Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Understanding Moroccan Politics With Open Source Intelligence

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The Justice and Development Party, or PJD, has been the ruling party in Morocco since November 2011 but a number of things remain unclear about the Party’s identity.

One example is the relation of the Party to the Muslim Brotherhood is unknown. The Turkish Justice and Development Party is very clearly linked to the organization. Through the Recorded Future network visualization below, however, we learn the Secretary-General of the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, Abdelilah Benkirane, denied on various occasions his party belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

We should note the Moroccan Monarchy is not an eager supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. When Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood man, was ousted in Egypt King Muhammad VI of Morocco was the first North African leader to welcome the interim president Adly Mansour, hailing the Egyptian military for what he called “swift and decisive action.”

The Brotherhood’s grassroots political power are seen as threats to many Monarchs and ruling elites in the region. Given the power Muhammad VI still yields in his Kingdom, it may be deemed unwise for the PJD to be seen as too close to the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, Recorded Future’s web intelligence platform allows us to see behind the politically correct “sound bites.” In fact, if we investigate the link between the PJD and Mohamed Morsi an interesting surprise comes up: the PJD has been routinely condemning the “deadly” crackdown of Morsi supporters in Egypt and has shown support for the Brotherhood in many indirect ways.

 

In order to fully understand the PJDs, it’s important we understand the relationship between the Party and the King, and a little bit about the history of Morocco.

At end of the French colonial era, the King took charge of developing infrastructure and the overall economy, and through the state apparatus, was effectively the main employer in the country. All major industries ended up in the hands of a small circle of families loyal to the monarchy, many directly related to the King. These families did well, despite persistent problems in the Moroccan economy, such as a looming state deficit, lack of economic competitiveness and high unemployment rates. As a result, recent years have seen several popular movements spring out of the general discontent, many pushing to reform the country into a constitutional monarchy, limiting the power and influence of the King.

The PJD rose to prominence in this climate. The Party formed a coalition with three other parties with the aim of reforming the economy and state. Things went relatively well until May 2012 when the trade unions organized mass protests. If we look at the line graph below that tracks the popularity of the PJD over the past two years, we can in fact notice a trending decline in and around May 2012.

The line graph charts negative sentiment in the media concerning the Moroccan Justice and Development Party. In it, open source information from Recorded Future is organized temporally and calculated as a moving average, in order to give us a quick understanding of the vicissitudes of the party in recent history.

See Ethnographic Edge for additional charts.

 

The protests showed many Moroccans were not satisfied with the PJD’s achievements. They felt the reforms promised were not being delivered upon. In particular, the underlying feeling was all the power was still in the hands of the King. Perhaps for this reason, the PJD has since then been concentrating its efforts on economic, instead of political, reform. In recent years, the nation has embarked on an ambitious drive toward economic liberalization, opening its markets and ports to global trade.

There was, however, a hidden cost to this policy. As foreign cash flooded the country, so too did inflation rise. The cost of living increased while unemployment rates remained high, a mix which led to social frustrations. The series of self-immolations that took place in 2012 reflect these frustrations (we may see the line graph trending negative all through 2012).

In order to defuse these grievances the government increased public spending. To do this it had to take out a large line of credit from the IMF. Interestingly, through another Recorded Future visualization, we learn the IMF in 2013 started complaining about Morocco spending all their money on subsidies, and imposed spending cuts for the country.

 

As a consequence, the PJD entered into a deep political crisis in the summer of 2013 that resulted in the collapse of the ruling coalition. The PJD plowed through, however, and on a renewed platform promising more FDI and continued subsidies, won the elections that followed in November. Accordingly, June corresponds to a trough in trust toward the PJD in the line chart above, while November coincides with the latest peak in positive news concerning the Party.