivable parliamentary majority is thus a coalition of parties - and to underline the structural character of this partisan fragmentation, Morocco is probably the only country having experienced the first-past-the-post electoral system for six elections in a row (1963, 1970, 1977, 1984, 1992 and 1997) without ever having known a bipolar partisan system or a party winning an outright majority of seats in Parliament. Of course, this was the intended outcome under Basri's watch, and his successors under Mohammed VI's reign have only had to fine-tune things a bit.
In view of the supposedly unassailable popularity of the islamist PJD, Fouad Ali el Himma, who until a few weeks ago had been deputy minister of the interior since Mohammed VI's - a close friend of his - accession to the throne, and who was the real decision-maker in that ministerial department, was known to have tried to strenghten the cluster of parties around the MP, on the assumption that a strong MP could unite forces with the USFP and the Istiqlal party in order the contain the PJD. The Union des mouvements populaires was thus created under the unofficial auspices of the Palace and the ministry of the interior, which are also thought to lie behind the change of leadership of the RNI, where the corrupt and inefficient Ahmed Osman, Mohammed VI's uncle by marriage, had overstayed his due.
The split within the USFP, which saw the departure of the finest of their militants who left to form Fidélité à la démocratie, which later joined the PSU, was largely ideological and based on the internal politics of the party, and the splinter group is considerably more critical of the makhzen than the very bland bunch left at the USFP. As for the one within the PJD, which saw Mohammed Fadili leave that party to from a supposedly more moderate PRV (Hizb an-nahda wal fadila), it was largely facilitated by the authorities.
One major progress this year is lastly that the PJD, without doubt the most popular and well-organised party today in Morocco, didn't have its arms twisted in order to refrain from fielding candidates in a all constituencies. One of the major objections to the sincerity of the 2002 elections was namely that the PJD had refrained - officially "volunarily", in order not to frighten the bourgeois, but most probably after being made an offer they couldn't refuse - from fielding candidates in half of the 91 constituencies, thus cutting by half its potential result. And do not think that it avoided those rural constituencies where it is thought to be the weakest - the PJD refrained from fielding candidates in urban strongholds in Casablanca and Tanger. In spite of that, the PJD made a strong showing, coming second in terms of votes, with rumors that its total tally had been arbitrarily reduced...
Tel Quel has published sometime ago a very good recap on the manipulation of partisan politics by the late Hassan II.
An invaluable book on the latest Moroccan elections, and a good source on the previous ones, is also available, en français: "Scènes et coulisses de l'élection au Maroc: les législatives de 2002", edited by Mounia Bennani-Chraïbi, Myriam Catusse and Jean-Claude Santucci., at the Paris publishing house Karthala. A very good sourcebook, with interesting case studies - from Casablanca, shantytowns, the Sahara and the countryside. A bit cautious perhaps on the limits of the liberalisation that occurred in 2002.
An official assessment of the evolution of the electoral process from Independance to 2002, also en français.
To be continued.
(1) The House of Representatives is elected through direct universal suffrage. The other House of Parliament, the House of Councillors, is elected by great electors - elected members of local councils, workers councils, and of Chambers of trade, agriculture, craft and fishing.
(2) His academic merits were obtained in very dubious circumstances. He obtained his licence de droit and diplôme d'enseignement supérieur (DES) while being a police commissioner. It is not known if he turned up in police uniform at exams - remember, the 70's in Morocco were known as the années de plomb (years of lead) on account of the bloody and ruthless political repression initiated by the makhzen - but I hold from a first-hand source that he didn't write his essays then. Those who have met him in real life, among whom the journalist Zakya Daoud who mentioned this fact in her recent memoirs ("Les Années Lamalif. 1958-1988, trente ans de journalisme au Maroc") - attest to his very colloquial and rough French, which contrasted starkly with the academic French in his voluminous public law books .
(3) John Waterbury wrote what is still the best book about post-independence Moroccan politics, "The Commander of the Faithful: the Moroccan Political Elite - a Study in Segmented Politics", an incredibly rich book which was tranlated into Arabic and published in Morocco for the first time a couple of years ago.
(4) Consisting of the left-wing parties of the so-called National Movement, i.e. the heirs to the political movements struggling against the Franco-Spanish occupation: the USFP (Al-ittihad al-ichtiraki lil-qouwwat ach-chaεbia - socialist in name only), the PPS (Hizb at-taqaddoum wa al-ichtirakiya - heir to the prohibited Parti communiste marocain, was probably the only royalist communist party in the world from 1974 and onwards, has since 1990 turned into a bland social-liberal grouping with more and more frequent incursions into secularism) and the OADP (Monadamat Al εamal ad-dimoqrati ach-chaεbi - a splinter group from the Marxist-leninist extreme left, who went parliamantarian at the beginning of the 80's but kept its head high as it fiercely denounced the various human rights abuses at a time when Driss Basri was all powerful - it has now merged into the PSU, a left-wing grouping). The nationalist Istiqlal party, though nominally part of the National Movement, frequently made lapses into government participation. The National Movement was revived at the beginning of the 90's, with the creation of the Koutlah ad-dimoqratiya (the Democratic Bloc), heir to a similar alliance during the 70's called the Koutlah al wataniya (the National Bloc).
