The meddling of the Secretary-General of Morocco’s Party of Justice and Development (PJD), Abdelilah Benkirane in Tunisian affairs, by declaring his “solidarity” with a recently-arrested senior figure of the Ennahda movement, sheds light on the path that the Moroccan Islamist party has chosen to tread after losing the elections and leaving the government, analysts say.
The party expressed its position, this time, without equivocation or varnish, as was the case in the past.
Moroccan affairs experts say that there was no clear justification for Benkirane’s surprise involvement in Tunisian affairs, especially since the former Moroccan prime minister had in the past stressed the Moroccan identity of the Party of Justice and Development (PJD) and its lack of ties with the global Muslim Brotherhood organization.
Among the questions that Benkirane must still answer is to what extent does his expression of “solidarity” with the Tunisian Islamist leader, arrested last Friday on suspicion of terrorism-related activities in conjunction with allegations of unlawful delivery of passports and identity papers, is an expression of the previously-undeclared commitment by the Justice and Development Party to the creed of the Muslim Brotherhood and a reflection of the ties that bind it to the global network of the Islamist organization.
This is all-the-more so, because when he was prime minister, Benkirane used to reject any criticism of his government from any foreign party and considered outside censure of the PJD an unacceptable form of interference in Morocco’s internal affairs, analysts say.
In a statement, released on Tuesday, Morocco’s PJD described the house arrest of the vice-president of the Tunisian Ennahda Movement, Noureddine Bhiri, as a “dangerous development in the political crisis that Tunisia is going through.”
The party made its position public in a letter of solidarity addressed by Benkirane to the head of the Ennahda movement, Rached Ghannouchi and published on the Moroccan party’s website on Wednesday.
The party leader said he hoped that “brotherly Tunisia will emerge from this crisis, that Bhiri and all the political detainees will be released and that a dialogue starts between all parties in order to create an atmosphere of political de-escalation that serves the interests of the brotherly Tunisian people.”
Analysts believe that the statement of “solidarity” with Ennahda is additional evidence that Benkirane and his party members have not parted with their Muslim Brotherhood connections. The analysts maintain that the talk of the Moroccan identity of the PJD during the past few years was aimed at blurring the true affinities of the government’s leadership when it was in power and muting accusations that its government pursued foreign agendas.
Sherifa Lemouir, a Moroccan political science researcher, said that Benkirane has always put partisan considerations ahead of national interests in many issues of concern to the country. She believes the same logic explains the Moroccan Islamist leader’s position on the arrest of the deputy head of the Ennahda movement in Tunisia.
She further told The Arab Weekly that “Benkirane’s expression of solidarity with the vice-president of the Ennahda movement is an attempt to return to the political scene after his party lost the bet of the last September elections,” adding that “(Morocco’s) Islamist party is trying to send a message to the Brotherhood abroad and members of the political organisation at home and to show it still has control over its internal decision making and that was not affected by its electoral defeat.”
Benkirane has in the past refused to break with the Muslim Brotherhood, despite his denial of his party’s affiliation with the global Islamist organisation.
He said in previous statements, “The first school from which we received our learning and where the first culture was instilled in us, is the school of the Muslim Brotherhood and the writings of Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and others.”
To avoid the stigma and political repercussions of being associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist parties and movements in the Maghreb have generally endeavoured to project complete independence from the international Islamist organisation, changed their names and claimed a solely local political identity. However, on many occasions, this was revealed to be nothing but a political ploy and an attempt to evade pressure, experts of political Islam say.
Party members reappointed former prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane as party leader, in place of Saadeddine Othmani, during a party congress in October.
The PJD won only 13 seats in parliament during the legislative elections, held last September in Morocco, a huge departure from the 125 seats it used to hold before.