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Strategic Miscalculation or Regime Pawns: The Rise and Fall of the PJD Islamists in Morocco
Abstract by Dr. Mohamed Daadaoui On Session I-8  (Islamists in Government)

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

2023 Annual Meeting

The September 2021 elections in Morocco saw the seismic rout of the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) which had been in nominal control of the government since 2012. The PJD could also have initially mobilized behind the February 20 Movement in 2011 but chose to pursue participation in the elections to enhance its political standing in Morocco’s limited electoral system. The PJD adopted a ‘third way’ by joining the political system and the promise of deeper reforms without risking the instability of uncontrolled popular protests. Once in government, the PJD espoused a discursive approach to leadership focusing on “morality, honesty and transparency,” offering little in the way of socio-economic reforms. instead, the PJD Islamists try to mitigate the authoritarian effects of the state on society and act mainly as a watchdog government pressing for accountability based on Islamic moral teachings for justice and social solidarity. The meteoric electoral ascent of the PJD under Benkirane may have irked the regime enough to thwart the second experiment of the PJD post-Morocco Spring in 2016. The political ‘blocage’ that was orchestrated by a regime determined to regain control over the political party scene in the post- Arab uprisings dominated by more docile royal parties, and more pliable PJD leadership. The PJD may also be a victim of its own initial success in articulating a nuanced discourse on social and economic changes and subsequent reforms that have advanced Benkirane and his party in some corners as a possible peer to the regime in Morocco. The abrupt end to the Benkirane era was a harbinger of things to come as it began the process of drawing the curtain on the palace’s experiment allowing for an Islamist, PJD-led government after the 2011 Arab uprisings. Given the “blocage”, the PJD’s return to the opposition would have been its best path forward to salvage its standing in the political party system and with its own rank and file. The PJD’s strategic miscalculation of casting aside its talismanic leader Benkirane and taking part in the regime curated government would prove costly in the September 2021 legislative elections where the PJD sustained a resounding defeat in the polls. In the opposition, the PJD now is in deep introspection of what its future may look like in a tightly controlled political environment in Morocco.
Political Science
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