Consensus among the leaders of Justice and Charity (Adl wa Ihssan) may be eroding nearly two years after the death of founder Sheikh Abdessalam Yassin, according to a new study by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Vish Sakthivel argues that the banned group is the most important opposition movement with “deep roots in Morocco and wide popular appeal.” Unlike most other Islamist groups in the kingdom, Justice and Charity, or rejects violent methods, secrecy and reliance on foreign funding. The movement is also distinguished by its refusal to participate in politics.
But Justice and Charity is looking for a new strategic direction. Sakthivel outlines three probably courses of action in the following excerpt. Justice and Charity (Adl wa Ihssan) is referred to as AWI.
Reconcile with the Palace
AWI’s political daira (circle), headed by Abdelwahad Moutawakel and implicitly by Deputy Secretary-General Fathallah Arsalane, appears to be establishing independence from the religious daira—echoing the separation between the PJD (Justice and Development) and TI (Unity and Reform). Despite a seeming lack of internal democracy, AWI likely has the strategic wherewithal and organizational tools to move forward with essentially separate political and religious wings. However, the choice of Arsalane, a well-connected, highly visible, politically savvy personality, for the deputy secretary-general position, almost as a foil to Muhammad Abbadi’s purely spiritual role as secretary-general, hints at political intent behind the selection of prominent leaders.
Lately, parts of the political daira appear more inclined than before to embrace elements of modern political strategy, including campaigns, populism, and negotiation with the makhzen, while allowing the religious daira to continue pushing Yassine’s mission of dawa and tarbiyah in a way that eventually Islamizes Morocco’s democratic trajectory. This scenario evokes the PJD-TI dynamic, in which the political-religious division allows the PJD to cling to a version of its ideological self while still participating in the makhzen-based system—delegating outspokenness, religious preaching, and some measure of political dissidence to TI figures.
Despite the possible trend toward AWI political participation, both external and internal obstacles remain. The palace, to begin with, would presumably need to show leeway on certain ritualistic acts of subservience—such as the requirement to kiss the king’s hand, attend the “feast of the throne,” and bow—as well as exhibit more accountability in general. AWI, in turn, would have to relax its antimonarchy stances. Neither shift is foreseeable in the near future.
Wait for Better Times
The political daira is indeed reluctant to show its cards. As one Moroccan journalist and AWI watcher put it, “They prevaricate so that they don’t have to reveal to the monarchy the concessions that they are in fact willing, at this point, to make.”15 AWI is fearful of losing leverage and bargaining power, and appearing vulnerable before the makhzen. Its leaders, as the previous section made clear, are aware of the compromised fate of other recently co-opted parties.
The political daira is indeed reluctant to show its cards. As one Moroccan journalist and AWI watcher put it, “They prevaricate so that they don’t have to reveal to the monarchy the concessions that they are in fact willing, at this point, to make.” AWI is fearful of losing leverage and bargaining power, and appearing vulnerable before the makhzen. Its leaders, as the previous section made clear, are aware of the compromised fate of other recently co-opted parties.
Thus far, the group’s refusal to recognize the king has served as a symbol of its “uncooptability,” of the strength of its ideology-based strategy that has sustained its credibility and garnered support from Morocco’s most disillusioned citizens, including the poor.
Given recent dips in the influence of regional Islamist groups after their brief Arab Spring surge, AWI may be unlikely to choose this particular time to enter the mainstream. The decision in and of itself to forgo participation could affect the nature of the group’s membership and influence—just as going public would have an uncertain effect on its backing.
Pursue Strategic Alliances
The third short-term option for AWI would be to continue eschewing politics and quietly organize against the monarch. Such organizing, rumors suggest, could even include a push for rapprochement with more secular anti-makhzen movements such as M20F, with the aim of strengthening both movements over time. Indeed, the ability of M20F to bring together the socialist left, other elements of the secular left, and Islamists in a region where religious-secular consensus is hard to come by was viewed by analysts as a feat. The alliance also posed a tough challenge to the makhzen, which had previously succeeded in straddling the two camps. With the Islamists’ departure, however, M20F was widely seen to have lost clout. The makhzen, therefore, sees a far greater threat in an AWI banded with other groups than even a growing AWI on its own. In the end, AWI could well try to join with secular leftists in a united effort to “bring down” the makhzen, although such a development is unlikely to occur under the M20F banner. The PJD is another potential “suitor” for the numerically strong AWI, although AWI has generally responded to the idea of dialogue rather than the charms of a single suitor.24 Still other intergroup discussions have envisioned a democratic scenario of secular-Islamist alliances that averts the political fallout experienced in Egypt and Tunisia.
Click here for the full text.