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Cablegate: Special Media Reaction - Commentary On Choice of Prime

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1. (U) The Moroccan print press has commented extensively on King
Mohamed VI's September 19 decision to appoint Istiqlal Party
Secretary General Abbas El Fassi as the new prime minister. Most of

the press, including the partisan, pro-Palace, and more conservative
independent press, offered strong support for the "democratic logic"
of choosing the head of the party that won the largest bloc of seats
in parliament. Many newspapers offered this support while noting
that El Fassi has never completely overcome the taint of involvement
in a scandal (the Annajat affair) dating back to an earlier tenure
as employment minister. Several newspapers opined that the King's
decision contributed to moving Morocco towards a true constitutional
monarchy, in which the King's decision to appoint the head of the
leading party as prime minister would become purely mechanical.
Many newspapers made no effort to hide the impression that many
Moroccans had hoped for a prime minister from among the Istiqlal
young guard.

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2. (U) A minority of fiercely independent newspapers, known for
their opposition to the government, have strongly criticized the
decision, in spite of its "democratic logic." Al-Massae, the
largest circulation daily newspaper in Morocco with a growing
reputation for populism, harshly attacked El Fassi for his refusal
to acknowledge responsibility in the Annajat affair. Independent
French-language weeklies "Tel Quel" and "Le Journal" focused more on
El Fassi's thin record of achievement and weak past performance
(despite a long career of public service), his status as a
consummate representative of the "old guard," and his unpopularity.
Both weeklies also criticized what they perceive to be his excessive
deference to the King, citing past statements that he has no
intention to pursue policies independent from those of the king.
These weeklies worry that - at precisely the time that Morocco's
ministers and parliament should be exerting greater independence in
the interest of promoting democracy - El Fassi will make no effort
to pursue an agenda independent from that of the palace. They view
this as undermining long-term prospects for democracy in Morocco.

3. (U) Selected Block Quotes:

A. "The King's Wager," editorial by director Ahmed Benchemsi in
independent French-language weekly "Tel Quel" on 9/22-28:

The choice of the Secretary General of Istiqlal is not illegitimate,
because he is the chief of the party that arrived at the head of the
legislative elections. In theory, his journey has been more than
honorable: lawyer by profession, four times a minister, twice
ambassador . . . for those that do not know him, Mr. El Fassi seems
to be an acceptable head of government. But those that know him
found it necessary, this Wednesday of Ramadan, to break the fast
with a tablet of aspirin. There is first of all the Annajat
debacle, which will continue to dog him all his life, Prime Minister
or not. . . . Today he still refuses to admit responsibility in a
scandal that created tens of thousands of victims. Pressed to
explain this, as well as multiple internal tensions the party was
facing, he, during a national council in 2002 . . . broke down in
sobs in front of 800 people! In order to compose himself, several
senior party members had to hug him and console him!! [As a result
of this] he was judged incapable of directing a serious ministry by
Jettou, who offered him, in 2002, the post of "Minister of State
without Portfolio." An exclusively protocolary function that
satisfied him for five years, without coming out with a single good
idea worth reporting.

. . . The political vision of Abbas El Fassi has always been
summarized by this sole credo: "I support His Majesty the King,
whatever he decides." . . . Given the nature of the Moroccan
regime, the prime minister must first and foremost work hand in hand
with the monarchy. But to deprive oneself of any margin of error,
to renounce straight off the least autonomy of decision[-making], to
abandon any hope of moving, even vaguely, towards a democratic
re-alignment of powers. . . yes, the logic that led Abbas El Fassi
to the prime ministry is a victory for democracy. But it is at the
same time its worst defeat. The Moroccan political system has just
engendered its ultimate paradox. . . .as for the sensitive files
(Sahara, security, Islamism, civil liberties . . . ), who will
manage them with [former Interior Minister Deputy Fouad Ali] El
Himma gone? The Prime Minister? This Prime Minister? This is a
bad joke, which does not make us feel like laughing. [For Mohamed
VI,] this was a very big, very risky bet that he was not obliged to

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make. But he is the king, he is sovereign, and he has made his
choice. It remains for the rest of us to cross our fingers, in
trying to calm our anxieties . . .

