Sunday, September 9, 2007

Morocco Hands Setbacks to Islamists

The Kingdom of Morocco is a wondrous place where a historic blend of cultures, ancient religions and the modern relics of daily life co-exist within borders that hold steep mountains, crashing seas and the blazing Sahara Desert. High expectations and hopes of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), crashed and burned against the rocks as voters rejected their political vision of the future. This election was hailed as a bellwether for other Arab countries holding elections in the future. That remains to be seen as Arab countries have a multitude of different needs and past deeds driving their everyday politics. To clump them together is foolish.

"Islamist parties and governments are watching very closely the Moroccan elections. Moderate Islamist parties in Algeria, Egypt, Syria, and some Gulf countries will have to be part of any reformist agenda in the region," wrote Abdeslam Maghraoui, visiting associate professor in political science at Duke University in Durham, N.C., in an e-mailed response to questions.

The PJD has gained support in recent years by tapping disillusionment with a government seen as removed from voters' needs, focusing on the poor and jobless youths. Nearly 5 million of Morocco's 33 million people live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank.

Across the Arab world, Islamist groups of various stripes have bbecome the most potent opposition forces to the authoritarian governments of the region.

"The appeal of Islamists is [that] they are a fresh voice. We say we want someone from 'outside the Beltway' – the Moroccans are the same way," says Donna Lee Bowen, a professor of political science and Middle Eastern studies at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. (Reuters photo courtesy of Rafael Marchante of a woman voting)

European Union news sources are calling the Moroccan elections a "'transparent success'" even though Morrocan voters showed an amazing amount of antipathy towards the vote, just as Americans do. Only a third of the registered voters bothered to show up on Friday to cast their vote and voila, just like American politicians, it seems the Islamists missed learning how to run effective GOTV or Get Out The Vote operations. This does not signify a permanent defeat to the PJD, just a setback from their projected time frame. Be wary of any broad lessons learned here.

A good way to learn about Moroccan culture is through the anecdotal book by Orin Hargraves, Culture Shock! Morocco: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

Marvine Howe, former bureau chief of the New York Times for Turkey and Greece wrote Morocco: The Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges in 2005.

Personal tales from the darker attributes of Morocco are outlined in the books, Stolen Lives, Freedom the Story of My Second Life in paperback October 2007, by Malike Oukfir. She is featured in Oprah's Book Club.

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