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Moderation in Morocco
Gradual reforms by Islamists and the monarchy show that there is hope for the Arab Spring.

King Mohammed VI of Morocco in 2007

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John Fund

Nabil Zaki, an expert with the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says that the most savvy Islamist leaders know the people will not accept them if they adopt extreme policies. Bakr compares the Islamists to a black box: Voters didn’t know exactly what was inside, but they were willing to take a chance Islamists would make life better. “If the moderate Islamists ally with the liberals, the situation will be promising in one way or another, but the prospect isn’t clear yet,” Bakr said. How they handle the touchy issues of the rights of religious minorities and the role of women in society will provide clear evidence of their political intentions.

So far the signs are that, in Morocco, the Islamists want to prove themselves as responsible players in government. They won popular support in the November election by crusading against corruption, by, for instance, publishing the names of members of parliament who would collect their salary but rarely show up for debates.

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The author of the PJD’s party platform, Khalfi Mustapha, is crisp and clear when explaining his party’s aims. “We want economic growth, more foreign investment, and gradual and genuine reform of government institutions,” he tells me. Specifically, that includes reducing the top corporate-tax rate to 25 percent from 30 percent, while raising the minimum wage slightly. He supports the free-trade treaty in place between the U.S. and Morocco and is open to privatization and deregulation. At the same time, his party has a touch of populism about it, so don’t expect anything like a supply-side tax program.

I ask him what influences from other countries helped shape his party’s platform. He surprises me by telling me how much he learned about the U.S. while he interned on Capitol Hill in Washington for a Democratic congressman. Mustapha isn’t shy about saying that he freely borrowed from many sources. “We like many of the pro-family social policies of the U.S. Republicans, and many of the economic policies of the moderate U.S. Democrats,” he tells me. He also found things to like in the policies of Turkey’s ruling Islamist party, the AKP, which has presided over an economic boom in that country. He also had praise for the family-leave policies of Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative French president.

Even if the Moroccan Islamists had designs to radically alter society, they would be severely circumscribed by the new constitution, which, while opening up elections and public debate, also leaves the conduct of foreign policy, oversight of intelligence agencies, and control over the military in the hands of the king. The extensive cooperation between Morocco and the U.S. on counter-terrorism is expected to continue.

Indeed, if any figure in the Middle East has shown an agility for keeping ahead of popular discontent and radical Islam, it is Morocco’s King Mohammed, who has gradually loosened his complete control of the country since assuming power upon the death of his father, King Hassan, in 1999.



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