B. "First Pawn of His Majesty," commentary by Karim Bouhkari and
Driss Benanni in "Tel Quel" on 9/22-28:

The nomination of Abbas is not a scandal because it follows
democratic logic. . . . if for the independent press, as for a part
of the political class (who will surely not dare to say so), this
nomination is an enormous disappointment, it is first and foremost
because Abbas does not represent the values of progress, of work and
of modernity. He who was installed on the throne of Istiqlal, for
nearly ten years, has always been the prototype of the "submissive,"
incapable of moving a little finger without the green light of [the
King]. What's worse, his submissiveness appears to be the key to
his ascension, and nothing in his journey proves otherwise. To sell
to Moroccans this [equation] (submission=success) is a very bad
advertisement for a country that aspires to more.

C. "Despairing," editorial by Ali Ammar, director of independent
French-language weekly "Le Journal" on 9/22-28:

Everyone is in agreement in saying, with sometimes a bit of
cynicism, that this is the democratic logic. Now, when a rupture
was necessary, the abstentionism being the most important message,
the king decided to leave well enough alone to the point of
nominating a man of the past, without recognized competencies. He
chose the least unifying, the least charismatic, the least popular,
as a result notably of the debacle that dogs him, the Annajat
scandal remaining in all our memories. . . .[He is] the archetype
of the politician that the silent masses dread so much, as a result
of which they turned away from the ballot boxes. Is this therefore
democracy? All this only to arrive here? . . . The image projected
by Abbas El Fassi is unanimously perceived as contradictory with
that of an empathetic monarchy. It is one of a dogmatic past, of
gamy [i.e. corrupt] institutions, perfected by a despotic regime,
certainly not by a Morocco in transition. How will this improbable
team be able to lead us towards the modernity that we need so

D. "Right to the end," editorial in business-oriented
French-language weekly "La Vie Economique" on 9/21-27:

For the first time in the history of modern Morocco, democratic
logic will have prevailed right to the end. A method of voting
chosen by the parties themselves, an electoral apportionment
validated by the majority, elections . . . in whose unfolding the
State remained neutral, and a Prime Minister nominated from the
party ranked at the top, according to the will of the people, or at
least the voters. Those who skipped the vote can only take it out on
themselves. . . . There remains THE question that everyone is
posing: has this democratic logic that everyone wished for served
and strengthened the interests of the nation? As backers of the
press, we will defend [our right] to judge the qualities of Mr. El
Fassi as Prime Minister. We will note down that the number of people
[who were] disappointed at the announcement was not negligible,
which tends to support the hypothesis that if Istiqlal won so many
seats, it was principally thanks to the image conveyed by its young
ministers. We voted for Istiqlal thinking about Hejira, Ghellab,
Douiri and Baddou, while Abbas El Fassi was only elected with a very
slight margin over his competitor. But we forgot that - democratic
practices require it - it is the head of the victorious party that
inherits the highest ministerial post. Do we want democracy? There
it is, in its most successfully completed expression. It is for the
people to take responsibility for their choice and for Mr. El Fassi
to prove that he is worthy of the confidence placed in him.

E. "Democratic normality," commentary by Omar Dahbi in independent
French-language daily "Aujourd'hui le Maroc" on 9/21:

If it was predictable that the PM would be nominated from within the
party that obtained the largest number of seats in Parliament, the
fact of choosing the head of the party was not as obvious. With this
choice, HM the King has not only established democratic normality,
but also has installed, with the nomination of Abbas El Fassi, a new
practice in the young Moroccan democracy. To nominate the head of
the party that arrived on top in the elections and to charge him

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with forming a coalition government means that the choice of the
voter was totally respected. Voting for a party will mean, from now
on, making one's choice about the party and the person that will
direct the future government. And, if Article 24 of the Constitution
makes the choice of PM a prerogative of sovereignty, HM the King has
just installed a new tradition that will certainly take root among
Morocco's political customs.

F. "Little good morning," front page commentary by Khalil Hachimi
Idrissi, director of "Aujourd'hui le Maroc" on 9/21:

. . . The process leading to this nomination [of the Prime Minister]
has become strictly technical. His Majesty the King has given to
Moroccan political parties the means to construct by themselves,
seriously, their future and the future of the country. In this
experimental situation, it is up to Abbas El Fassi and to Istiqlal
to inaugurate this new formula. For them, certainly, another
historic rendezvous with the country. Good luck.

G. "Prime Minister," front page editorial by Abdelmouneim Dilami,
director of independent business-oriented daily "L'Economiste" on

Abbas El Fassi as Prime Minister: the choice at the polls has been
strictly respected. . . . The big winner in this whole affair is
Morocco itself and its citizens, the voters and the non-voters.
Democracy has functioned freely, without a quake. Quite the
contrary. Democracy confirmed the strategic choices already made.


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