June 12 was election day in Iran. But in another Muslim country, local elections were also conducted that very day. It was in Morocco and the outcome was very little commented and when it was, the analysis was most of the time flawed.
Indeed the Western media and various experts declared that the Islamists were decimated and that they were now history. Think again! In fact, the main official Islamist party, the PJD (Parti de la Justice et du Développement), a loose offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, is far from dead and one could make the case that it got its best results ever. Abdelillah Benkirane, the PJD’s General Secretary, succinctly summed up the outcome of the elections, “We’ve won” and in a way he is right.
At first sight, it is easy to see why some pundits called the PJD’s defeat: in absolute terms the party garnered only about 6% of the votes. But to put things in perspective it ran only for 8,000 seats out of the about 27,000 in play- i.e. about 29%-. The PJD smartly targeted the cities where it is quite popular and was quite successful because it finished actually first in towns with over 35,000 inhabitants. And more importantly the PJD finished first in Rabat, the kingdom’s capital and Casablanca, the economic capital. With political alliances the PJD is one way or another in the driver’s seat in Rabat, Casablanca and Kenitra. Will it be able to enforce its very strict conservative religious agenda that runs counter to what Morocco stands for? This remains to be seen. In the meantime, the PJD has joined forces with the Socialist Party, the USFP, and has defacto lost its “pariah” label. The PJD has now become a party like all the others and is likely pretty content with this newly acquired status. In fact, two years ago the West was afraid of an Islamist tsunami in Morocco and is now clearly relieved that it did not occur.
But with a flawed analysis, the West is missing the big picture that little by little the Islamists are gaining ground, controlling cities and penetrating the core of Moroccan society. Like in most countries, the Islamists are not really in a rush to seize power: the tortoise always beats the hare in the end…