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Cablegate: Morocco: The King Reshuffles the Cabinet

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #0026/01 0151130
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 151130Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1050
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RABAT 000026

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

STATE FOR NEA/MAG AND INR/B

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PREL MO
SUBJECT: MOROCCO: THE KING RESHUFFLES THE CABINET

REF: 09 RABAT 0858 AND PREVIOUS

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: King Mohammed VI appointed on
January 4 five government ministers, a mere 24 hours
after he had addressed the nation to announce the
creation of an Advisory Committee for
Regionalization tasked with accelerating the GOM's
plan to devolve power to the regions. The new
ministers are: Minister of Interior Taieb
Cherkaoui, Minister of Justice Mohamed Naciri,
Minister of Tourism Yassir Zenagui, Minister in
Charge of Relations with the Parliament Driss
Lachgar, and Deputy Minister to the Prime Minister
in Charge of Modernizing Public Sectors Mohamed Saad
Alami. The changes at Interior and Justice are
significant and will potentially impact major
Moroccan initiatives including regionalization,
judicial reform and Western Sahara policy. The
other changes are less significant for U.S. policy
but fraught with political intrigue. Furthermore,
the way in which the King imposed the changes on a
weak government does not necessarily represent a
step forward in the democratization process. END
SUMMARY.

-------------------------
Two Shake-Ups in Two Days
-------------------------

2. (SBU) King Mohammed addressed the nation on
January 3 to announce the creation of the Advisory
Committee for Regionalization, calling for more
government power to be devolved to the regions.
This GOM initiative, which the King originally
proposed more than two years ago, is deeply linked
to the Moroccan autonomy plan for resolving the
Western Sahara conflict. The regionalization
initiative, and the King's naming now of a 22-member
committee to jump start the process, represent a
clear acknowledgement by the GOM that its autonomy
plan can only be considered a workable solution if
political power, which is currently highly
centralized in Rabat, is devolved (Septel). Rumors
had abounded for months that a GOM cabinet shuffle
was imminent, and many observers were surprised that
the King did not also announce ministerial changes
in his January 3 speech. However, palace sources
say that on January 3, after the King's speech,
Royal Advisor Mohamed Moatassim privately informed
the political leaders of the upcoming government
reshuffle. And on January 4, those changes became
public.

---------------------
Big Change at the MOJ
---------------------

3. (SBU) Moatassim first notified Socialist Union
of Popular Forces (USFP) Secretary General and
Minister of Justice Abdelwahed Radi that the King
had consented to his year-old request to leave the
Justice Ministry to devote his efforts to reforming
the USFP. Radi was never an ideal fit at MOJ. The
King had given him the daunting task of implementing
a sweeping judicial reform, but Radi had no legal
background. Radi's ministry recently submitted 17
reform initiatives to Parliament, but the larger
task of devising a plan for judicial reform will
fall to his successor. In addition, political
parties have controlled the Justice Ministry since
1993 -- an arrangement with which the Palace has
never been fully comfortable. Some view Radi's
departure as a step toward returning the MOJ to its
status as a "sovereign ministry," i.e., a ministry
like Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Islamic
Affairs that is not assigned to the parties in
government but, rather, reports directly to the
King.

4. (SBU) As Radi's replacement, the King appointed
Mohamed Naciri, currently a partner at Morocco's
most prestigious law firm. Naciri has no party
affiliation, and his nomination may well be a
further signal that the Justice Minister is
returning -- officially or unofficially -- to being
a sovereign ministry. Naciri has formidable ties to
the palace. A former Chairman of the Casablanca Bar
Council and member of the Constitutional Court from
1993-1999, Naciri has served repeatedly as counsel
for the monarchy, for several ministries and --
perhaps most importantly -- for Sigar, the holding
company that manages the lion's share of the royal
family's extensive investments. More than simply a
technocrat, Naciri is renowned for his
regionalization expertise and is deeply trusted by
the King and his inner circle.

---------------
The New Top Cop
---------------

5. (SBU) The other major shake-up, in addition to
the MOJ, comes at the Ministry of the Interior
(MOI), where the King tapped eminent jurist Taieb
Cherkaoui to succeed technocrat Chakib Benmoussa as
Minister. Media pundits and anti-Sahrawi
independence activists were quick to characterize
Benmoussa's removal as a sanction in the wake of his
mishandling of the Aminatou Haidar case. Political
parties, on the other hand, cited his ministry's
frequent legal and procedural spats with the
powerful pro-Palace Party of Authenticity and
Modernity (PAM) following the 2009 communal
elections as a possible reason for his removal.
However, Benmoussa's supporters say he will land on
his feet, and rumors already abound that he is
poised to become either a special advisor to the
King or, perhaps ironically, CEO of Siger.

