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Cablegate: Palace Party Seeks to Dominate The

VZCZCXYZ0011
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #0877/01 3011914
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 281914Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0780
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 4747

UNCLAS RABAT 000877

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM MO
SUBJECT: PALACE PARTY SEEKS TO DOMINATE THE
MOROCCAN POLITICAL SCENE

REF: A. RABAT 0517
B. RABAT 0607
C. RABAT 0858

1. (SBU) SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION: In the short
span of two years the Party of Authenticity and
Modernity (PAM) has gone from being a loosely
defined political association to a political
powerhouse that dominated the June 2009 municipal
elections. The PAM now controls the upper house of
Parliament, and appears the favorite to win control
of the government in the 2012 parliamentary
elections. Founded and directed by Fouad Ali El
Himma, one of the king's closest friends, the PAM is
widely perceived to be the palace's party. Its
critics argue that PAM is a step backwards for
Moroccan democracy and is little more than an
instrument (like many of its predecessors) created
by the King to exert stricter control over the
political process. Most vocal among these critics
is the Islamist Party of Justice and Development
(PJD), which the PAM and the Palace have clearly
sought to undermine. PAM militants, however, argue
that their party represents a new and transformative
force in Moroccan politics that rewards competence
and initiative, and that will foster reform by
forcing the entrenched political parties to compete
for voters based on its ability to govern
competently and democratically. This is a joint
Casablanca-Rabat reporting cable. END SUMMARY.

----------------------------------------
BACKGROUND: THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF PAM
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Little more than two years ago Fouad Ali
El Himma, a childhood friend of King Mohammed VI and
a former palace official charged with overseeing the
Ministry of Interior, founded a political
association called the Movement for All Democrats
(MAD). The MAD's stated goals were to invigorate
discussion and bring new ideas to the political
arena from outside Morocco's established political
party structure. The association attracted a wide
range of personalities from various backgrounds and
included former political prisoners from the Hassan
II era, prominent leftist activists, government
technocrats, and a significant number of civil
society leaders who had not previously been directly
involved in party politics. The association
marketed itself as an inclusive organization open to
anyone who supported transparency and good
governance -- with the notable exception of
Islamists, whom MAD leaders made clear were not
welcome.

3. (SBU) The MAD launched its effort to
reinvigorate Morocco's political discussion "from
the outside" via a series of forums around the
country. For MAD activists, a central talking point
argued that Morocco's established political parties
had become stale, complacent and self-serving. They
openly accused prominent politicians of completely
ignoring their duties to govern. Another central
theme was the need to strengthen the Moroccan
democratic process and overall good governance by
drumming out of the established parties those
politicians for whom the getting re-elected had
become a self-serving and full-time vocation. Both
arguments appealed to local officials, civil society
activists and the leaders of small political
parties, many of quickly sought to associate
themselves with the MAD.

----------------------------
THE MOVEMENT BECOMES A PARTY
----------------------------

4. (SBU) In August 2008, El Himma took the step
that many established politicians feared he would
take: he converted his movement into an official
political party. Dubbing it the Party of
Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), El Himma bolstered
MAD's ranks by incorporating five minor parties
(which collectively held 26 parliamentary seats)
into the PAM and by actively courting popular and/or
influential members of larger parties. In February
2009, the party held its first national congress and
elected officers. Early detractors quickly accused
many of the party's new adherents of being

opportunists hoping to capitalize on the PAM's early
popularity and on El Himma's royal connections.
However, PAM supporter argued that the party
welcomed all but only rewarded talent and
initiative, citing the fact that some of the small
party leaders who joined PAM early on were not
elected to senior leadership positions. (NOTE:
Most notably, Abdullah Qadiri, the leader of the
National Democratic Party (PND), quit the PAM in a
public row while most PND members stayed with PAM.
END NOTE.)

5. (SBU) In the lead-up to the June 2009 municipal
elections, the PAM continued to attract defectors
from other parties, including sitting Members of
Parliament who changed parties and, in some cases,
unaffiliated technocrats. The party garnered the
support of people from across the political
spectrum, including prominent members of the
government such as Minister of Finance Salaheddine
Mezouar of the Rally of National Independents (RNI);
Talbi Al Alawi, the former Mayor of Tetouan who was
also from the RNI; and Mohammed El Gaz, a former
Minister of Youth from the Socialist Union of
Popular Forces (USFP). The PAM made a parliamentary
alliance with the RNI that gave it the 70 votes it
needed to form a caucus and hence access and
influence in the parliamentary committees. Despite
never having participated in a parliamentary
election, the PAM quickly came to control two of the
seven vice-presidential positions in the Parliament
and the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and it now
counts among its adherents two sitting Ministers.

----------------------
PAM FLEXES ITS MUSCLES
----------------------

6. (SBU) The PAM also took aggressive steps to
recruit supporters in the June communal elections,
which were widely viewed as a bellwether for its
appeal among voters. Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi
of the ruling Istiqlal (Independence) Party (PI)
derided the PAM during the campaign as a "party of
kids" who had no right to dictate or criticize the
country's leaders. Despite such bluster, the PI,
ruling coalition-member USFP, and other established
parties clearly feared the PAM's potential and took
steps to check it. For example, they sought -- and
failed -- to outlaw party-switching as their
candidates and members continued to flock to the
PAM. In the end, the PAM won over 20 percent of the
seats in municipal councils nationwide, making it
the obvious winner (Ref A). Through coalitions, its
candidates also became the mayors of major cities,
including Marrakesh, Tangier and Meknes (Ref B).

