Cablegate: Morocco: Ministerial Changes Shore Up The


DE RUEHRB #0731/01 2391549
R 271549Z AUG 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) Summary: On July 29, Morocco's King Mohammed VI
approved the appointments of new ministers: a second
Minister of State without portfolio, a Minister of Culture, a
Minister of Youth and Sports, and a Secretary of State for
Foreign Affairs. The Minister of State and Secretary of
State appointments were probably given to the Popular
Movement (MP) Party in exchange for its agreeing to join the
ruling coalition. While the MP is a small party on the
Moroccan political landscape, the move shored up the
government's tenuous hold on power by restoring a majority
coalition, which was lost when the Party of Authenticity and
Modernity (PAM) withdrew from the government shortly before
the nationwide municipal elections held on June 12. The MP's
move into government appears to be an effort to ameliorate
the party's political troubles; at the same time it likely
guarantees stability of the current government until the 2012
legislative elections. End Summary.

Government Shakeup

2. (SBU) In a small but significant shakeup in the ruling
government coalition, Morocco's King Mohammed VI on July 29
appointed a new Minister of State, a new Minister of Culture,
a new Minister of Youth and Sports, and a new Secretary of
State for Foreign Affairs. MP Secretary General Mohand
Laenser assumed the position of Minister of State. (Note:
The senior Minister of State position is held by Mohamed El
Yazghi from the Socialist Union of Popular Forces Party or
USFP. End Note.) Senior MP member Mohamed Ouzzine became
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs, a post that has been vacant since the
dismissal of Istiqlal's Ahmed Lakhrif in December 2008.
Bensalem Himmich, from USFP, was appointed Minister of
Culture replacing Touriya Jabrane, from the same party, who
stepped down for health reasons. Moncef Belkhayat from the
National Rally of Independents (RNI), a government coalition
partner, replaced Nawal El Moutawakil, also from RNI, as the
Minister for Youth and Sports. During a meeting on August 12
with Belkhayat, who has a reputation as a "no-nonsense"
manager, Charge learned that Moutawakil had been replaced
because of her growing obligations as a member of the
International Olympic Committee and Moroccan sports team,s
poor record during her tenure.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Weakened Government Majority Precipitates Changes
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (SBU) The Minister of State and Secretary of State
appointments were the reward for the MP,s entry into the
ruling coalition. The ministerial reshuffle had been
expected after the PAM surprised its allies by abruptly
withdrawing its support from the government and officially
joining the parliamentary opposition in the run-up to the
June 12 local elections. The move created a de facto balance
between the ruling coalition and opposition in the lower
house. PAM's withdrawal was widely interpreted as an effort
to position itself as a "political outsider" in the recent
elections (reftel).

4. (SBU) Although a shock to the ruling coalition, PAM's
shift took place during the summer recess, giving the
government time to form another coalition before the October
parliamentary session, when it needs a majority to pass the
critical budget bill. King Mohammed VI ensured survival of
the government by expressing his confidence in Prime Minister
Abbas El Fassi in a telephone call that was publicly
disclosed the day after PAM's move. The MP brought 70
parliamentary seats into government -- approximately 40 in
the Chamber of Representatives (the parliament's lower house)
and 30 in the Chamber of Councilors (upper house), restoring
the government's parliamentary majority with more than 200
members in the more important 325-seat lower house.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Internal Problems Prompts MP Move into Government
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) On August 12, 2009, MP Executive Member Lahcen
Haddad told Acting PolCouns and D/PolCouns that internal
problems hurt the MP in recent elections. He described
internal divisions, a growing "Anti-Palace" perception, and
an apparent loss of interest in Berber-related issues among
younger voters among the concerns that prompted the MP to
seek "harbor in the storm" by joining the government. In

local elections on June 12, the MP garnered approximately
eight percent of the vote, down from 15 percent in the
previous communal elections in 2003.

6. (SBU) Internal divisions within the MP, precipitated by
the absorption of two other Berber-oriented parties in 2006,
had created paralysis within the party. According to Haddad,
instead of a catalyst effect, the merger left the party
divided. He said that MP Party Secretary Mohand Laenser had
chosen a laissez-faire approach to the internal rivalries,
perpetuating the problem. The appointment to ministerial
posts of Laenser and Ouzzine, both of whom are from the same
MP faction, and the concomitant fact that at least one of the
ministerial posts was not allocated to another faction, were
symptomatic of the problem. Growth of the party (in targeted
constituencies such as labor unions and university
professors) had been stunted by the internal rivalries,
according to Haddad, because each of three factions were more
concerned that its rivals would benefit more for the growth
than itself.

7. (SBU) The MP, normally considered a "pro-Palace party,"
as reflected by its traditional participation in government,
had also been hurt by its recent stint in the opposition.
Two years ago, the MP was relegated to the opposition as a
result of a disagreement over the distribution of ministerial
portfolios following the 2007 legislative elections.
According to Haddad, MP party leaders had little to offer
party members and constituents in terms of political largesse
while in opposition, which further complicated MP's internal

8. (SBU) Haddad added that many Moroccans of the younger
generation no longer identify with the issues that had given
rise in the past to the established political parties like
Istiqlal, USFP, and MP. The MP has always been seen as a
party advocating on behalf of Morocco's Berber (Amazigh)
population, resisting the government's traditional
"Arabization" policies and supporting the preservation of
Amazigh cultural and linguistic identity. Government
accommodation of these concerns in recent years may have
diminished their political urgency. Haddad said that part of
the appeal of PAM was that, unlike the MP, it did not have a
lot of the "historical baggage," adding that the MP had
suffered a disproportionate number of defectors to the PAM in
the run up to the municipal elections.

MP Seeks Resuscitation in Government

9. (SBU) Given these internal troubles, MP leaders
considered joining the government to be the most expedient
way to stop the party's decline. Haddad considers the
current leadership of the MP to be weak and prone to the old
reflexes of "being told what to do by the Palace," and to the
desire to return the party to its traditional role as "friend
to the King." He also considered the two posts that the MP
received for joining the government to be "empty shells,"
with no tangible benefit to the party, saying the posts are
powerless, with no influence on government decision-making or
contact with constituents. The MP may have felt pressure to
accept less-than-favorable ministerial posts because the
government probably would have asked another small party, the
Constitutional Union Party (UC), with its 27 deputies, to
join the government if the MP had tried to bargain harder for
better posts. Rumors that the government was at least
exploring a dialogue on this score with the UC were confirmed
by other Embassy contacts.

10. (SBU) Comment: Optimists liken the MP's new position in
the Moroccan political spectrum to be similar to the
"kingmaker" role played by the Liberal Free Democratic Party
(FDP) in Germany, whereby a small party garners
disproportionate political power because larger parties
cannot form a majority without it. Nonetheless, the MP
continues to remain divided and increasingly unpopular.
Instead of making tough choices to consolidate and share
power within its ranks, the MP appears to have chosen the
easier route of joining the government. The MP's acceptance
of the two moribund posts reflects the party's desperation in
this regard. While the MP remains troubled, its entry into
government has certainly bolstered the ruling coalition,
virtually guaranteeing that this government will survive into
the 2012 elections, baring the unlikely defection of another
coalition partner. End Comment.


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