6. (SBU) Cherkaoui's replacement spent his career
in the Ministry of Justice until he was nominated in
2008 to be President of the Supreme Court. Like
Naciri, he has strong ties to the Palace, holding at
one time the influential position of Director of
Royal Pardons. With his professional background,
Cherkaoui is expected to reinforce a serious
partnership between the MOI and the MOJ for the
King's regionalization plan, with the MOI
maintaining principal oversight of the process.
Interestingly, in handing Morocco's most powerful
ministry to Cherkaoui -- the MOI not only controls
Morocco's law enforcement and security apparatus,
but also controls the budget of every Moroccan
region and city -- King Mohammed VI also retained
the MOI's very powerful Secretary of State (Deputy
Minister), Saad Hassar.

------------------------
Co-opting the Opposition
------------------------

7. (SBU) While the King replaced ministers at two
heavyweight ministries -- Justice and Interior --
with palace-friendly technocrats, his other changes
were more political. After removing Radi from the
MOJ, the King awarded his party, the USFP, with the
Ministry in Charge of Relations with Parliament
(MRP), previously held by rightist Istiqlal Party
Minister Saad Alami, who became Minister-Delegate
Charged with Modernizing the Public Sector.

8. (SBU) However, it was not the consolation prize
that stunned observers, but rather the choice of
USFP MP Driss Lachgar as Minister in Charge of
Relations with Parliament. Lachgar, a political
opportunist who had long been angling for a
ministerial post, had become a major nuisance --
some would say threat -- to his party, the
Government and the Palace, thanks to his incessant
calls for the USFP to abandon the governing
coalition and form an alliance in opposition with
the Islamist Party for Justice and Development
(PJD). The Palace has made no secret in recent
months of its effort to isolate the PJD -- an effort
spearheaded by the pro-Palace PAM (reftels). By
naming Lachgar as the very minister charged with
arguing the government's positions to the
opposition, the King and the USFP clearly colluded
to neutralize the growing interest within Lachgar's
wing of the USFP in a coalition with the PJD, and to
further isolate the PJD.

------------------------------
Kicking the RNI When It's Down
------------------------------

9. (SBU) Although the final changes came at two
minor ministries -- Tourism and Public Sector
Modernization (PSM) -- they were also fraught with
political consequences. In both cases, senior party
officials from the National Rally of Independents
(RNI) lost cabinet seats, a further blow to a party
that appears to be self-destructing. For months, a
bitter feud within the RNI has dominated Moroccan
political headlines, pitting the old guard,
represented by party Secretary General and President
of the Chamber of Deputies (parliament's lower
house) Mustapha Mansouri against a reformist wing
led by RNI Minister of Economy and Finance
Salahedine Mezouar. The Moroccan monarchy has a
long-stated policy of avoiding involvement in
political parties' internal problems, but few
observers doubt that the RNI's internal problems
cost them two ministers in this reshuffle, leaving
them with only four cabinet posts. At Tourism, the
King sacked Mohamed Bousaid, one of Mezouar's
reformists, and replaced him with Yassir Znagui, an
RNI member but utter political unknown. And at PSM,
the RNI lost its post altogether, with Istliqlali
Saad Alami replacing Mohamed Abbou of the RNI's old
guard.

-------
Comment
-------

10. (SBU) The changes at Interior and Justice are
significant, and they could have an impact on major
Moroccan initiatives that are of interest to the
USG. For example, if the GOM is truly serious about
judicial reform, Naciri will prove, as Justice
Minister, well-positioned and clearly capable of
making it happen. Likewise, the MOI under Cherkaoui
should be poised implement a meaningful
regionalization -- without which, Morocco's autonomy
plan for the Western Sahara is simply hollow. On
the other hand, if the Palace really does not intend
to implement these programs, the ministers are
equally well placed to keep anything from happening.
More widely, the other changes are less significant
for U.S. policy but fraught with political intrigue.
And the way in which the King imposed the changes on
a weak government do not necessarily represent a
step forward in the democratization process. End
Comment.

KAPLAN

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