(5) Two violent, bloody and mercifully unsuccesful coups d'Etat took place in 1971 and 1972 - had they succeeded, Morocco would probably still be plagued by military rule, with the examples of Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Pakistan in mind. In 1971, a force comprising hundreds of cadets stormed the King's birthday party at the royal palace of Skhirat, near Rabat, killing hundreds of guests and employees. In 1972, a couple of fighter airplanes from the Moroccan Royal Air Force attempted to shoot down the royal Boeing transporting the King but failed miserably. Dozens were killed when the airport were the Boeing landed was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Further dozens of lives, including that of general Oufkir, were taken in the merciless repression which followed.
(6) Abraham Serfaty, former leader of the illegal Marxist-leninist Ila al amam, has abondoned partisan politics since his return from exile in 1999. André Azoulay has never engaged in party politics, even if his role as moustachar al malik (adviser to the King, or conseiller du Roi) is a more weighty one than most ministerial posts. Serge Berdugo, the head of the Conseil des Communautés israëlites du Maroc, former minister and current ambassador, is also non-partisan. Sion Assidon, former member of Ila al amam, has also left partisan politics. He later founded the Moroccan chapter of Transparency International, before joining its international governing body, and has taken part in the activities of the Moroccan Support Committee for the Struggle of the Palestinian People. He is by the way married to a Palestinian.
(7) He proved his mettle in saving, as the lawyer he was, many accused cadets from the firing squad in the court martial taking place after the failed 1971 coup d'Etat.
(8) Full disclosure: I come a from a very well-known fassi family, and could therefore tend to be (un)consciously prejudiced against those not sharing that blissful ancestry.
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Excellent, again. I only miss your footnote 2, which seems to have fallen out of the text. Is it about Basri?
Posted by: alle at August 29, 2007 08:51 AM
Very nice round-up. Am surprised that much of the local press did not make much of Basri's demise, after all he was a central character of politics for 20 years. Le Matin had a funny and typical editorial in which it slammed Basri while completely avoiding any mention of Hassan II - "Autocrate et Janissaire".
Ahdath al-Maghrebia had much more, though,including the news that the king telephoned the Basri family to present his condolences, which others did not mention, but many many of the French dailies just carried the MAP release. I did not watch TV, though, so I don't know what they said.
Posted by: issandr at August 29, 2007 11:50 AM
By the way, Ibn Kafka, how can I get in touch via email?
Posted by: issandr at August 29, 2007 11:56 AM
Apologizing on behalf of Ibn Kafka, arty disappeared for a bit when we found a paragraph got accidentally whacked.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 29, 2007 03:10 PM
Am surprised that much of the local press did not make much of Basri's demise, after all he was a central character of politics for 20 years. Le Matin had a funny and typical editorial in which it slammed Basri while completely avoiding any mention of Hassan II - "Autocrate et Janissaire".
And then he had been out of favor (not to mention out of the country) for years. Talk about leaving his mark.
Interestingly, a similar strongman in Algeria, creapy security-kingpin Smaïn Lamari, who has been one of the leading characters behind the scenes since the coup in '92, also died Monday. But unlike Basri, he was still in power when he died. The press didn't make too much of it there either, from what I could tell, and those papers I checked online mostly just wrote something about him being powerful and having loyally served his country. On the upside, they dared print his picture for the first time ever.
This should make for some interesting power struggles this coming year in Algeria, especially considering that Bouteflika's mandate is expiring, and that he seems to be seriously ill even if he should manage to twist the constitution into a third term.
Posted by: alle at August 29, 2007 05:52 PM
I e-mailed you my phone number.
alle: Smaïn Lamari, was he the incredibly fat general? I think there was a photo of him on the cover of Habib Souaïdia's "La sale guerre". If people think that Moroccan politics is hard to follow, they should ponder a while about Algerian politics, where you need inside knowledge of army politics just to know that Toufik is not a chaabi singer but the strongman of the régime (or so it was a few years ago, but maybe that Boutef also got rid of him). There aren't many generals left from the 92 coup d'Etat, are there? Nezzar & Belkheir are out, more or less, Betchine likewise, Lamari dead - that should leave the long-time head of the gendarmerie. Well, go figure... Btw, the best information source on Algeria is Algeria Watch, extremely critical of the army and Boutef...
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at August 30, 2007 02:29 PM
IK - There was a pretty fat Mohamed Lamari in charge of the army until 2004. But Smaïn, of no relation, was thin, bald and grim-looking -- a real comic-book villain. Toufik Médiène is still there heading military security (DRS), but I think he's the only one left. Much of the credit for crowding out the other generals has to go to Bouteflika, even if he has done it for no nobler cause than amassing personal power. Will be very interesting to see what happens when he goes...