7. (SBU) The PAM continued its successes in the
many rounds of indirect elections that, by law,
follow Morocco's communal elections. It established
itself as the dominant player in the upper house of
parliament, captured the presidency of that chamber,
and entrenched itself at the top or near the top of
regional councils throughout the country. PAM
militants like to claim that 80 percent of party
activists come from a civil society and have little
actual experience with party politics. However, the
sophisticated alliance building and ruthless horse-
trading that characterized and underpinned the PAM's
strategy in these contests belied that "grassroots"
veneer and attested to the party leadership's
tremendous ability to manipulate successfully -- and
legally -- Morocco's byzantine electoral rules (Ref
C).

---------------------
PAM AND THE ISLAMISTS
---------------------

8. (SBU) Since its inception, the PAM has adopted a
hostile stance towards the Islamist Party of Justice
and Development (PJD); has refused to participate in
any coalition that includes the PJD; and has
condemned those parties, such as the USFP, that
have. Ali Belhaj, Second Vice President of PAM,
told PolCouns and PolOff in a recent meeting that
PAM seeks to undermine the popularity of the PJD
which he characterized as a threat to Morocco's
secular government and society. Belhaj insisted
that despite its conciliatory rhetoric, the PJD

harbors dangerous Islamist elements who are intent
on imposing their Islamic vision on Morocco.

------------------------
THE NEED FOR A NEW PARTY
------------------------

9. (SBU) PAM supporters argue that the King has a
genuine vision for reforming Morocco and that he has
taken significant steps to implement social,
political and economic reforms during his ten-year
reign. However, they continue, Morocco's
established political parties have failed to rise to
the king's challenge and expectations and have
proven unable to lead the reforms he has sought.
Indeed, the argument goes, the King has been left
without a partner to implement his reform vision,
given that the parties remain fossilized, antiquated
and internally non-democratic institutions, with
leaders who are simply intent on preserving the
current system in which they benefit from the
patronage of controlling most of the ministries.
The prevailing perception that the current
government of Abbas El Fassi has been somewhat
ineffective in implementing reforms or efficiently
governing has only reinforced the PAM's arguments.

10. (SBU) Hence the need for the PAM. The PAM, its
members say, is indeed a palace-inspired party, but
it was born from the king's vision to reform the
system, not dominate it. The PAM will offer a
strong, transparent partner for the King as he seeks
to create a more effective government. In addition,
by introducing competition into the system and by
forcing other political parties to recruit and
retain young and competent members, the PAM will
also inspire other parties, i.e., those that survive
its rise to power, to implement internal democratic
reforms and to join the PAM as coherent and
hardworking parties to whom the King can truly
devolve power. "Change in Morocco comes from the
King. This is not a judgment but rather a statement
of fact," Belhaj told PolOffs.

-------------
A DARKER VIEW
-------------

11. (SBU) In stark counterpoint to the PAM's own
enthusiasm, critics contend that throughout Moroccan
history, the Palace has created parties whose
principal aim was to support and lend legitimacy to
the monarchy and that PAM is no different. Parties
such as the RNI, the Constitutional Union (UC), and
even the PJD, began as palace ploys to balance,
control, and manipulate the political system to
ensure its uncontested central role. El Himma's
proximity to the King and the PAM's rapid spread of
influence to all levels of legislative power have
thwarted any competition or political reform, rather
than stimulated it, critics say. When the PAM takes
control of the government -- an increasingly
foregone conclusion among analysts -- it will lead
to even greater alienation as many avenues for
political opposition become restricted.

12. (SBU) Likewise, there are some who fear that
the PAM's overt hostility toward the PJD could
produce dire repercussions. Professor Mohammed
Darif, a leading academic and researcher on Islamist
movements in Morocco, predicted that the rapid
emergence of PAM and the widespread perception of it
as the palace's party would only strengthen the PJD
and make it a more attractive alternative to those
who oppose the policies of PAM or the Palace. He
derided the PAM theory that the PJD harbors
radicalized jihadists intent on turning Morocco into
an Islamist caliphate, but warned that the PAM was
targeting exactly the wrong type of Islamists, i.e.,
those who have openly agreed to participate in the
Moroccan democratic process and to express their
view legally from within the system. The real
threat comes from "Salafist-Wahhabist" elements who
reject any participation in what they consider to be
an illegitimate political system and consider those
who participate, including the PJD, apostates, Darif
said. However, by weakening the PJD, the PAM (and
by extension the Palace) risk strengthening the hand
of these extremists who are committed to working
outside the system.


-------
COMMENT
-------

13. (SBU) It is difficult to separate form from
substance in Moroccan politics since there is little
difference in the political platforms or ideologies
of the many political parties. Proponents of the
PAM correctly point out that Morocco's party system
is ineffective. And their argument that the King
cannot implement reforms without strong, capable
political parties is convincing. However, the PAM's
self-portrayal as the best instrument for such
democratic reform is clearly self-serving and has
yet to be tested. That test starts now, with the
PAM having positioned itself as the force to be
reckoned with in Parliament and at the head of
numerous regional and local governments. If it
lives up to its promises to delivers good governance
and renewed energy to the political process, the PAM
could truly emerge after the 2012 national elections
as a viable option through which the king's
decentralization efforts can be implemented.
However, if it perseveres with the back-room deals
that have contained the PJD over the last six months
and/or becomes too much a victim of its own success,
it could emerge as a de facto single party amidst a
sea of weakened and alienated small parties -- not
necessarily a positive scenario for Morocco's
democratic evolution. END COMMENT.

KAPLAN

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