- JALAL BENKARI
The terrorist attacks of 2003 were a pretext for conservative forces to block the reforms that King Mohamed VI had launched in 2000. This reminder was in reference to the possible stiffening of the Moroccan Authorities when faced with the real threat of a tactical alliance between Kaddafi’s forces and AQIM.
Indeed, over the past two months, Kaddafi's response to the insurgents and the international coalition was defiantly insane as he decided to put his country and the whole region to fire and sword. The recent violation of Tunisian borders by the Libyan army and the ongoing skirmishes are an illustration of Kaddafi’s blind resolve to hamper the political process in Tunisia and probably, later on, in Egypt. Morocco is not absent from his agenda. The two countries have no common borders, but Kaddafi is subcontracting to AQIM the job of preparing terrorist attacks on Morocco, and in return AQIM is sending to Libya redundant elements of the Algerian backed Western sahara POLISARIO to fight opponents of the Libyan dictator. In fact, the death of Usama bin Laden on May 1 increases pressure on AQMI, as on al Qaeda spinoff groups elsewhere, to quickly show proof of continued existence through new terrorist attacks.
It is by no means paranoia, and Morocco is right to be concerned about a potential Bouteflika/Kaddafi axis. But nothing should distract Morocco from the vital agenda of constitutional reforms and eradication of rampant corruption. Not even the recent terrorist attack on Marrakech, heart of the Moroccan tourism industry and residence to some fifty thousand French nationals, the two reasons for which Marrakech was targeted. Some political advisers will be tempted to put security first, arguing that the challenges are too many and that it is not possible to address simultaneously all the political, economical and social issues. This is fundamentally wrong and biased. There can be no security and stability without social and economical development, and no development without a free democratic society.
As to the AQIM threat, Morocco is not alone. The USA and leading members of the EU have the greatest interest in eradicating AQIM. Morocco must remind the EU and US, however, that this aim cannot be achieved without full cooperation of the North African states and their intelligence services. This is a golden opportunity for Morocco and the sub-region to go beyond artificial problems, and to chart a path toward economic integration which will benefit the economy of all five North African members of the UM (United Maghreb), creating a less favorable environment for extremist ideologies.
This leads to the issue of the radical ’’ islamist’’ threat in the Muslim Mediterranean countries. First, it has to be underlined that this phenomenon unfolded under the rule of dictators who managed to convince the Western world that their regimes were the only bulwark of their security. In fact, by imposing the one party system or drastic limitations on the activities of the political organizations, North African dictators have destroyed civil society, leaving no other choice to the people to express their profound discontent with their rulers other than the shelter offered by Islamic benevolent organizations. Now some are concerned that the Arab Spring is high-jacked by Islamic movements, supposedly the only organizations offering a coherent vision of political, economical and social life. Observing young activists in the North African countries, it is obvious that they remain vigilant, suspicious and resolved to fight whoever stands in their way to impose the democratization process. The Islamic movements are not totally blind; they know that they have to relate to the Facebook generation if they want to remain part of the political landscape. It is of utmost importance to assess the actual weight of current political forces through fair and transparent parliamentary elections, and living with the results of such elections. The region cannot afford to repeat the Algerian error of ‘’excommunicating”” a party which has won the elections under the pretext of religion. What about the Christian Democrats in Germany or in Italy? There cannot be a double standard in democracy! The extremism in the Muslim countries has been nurtured by two injustices: the social injustice which prevailed in these countries for half a century and injustice in the treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the Western powers. The Arab Spring will contribute to overcoming the hurdle of the social injustice. The Western powers have the responsibility and the means to impose a just solution to the oldest Middle East conflict by requiring from the concerned parties a strict respect for the UN resolutions. That would significantly erode support for all extremisms in the Muslim world.
There are clearly encouraging structural changes in the Muslim world: the AKP has achieved sound economic and democratic results in Turkey; ENNAHDA in Tunisia has clearly stated that the CHARIAA will not replace the secular laws governing life of the Tunisians ( no surprise given that this movement inspired AKP some twenty years ago); the Muslim Brothers in Egypt have shown restraint and thus far only moderate political ambitions.
The above shows that there is less room today for extremism in societies which have repudiated autocratic rule. It is now up to the people in the region to deal with the risk of religious dictatorship just as they have done with secular dictatorships supported for decades by Western democratic states.