Since the creation of the Movement of All Democrats earlier this year, many observers knew it would be just a matter of time before former Deputy Interior Minister and newly elected MP Fouad Ali El Himma would turn his association into a political party. Shortly after forming parliamentary coalitions in both the upper and lower houses, the Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) was born. Although the PAM still lacks a coherent ideology, it does have two explicit policy goals: to fulfill the king’s desire to bring about a (much needed) rationalization of the party landscape, and to stand up to the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD).
While it is too early to predict the PAM’s long-term impact on the dynamics of Moroccan politics, its initial maneuvers reveal a reinforcement of embedded elite structures rather than any sort of renewal or change. From the outset, El Himma aggressively pursued alliances with the Popular Movement (MP), Constitutional Union (UC), and National Rally of Independents (RNI). The PAM merged recently with RNI to form the largest coalition in Parliament—“Rally and Modernity”—and the MP and UC are expected to follow suit. El Himma is relying on the three parties most known for lacking a clear message and being nothing more than a collection of pro-palace elites. Representatives from these parties are primarily rural notables and urban elites who gain parliamentary seats due to their patronage networks. They have little to no contact with their constituents and typically move from party to party.
The fact that El Himma has been able to do so much so quickly is a testament to the fact that power and personality—and not formal institutions—remain the most effective means of accomplishing things in Morocco. As a former classmate and close friend of the king, El Himma’s unfettered access to Muhammad VI, combined with his carefully crafted charisma, have endowed him with magnetic appeal. At one recent meeting, someone even presented him publicly with a message to transmit to His Majesty. Once he joined parliament, more than one hundred and twenty deputies came knocking at his door, prepared to leave their parties to join his coalition. The attraction of Morocco’s political elite to El Himma’s party appears to be about positioning themselves closer to the gravitational center of power rather than creating any actual recipe for development.
By choosing Authenticity and Modernity as his party’s name, El Himma is following in the footsteps of late King Hassan II. Hassan used this same formula (al-asala wa al-mu’asara) to support a modernist project without disrupting traditions. It resulted in an appearance of incremental democratization in which modern political institutions were put into place, but then largely undermined by traditional practices such as royal arbitration. The PAM seems to constitute a similar manipulation of the meaning of modernity by elites in order to serve their own needs and create an image of progress.
In his efforts to build support for the PAM, El Himma routinely invokes the discourse of modernity; time after time, however, he resorts to practices of clientelism that contradict such language. Hassan Benaddi, the party’s newly appointed Secretary General, justifies the creation of the PAM in that it gives Moroccans two choices for the future of their country: the first is a “democratic Morocco anchored in modernity” and the other is a “return to the golden age of the caliphate,” the course set out by the Islamists.
The irony, of course, is that the PJD is—by any definition—the most modern political party in Morocco. It is the most internally democratic party, the only one with a constituent relations program, and the only one that draws votes based on the party’s message and not the candidates’ family names. While most representatives view parliament as an old boys’ club for renewing personal contacts, the PJD has enacted a parliamentary code of ethics to discipline its representatives. This requires them to draft amendments, propose new legislation, and ask oral questions. While many parliamentarians from other parties do not bother to show up most of the time, the PJD requires attendance at plenary and committee sessions.
In its portrayal of the PJD as retrograde and belonging to the past, the PAM is hoping that Moroccans will seek an alternative future and follow its discourse of modernity and progress. Yet in relying on proximity to the palace, local notables, the role of personality, and patron-client relations to build its base, it is only perpetuating traditional practices endemic to Moroccan political culture.
James Liddell is a research associate at the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy.