The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the MENA region's most significant issues and trends. Today we turn the spotlight on Morocco, discussing the results of the recent general election and presenting the challenges the new government will face in the following months.
On September 8th, 2021, nearly half of registered Moroccan citizens cast their ballots to renew the composition of the Kingdom’s House of Representatives. Although an electoral decline of the Justice and Development Party was highly anticipated given the unpopularity of several measures it undertook, the election’s results diverged from forecasts. The vote dealt a severe blow to the party, which lost almost 90% of its previously held parliamentary seats, relegating the Islamist front to the margins of the political opposition. In its place, the National Rally of Independents (NRI) emerged as the uncontested winner of this election, granting its leader, Aziz Akhannouch, King Mohammed VI’s mandate to form the new government. The newly formed Cabinet will face several domestic challenges, starting with the multifaceted consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic while continuing the vaccination campaign positively set up by the previous administration. On the regional level, the new government will face the consequences of worsening relations with Algeria. Notoriously tense, these bilateral relations deteriorated after the Israel-Morocco normalization agreement and the US’ recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. In addition, Rabat has to find feasible solutions to mitigate tensions that risk jeopardizing its relations with some of its key European partners, such as Spain and Germany.
The PJD lost the election one supporter at a time
“The key factor behind the PJD’s spectacular loss on September 8th was not only the new electoral law. Rather, it was its loss of touch with its grassroots supporters. Following their victory in the 2016 parliamentary election, the PJD made a pragmatic decision to protect its own position by privileging its relationship with the king and other political parties at the expense of its own supporters. For a party known for the strength of its core supporters, this was a strategic error. With the current RNI-led coalition, Morocco will return to familiar political grounds with a loyalist party leading the government. This creates unity within the government — and between the government and the monarchy — but removes a buffer to absorb popular dissatisfaction. This is likely to be Morocco’s key political challenge moving forward.”
Intissar Fakir, Director and Senior Fellow, Program on North Africa and the Sahel, Middle East Research Institute
The RNI's political bet: Bringing about change, but in line with the King
“Despite not being a newcomer, Akhannouch’s RNI is willing to present itself as an alternative for Moroccans’ thirst for change. Its programme, based on direct consultation with citizens and in line with the King’s vision, prioritises sectors where a new course of action is well-needed, especially after the pandemic: employment, welfare, health, and education. It remains to be seen whether Akhannouch will be able to implement it as the leader of a coalition government.
His closeness to the King will likely result in a smoother relation between the government and the Palais, thus further reinforcing the role and image of the monarchy. At the same time, however, the absence of political scapegoats resulting from this alignment could make the King more vulnerable to criticism and popular discontent”.
Lorena Stella Martini, Advocacy and Communication Assistant, ECFR Rome; Research Fellow, The Square – Mediterranean Centre for Revolutionary Studies
Marocco and Algeria: Close yet far
“At present, it is hard to think of any step that the Aziz Akhannouch-led Moroccan government might take to ease tensions with Algeria. Alongside the dominant position of the Makhzen in the decision-making process, the real reason lies behind the new regional dynamic ushered in by the signature of the Abraham Accords.
As the PJD has been dealt a serious blow in the election, the normalisation of ties between several Arab states and Israel represents the main key to understanding the post-Islamist era. This is a recent point of contention in the inter-Maghrebi rivalry, pushing Algiers and Rabat into two different regional blocs. At the same time, the normalisation process is accelerating structural changes that could widen the gap with the resumption of the Western Sahara conflict in the short term, or with competing pipeline projects to export gas to Europe in the medium-to-long term.”
Umberto Profazio, Associate Fellow, Conflict, Security and Development, IISS
Rabat’s assertiveness and the evolution of EU-Morocco relations
“Relations between the EU and Morocco have been severely affected by the decision of the former US President to recognize the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
The main consequences were the diplomatic tensions with Germany and the “weaponization” of migration with Spain. Rabat decided to recall its ambassador in Berlin and suspend the bilateral cooperation some months after the German decision to request a UN Security Council meeting on the status of Western Sahara. The crisis has significant economic consequences (the development assistance alone is worth almost 1,4 billion euros). Exceptional tensions erupted with Madrid when Morocco decided to loosen controls at its borders with Ceuta, leaving thousands of migrants to swim into the Spanish enclave as retaliation against the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement Brahim Ghali’s hospitalization in Spain.
Although positive signs of détente have emerged in the last weeks, these two crises have shown Rabat’s assertiveness when it comes to its national interest, notwithstanding the political and economic consequences and the risk of jeopardizing its relations with the EU, its biggest foreign partner and investor.”
Aldo Liga, Research Fellow, MENA Centre, ISPI
Edited by Francesco Salesio Schiavi, ISPI MENA Centre