Morocco's Islamists tread warily

Haunted by an image crisis and continuing repression, Morocco's sole Islamist party is contesting only 20 percent of seats in next week's nationwide local elections.

    Mustapha Ramid (r), president of the PJD has condemned the Casablanca blasts

    Moroccans will elect around 23,7000 local councillors on 12 September, but the country's main opposition force, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), will be conspicuously absent from the contest in a majority of the seats.


    "It’s a political decision because of the huge fears that an Islamist reference now sparks here and abroad," said Saad Eddine Othmani, deputy secretary-general of the PJD.


    The party has been on the backfoot ever since the bombings in the commercial capital, Casablanca, on 16 May.


    Blamed on Islamist extremists, the explosions killed 33 bystanders and the 12 human bombers. They also triggered an orchestrated vilification campaign against the PJD.


    The PJD, which severely condemned the May bombings, became the third largest political party in parliamentary elections held a year ago in the monarchy.


    Trebling its number of seats to 42 in the 325-seat lower house, it came closely behind the 50 won by the USFP and 48 for the centre-right, old-guard Istiqlal.


    It chose not to join the government of technocrat Prime Minister Driss Jettou. Othmani said longer-established political parties are

    outmoded and not in tune with the concerns of ordinary Moroccans about unemployment, poverty and acute social inequalities.


    "We could win Casablanca municipality but we don’t opt for this solution because it would poison the political climate…and Morocco cant afford to waste time," Othmani said.


    "May 16 has confused things as far as the perception of Islamists in Morocco is concerned," Othmani admits.

    "It’s a political decision because of the huge fears that an Islamist reference now sparks here and abroad"

    Saad Eddine Othmani            PJD Leader


    PJD has also had to put up with calls from many politicians, including from the pro-government Socialist Union of Popular Forces, for a ban on all Islamist organisations in the country.


    "Only the PJD attracts voters nowadays, in particular young voters," Othmani said.


    But the party is taking its time in harvesting its growing popularity.


    "Lets say, tomorrow we run Casablanca, Agadir, other big cities, I can already see the headlines: Morocco's taken over by Islamists," Othmani said.


    "We don’t want Morocco to become like Algeria."


    Algeria descended into civil war after parliamentary elections in 1992 that the main Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was poised to win were cancelled by the government.  

    SOURCE: Agencies


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