Institutional and Ideological Re-Construction of the Justice and Development Party (PJD): The Question of Democratic Islamism in Morocco

By El Sherif, Ashraf Nabih | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2012 | Go to article overview

Institutional and Ideological Re-Construction of the Justice and Development Party (PJD): The Question of Democratic Islamism in Morocco


El Sherif, Ashraf Nabih, The Middle East Journal


An analysis of fieldwork research on the deliberations, policy option debates, and outcomes of the 2008 Sixth National Convention of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) crystallizes issues relevant to the party's recent transformations, with focus on the balance between its Islamist character and its democratic/governance merits, central to the leadership transition that occurred during convention. This investigation presents potential scenarios of this ambivalent Islamist democratic experiment in Morocco amid rapidly changing national and regional contexts in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the new politics that resulted.

Outcomes were hardly predictable during the July 19-22, 2008 Sixth National Convention of the Islamic Justice and Development Party (PJD) in Morocco. Counter to all political speculations, the ten-year leader of the party, Sa'd al-Din al-Othmani (marketed during his visit to Washington DC in 2006 as the "Moroccan Erdogan"), came second in votes for the Secretary General post to 'Abd al-Ilah Benkiran. Al-Othmani was later elected to head the party's national convention in succession of its previous leader, Mr. Benkiran himself. This outcome was far from being pre-engineered. On the contrary, this complete bombshell took all observers and party leaders, including al-Othmani and Benkiran, by surprise.1 The case of the Justice and Development Party (PJD) demonstrates how far non-violent Islamist movements have been integrated into Morocco's democratic transition process and how much they have transformed their ideological and organizational positions in the adaptation. That said, Islamism still challenges the religious hegemony of the Moroccan monarchy and the policies of the political establishment, but the movement has adapted well to new political circumstances and institutional constraints following the rise to power of King Muhammad VI in 1999.

This investigation of the effects of the PJD's institutional structure and ideological choices on the broader question of democratization of Moroccan Islamism addresses several questions. First, does the democratic institutionalization of an Islamic movement reflect its de-Islamization or rather its considerable maturity in organization and objectives? Second, how were the deliberations, outcomes, and debates on policy options during the PJD's 2008 convention carried out,2 and how can they shed light on the potential scenarios of this Islamist democratic experiment? This article will start with an analysis of the institutional and ideological politics of the PJD in the lead up to the 2008 party convention, including politics/prosletyzing relations, PJD factional politics, and standpoints on questions of national democratic and constitutional reforms. Then, it shall proceed to explore the details and deliberations of the 2008 sixth national convention and contextualize its outcomes within the changing national and Islamist politics in Morocco before and through the Arab spring in 2011.

THE END OF PROSELYTIZING AND THE BEGINNING OF POLITICS

The separation of the Movement of Unity and Reform (MUR, founded in 1993) and the Party of Justice and Development (PJD, 1997) was an all-important and controversial issue. Critical to its democratic development, the PJD ventured to separate proselytizing from politics. Questions of Islamic identity were relocated as a function of the social and cultural movements operating in the proselytizing field. The party was to be responsible only for governance and administration. The theoretical merits of such a hypothesis are still controversial, but the practicalities precluded the awaited full separation. In a country like Morocco, identity politics are inescapable given the traditional ruling regime and the active secularization projects of the Francophone elites. In contrast, full separation was possible in the Turkish case. The Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP), in its official discourse, presents itself as a center-right socially conservative party lacking any cultural agenda.

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