Morocco: New Prime Minister likely to reduce PJD Islamist party role in government
The North Africa Journa – March 20, 2017 – After firing Abdelilah Benkirane, King Mohammed VI asked the PJD’s number two, Saadeddine El-Othmani to form a new government. Benkirane failed to do so (or was forced to fail) leaving Morocco without a cabinet for several months and a monarchy happy to replace him. An Islamic-leaning psychiatrist, El-Othmani belongs to the same ideological movement than his predecessor. He is religious, albeit moderate, by virtue of his affiliation to the PJD, and conservative because he made it clear that his allegiance is to the King.
He is starting his cabinet negotiations on Tuesday, March 21, talking first to the bosses or the Modernity and Authenticity Party (PAM), the second biggest party in parliament after PJD. Then onto the third party, the old Istiqlal party, followed by the pro-monarchists of the RNI.
The biggest challenge for El-Othmani will be to convince PAM to exit the opposition and become a key member of the ruling coalition. PAM’s chief did not rule out such a move, as long as El-Othmani shows that he could compromise better than Benkirane. This means how many ministries, and which ones PAM will get will determine if it joins the cabinet or stay in opposition. Another important politician to watch is the head of the so-called independents’ party (RNI), Aziz Akhannouch. Tied directly to the monarchy, Akhannouch is widely seen as the man behind the ousting of Benkirane. And so El-Othmani must get him on board, if he wants to avoid a repeat of what happened to Benkirane.
While many observers focus more on the style and less on the substance, when talking about Moroccan politics, there are certainly few conclusions we can draw regarding this leadership change. Perhaps the most important has been the inability of Benkirane to govern as Prime Minister without non-stop interference from the men who represent the palace. Benkirane may have precisely pushed for the King to oust him by using a section in the constitution that forces the King to do so in case of a vacuum in government. Why would Benkirane do that? Simply as a face-saving measure as he refuses to toe the line to extremely demanding opposition parties, which would eventually dilute his own position in government and that of his party. Whether they are ministers, advisers, business leaders, political party chiefs, an army of men, mostly tied to the Palace, have been getting involved in virtually all government affairs that normally should have been the prerogatives of the Prime Minister. In fact, Benkirane has had very limited room to maneuver because key ministerial portfolios are constitutionally controlled by the king, including defense, foreign affairs, interior, and by extension the appointment of walis and governors, even impacting provincial governance. In this context, the PM is left with not much to influence. Regardless, if Benkirane went along and “gifted” more ministries to other political parties, (even for the most junior ministries), the PJD would have ended up controlling almost nothing. In some sense, Benkirane had no other option but to follow his intuition of leaving with honor. The grassroots in his party have been frustrated by the loss of power, despite the PJD’s popularity and position in parliament. But its leadership does not want to face the might of the monarchy. On March 18, the PJD’s national council issued a statement following an emergency meeting, reiterating its allegiance to the King, essentially agreeing with his call to speed up the formation of a government.
And so now that Benkirane saved his face, we expect El-Othmani to reduce the PDJ’s position in government even more. Political voices in Morocco are calling on him to be “more flexible than his predecessor,” and he is precisely going to do that, further confirming a greater control of government by the monarchy.
Saadeddine Othmani is a Berber Moroccan politician and psychiatrist who was appointed as Prime Minister of Morocco on 17 March 2017. Previously he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2012 to 2013.
Life and career
He was born in 1956 in Inezgane, near Agadir, in the Souss region. He obtained a Doctorate in Medicine from Hassan II University of Casablanca in 1986, and in psychiatry in 1994. He also earned Master and DEA degrees in Islamic studies in 1983, 1987 and 1999. He has written numerous books on psychology and Islamic law, and worked as the editor-in-chief of many magazines and publications. In 2004, after the withdrawal from politics of Abdelkrim Alkhatib, Saadeddine Othmani became the head of the Justice and Development Party (PJD). He is also a parliamentary deputy of Inezgane.
Saadeddine Othmani was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 3 January 2012 to 10 October 2013 in the government headed by his party, the PJD. He was succeeded as Minister of Foreign Affairs by Salaheddine Mezouar. Subsequently he headed the parliamentary group of the PJD.
The North Africa Journal is a leading English-language publication focused on North Africa. The Journal covers primarily the Maghreb region and expands its general coverage to the Sahel, Egypt, and beyond, when events in those regions affect the broader North Africa geography. The Journal does not have any affiliation with any institution and has been independent since its founding in 1996. Our position is to always bring our best analysis of events affecting the region, and remain as neutral as humanly possible. Our coverage is not limited to one single topic, but ranges from economic and political affairs, to security, defense, social and environmental issues. We rely on our full staff analysts and editors to bring you best-in-class analysis. We also work with sister company MEA Risk LLC, to leverage the presence on the ground of a solid network of contributors and experts. Information on MEA Risk can be found at www.MEA-Risk.com.