A Moroccan Lesson for the Brotherhood
“Our party does not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. We are part of their school (of thought) however we don’t have an organizational relationship with them. We have our own special development, ideology, and institutes.”
With this sentence, Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who is also Secretary-General of the country’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, drew a dividing line between his political party and the Muslim Brotherhood movement. He took pains to emphasize ideological, developmental, and political distinctions, particularly during this time when huge comparisons are being made between the regional Islamist movements, some of which came to power against the backdrop of the Arab Spring wave. With this statement, Benkirane emphasizes the differences embraced by his party since its first establishment, when it was known by a different name. This approach was influenced by Morocco’s historic situation and the nature of Islam in the country, as well as the political conditions that allowed party founder Dr. Abdul Kareem Al-Khatib to participate in numerous governments since the country’s independence. Dr. Al-Khatib participated in Moroccan governments under King Mohammed V, and then later during the reign of King Hassan II. He also headed Morocco’s first parliament following the 1963 elections.
The Moroccan Freedom and Justice party has excelled at one other thing since its establishment, namely emphasizing—in all of its endeavors—that it is operating within the framework of the constitutional monarchy and the Moroccan democratic concept. This is something that was made clear in a message to certain national Islamist movements, especially those that have moved towards a conspiracy and coup-based approach in order to reach power. Benkirane confirmed his party’s continuance of its approach in statements he made at a recent meeting with a number of Arab media representatives, which was published by Asharq Al-Awsat last Wednesday. During this meeting, Benkirane clarified that “the Moroccans have a historical awareness that the monarchy represents stability and guarantees unity.”
Benkirane made some important statements during this meeting that deserve contemplation, especially at a time when the majority of political Islamist movements, or shall we say movements that want to monopolize Islam and use it to achieve political objectives, are expressing impatience towards the democratic atmosphere and inclining towards an authoritarian approach. One of the most important things said by the Moroccan Prime Minister—who was tasked with forming a cabinet following his party winning a parliamentary majority in 2011—was: “Our fundamental belief is that the people did not vote for us as a party with an Islamic reference in order to impose our understanding of Islam on them, rather they voted for us to resolve their problems.” He went on to say, “Our concern is not to Islamize society, for the society is Muslim. Rather there are social and economic imbalances that we are trying to address, particularly as the Moroccans voted us in to resolve these.” Here he is clarifying an understanding that appears to be absent from many of the movements that raise Islamic slogans and are working to reach political power, namely that when people vote for a party—even if it raises Islamic slogans—they are doing so primarily for this party to address their political, social, and economic problems or concerns, and to guarantee their rights and preserve security. They are not voting in order for this party to encroach on their privacy and rights, and impose their own Islamic approach, understanding, and viewpoint on them which many Muslims may disagree with. These parties or movements—collectively or individually—don’t enjoy a monopoly on Islam even if they would like to portray the situation in this manner.
The Secretary-General of the Freedom and Justice Party, perhaps in light of the broad controversy being played out in many Arab and Islamic countries, went even further in explaining his party’s viewpoint, particularly in terms of his own governmental experience. He said, “We did not come to tell the men to grow beards or to impose hijab on the women, for humanity does not go backwards. We do not believe in the logic of interfering in people’s lives. We do not view this as being Islamic.” In addition to this he clarified what others before him had revealed and publicly acknowledged, including the Hamas leadership in Gaza, namely that when one finally reaches power after lusting after it, they find it a difficult reality in comparison to life in the opposition. In the opposition, it is sufficient to offer theories and criticism and view everything being put forward by the other side as a mistake, acting as if they have all the solutions to the people’s problems in their hands. Benkirane described the “persistent” problem of governance, while Hamas chief Khaled Mishal described governance as being “more complicated” than he had expected, particularly as one must come up with practical solutions to real problems rather than empty theories and addressing people’s concerns by selling them hollow slogans and speeches.
This is something that was discovered by the Muslim Brotherhood who reached power on the back of extravagant promises, resonant slogans, and “renaissance” programs. However they found themselves facing the major problems of the largest Arab country, including population challenges and the huge expectation for quick solutions following the revolution. The problem is that rather than demonstrating some humility in the face of these responsibilities, the Brotherhood revealed their explicit trend towards monopolizing power in order to impose their approach and viewpoint on others and extend their influence on all aspects of life and power. This includes infiltrating the judiciary and trying to subjugate it before preparing for the forthcoming battle to muzzle the media. One might say that the Brotherhood have no choice but to pursue this approach in light of the ongoing campaigns against them, and the protests that have not stopped since the revolution, however the reality is that it is their own actions that have contributed to inflaming the state of anger against them. The Brotherhood have lost a lot of the sympathy and support that they had garnered and which had granted them sufficient votes to come to power in the first place.
In reality, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood are acting as if they do not believe in the peaceful and democratic transfer of power. It is as if they view the situation as an opportunity to subject power to their hegemony. They had sought to reach power for long years, planning coups and conspiracies under the previous regime. This is precisely what the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood did, and they represented the worse example of Islamist rule after implementing a coup and killing democracy in their country to form a totalitarian regime. The Egyptian Brotherhood can, if God grants them wisdom and foresight, learn from the model of the Moroccan Muslim Brotherhood. They should heed Benkirane’s words that if their party succeeds in government then they will say that God blessed it, while if it doesn’t succeed then at least it is not the only party on the scene. What a beautiful message, even if it viewed by some as being self-evident.