Algeria Watch is indispensible, but unfortunately they are a bit too deep into the All Islamist Groups Were Created By The Generals thing (eg. here). I'm sure some were, but that makes sense only for so long. Still, if one reads with a critical eye, it's great.
Posted by: alle at August 31, 2007 08:32 AM
Excellent! I have the slightest impression that what is happening in Morocco is a mere swapping game. The makhzen of the past is ousted, to clear space for new and young plutocrats to take over. New and sophisticated "Basris" are already in charge.
Posted by: Hisham at August 31, 2007 09:57 AM
So mate, what's you're telling me is that if I am thinking about my money for Algeria (putting money in is easy enough, getting it out again as Orascom discovered, under same terms, not so easy) I should stand pat, eh?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 31, 2007 01:45 PM
I wouldn't dare giving any advise on that, and if I did you shouldn't take it. I honestly don't have a clue, absolutely zero insight into Algerian economics. (Or any economics. I can't handle my own pension savings.)
But the facts are that one major regime pillar just died, and another (Boutef) is fighting both the constitution (which says he can't have another mandate) and some level of bad health/old age. Transitions can be very smooth, or not... then again, between oil and privatizations and whatnot, I'm sure there must be tempting business opportunities.
Posted by: alle at August 31, 2007 03:08 PM
Not economics mate, politics. The business, the economics I know cold. My own money. But politics, well that's an issue in Algeria you know one never knows cold....
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 31, 2007 05:27 PM
alle: you may have a point as regards the danger of falling into what the French call "une vision policière de l'histoire" in the case of Algeria Watch, a wonderful site, but the particular article you refer to isn't very wide off the mark - the story about Abderazak el Para, the German hostages, and the GSPC is enough to make you think.
As regards the Al Qaïda story, there was also very wide scepticism in the independent press in Morocco as to the official version of the Al Qaïda plot in 2002, and assertions that the May 16th, 2003 bombings had anything to do with Al Qaïda. Conspiracy theories may sound whacky in Europe, but for those who have first-hand experience of Moroccan or Algerian poltics are wise enough to keep their minds opena bout such eventualities.
Where I think that Algeria Watch overplay their hand is not in doubting the official version of events such as the recent bombings in Algiers, but in asserting that the Sécurité militaire is behind everything - I don't think they can provide evidence of that, just qualified guesses.
Posted by: Ibn Kafka at September 1, 2007 09:06 PM
Where I think that Algeria Watch overplay their hand is not in doubting the official version of events such as the recent bombings in Algiers, but in asserting that the Sécurité militaire is behind everything
Good point. And, I would add, in not accepting the simple fact that Algeria had exactly the same potential for Islamist violence as had, say, Iraq, and most other Arab countries, given the wrong circumstances. (Occupation, coup d'état, etc; and for an unlucky set of social & political circumstances, not b/c the Islamophobe explanation, that there's anything inherently off with Islamic or Arab countries.)
At the time, the GIA and other groups enthusiastically claimed responsibility for what they did during the war, and printed tons of propaganda justifying the massacres both in the country and abroad. (Eg. in Britain, the celebrity extremists Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza al-Misri were both on the record as supporters of GIA's methods and ideology, if I'm not mistaken.) I think that says something about the mentality of some of the armed groups at the time -- jihadist nihilism, same as in Iraq. I'm not at all surprised that pro-insurgent media on Iraq has been swarming with conspiracy theorists trying to claim that the Iraqi suicide bombings are also secretly engineered by the Americans, that Zarqawi didn't exist (seemed a popular theory until the day he died), etc, etc, on the cui bono argument. And probably there's a grain of truth or two there too, but the simple fact is, I think, that there are plenty of crazy & desperate people willing to accept mass murder as strategy, if not as desirable in and of itself, even without much prodding from The Influential Outside Forces. (I again refer to Mr. Hogan's great text!)
That said -- I don't want this to come off wrong -- I'm absolutely convinced that the military in Algeria (and Iraq, n.b.) was up to much shady business, and that it actively or passively aided the Islamist decent into complete lunacy. (I would have, had I been in their boots.) But Algeria-Watch, and much other commentary on the Algerian civ war, goes so far beyond simply asserting that the military committed crimes against humanity (which they did, by the thousands) and meddled with the insurgency, and so are complicit in some of the Islamist atrocities. Instead, they seem to be trying to shift blame for the whole insurgency, in the face of fifteen years of extremist propaganda justifying exactly the kind of atrocities that happened in Algeria (killing teachers, attacking unveiled women, throat-slitting of intellectuals & foreigners, takfir for all and sundry, etc). And that I think is just repulsive.
(And note, I'm not at all saying you defend any of this, it's just I'm so sick of it in regard to Algeria-Watch, Iraq and others.)
Posted by: alle at September 2, 2007 02:31 AM