Baker Institute report examines Morocco and Islamist politics post-Arab Spring

A new report from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy analyzes the dynamics of the Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) and the party’s involvement in Morocco’s changing political landscape and examines whether the promise of inclusive politics is borne out by the evidence.

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A.Kadir Yildirim, fellow for the Middle East at the Baker Institute, edited the report, “PJD, Islam and Governance in Post-2011 Morocco,” which is a collection of issue briefs by authors Sarah Feuer of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Washington, D.C.; Lise Storm of the University of Exeter, U.K.; Driss Maghraoui of Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco; Beatriz Tomé-Alonso of the University Loyola Andalucía, Seville, Spain; and Amina Drhimeur of CARPO, Bonn, Germany.

“The Arab Spring protests in Morocco led by the February 20 Movement ushered in a new political era,” Yildirim wrote in the report’s introduction. “An Islamist party — the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) — found an opportunity to be part of the government, due to a series of constitutional reforms implemented in 2011. This was a momentous change in Moroccan politics that not only granted the PJD a chance to govern but also potentially tested the king’s religious credentials.”

Religion has always been a pillar of Morocco’s ruling Alaouite dynasty, which claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The king uses the title Amir al-Mu’minin (“commander of the faithful”) to confer religious legitimacy on his rule, Yildirim said.

“The PJD derives part of its political identity from its Islamic orientation,” Yildirim wrote. “This religious identity puts the party on a collision course with the king. Before the Arab uprisings began in Morocco, the PJD was effectively excluded from government despite its popularity and electoral success. Yet since the country’s constitutional reforms in 2011, the PJD has been the major partner of coalition governments in Morocco following parliamentary election victories in 2012 and 2016. The PJD’s ascent to government as a hitherto excluded political actor represents a step toward inclusionary politics in Morocco.” He said the PJD is a political party with a significant electoral base, and the party’s inclusion in the country’s political framework “carries the promise of a more pluralistic political system.”

The report’s issue briefs pay attention to the PJD’s relationship with the monarchy, its strategy to address constraints posed by the king and its engagement with the electorate.

The report is based on a Feb. 20 workshop held in Ifrane, Morocco. It is part of a broader Baker Institute research project on “Building Pluralistic and Inclusive States Post-Arab Spring” supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Yildirim’s main research interests include politics and religion, political Islam, the politics of the Middle East and Turkish politics.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is associate director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.