In Morocco, Islamists Learn To Work With A King An Islamist party heads Morocco's newly elected government, part of a wave of Islamist election victories following uprisings across North Africa. But unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, Morocco's Islamists came to power as a result of reforms by a monarch, not revolution in the streets.
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In Morocco, Islamists Learn To Work With A King

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In Morocco, Islamists Learn To Work With A King

In Morocco, Islamists Learn To Work With A King

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There has been a wave of Islamist election victories in North Africa following popular uprisings across the Arab world. In Egypt, the party associated with the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood is down the most powerful voice in Parliament. And in Morocco, King Mohammed VI sanctioned elections in response to last year's pro-democracy protest; that happened last November. The Justice and Development Party won most of the votes. Now Moroccans are wondering how this popular Islamist party will govern.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Islamists in the Justice and Development Party, the PJD as it's known, say they are different.


AMOS: For one thing, they stayed away from street protests last year when pro-democracy activists called for an end to corruption and a curb on the absolute power of the monarchy.

Here's another difference: The PJD's victory came from reform, a consequence of measures proposed by the king rather than a revolution, as in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

They won the most votes, but not enough to govern alone. The PJD must share power with the king's closest allies and that is how they will govern.

MUSTAPHA KHALIFI: Our way of government is to work and to cooperate with the king.

AMOS: That's Mustapha Khalifi. At 35, he's the youngest cabinet minister and a key member of the party.

So, it is right then to describe you as Islamic, democratic and royalist?

KHALIFI: Yes, the three elements that describe our identity in the political arena.

AMOS: A former newspaper editor, Khalifi helped shape the party identity. He says he learned how democracy works in Washington, while interning in a congressional office. The PJD's platform is to create jobs and fight corruption in a country where cash for favors has long been a way of doing business.

Do you think your popularity comes from, that when you want to fight corruption, you vote for Islamists because they are clean?

KHALIFI: In some way, yes. People are asking to have real answers to their demand.

AMOS: And so, do you feel that pressure?

KHALIFI: Yes, I feel it.


AMOS: That pressure is right on the streets of the capital, Rabat. Three times a week, thousands of unemployed college graduates march to demand jobs that Morocco's economy has been unable to create. Youth unemployment tops 30 percent. This week, the protests took a dangerous turn, a reminder of protests in other Arab countries. Five of the jobless set themselves on fire, three went to the hospital.

ABO BAKR JAMIA , FINANCIAL JOURNALIST: The demand now is really on improving the standards of living of Moroccans. And in all fairness, they have no way to achieve that. Even in a purely democratic system, they can't.

AMOS: Abo Bakr Jamai, an exiled financial journalist and prominent dissident, says the PJD enters government just as the country is facing an economic blow tied to Europe. Tens of thousands of Moroccans went to work there, they send money home. But Jamai says Europe's financial crisis is shutting down that option.

JOURNALIST: People would probably at some point be coming back to Morocco because the situation in so dire.


AMOS: February 20, 2011 was the start date for Morocco's Arab Spring, a movement that reflects widespread discontent. It's quieter now, but still a force, a nationwide opposition movement.

Mustapha Khalifi says his Justice and Development Party shares many of the same goals. If the PJD fails, he says, the party will lose the next election.

KHALIFI: We are under the pressure that we should deliver answers to the people. In the era of the Arab Spring, there is no choice.


AMOS: This is how the streets of Morocco sound today. But in the era of the Arab Spring, the price of failure will come quickly, says Mohammed El Boukili with the Association of Human Rights.

MOHAMMED EL BOUKILI: The masses, millions of people are watching and waiting. Moroccans are patient, but it can explode.

AMOS: And this is the biggest pressure on the Justice and Development Party, the same hurdles faced by all the Islamist parties new to power since the Arab uprisings: How to govern at a time of rising expectations; how to deliver both change and stability; and in Morocco, how to remain a democrat and a royalist.

Deborah Amos, NPR News.


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