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Justice and Development Party

Vish Sakthivel
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Justice and Development Party

(PJD) or Hizb al-Adala wal-Tanmia is an Islamist political party in Morocco that has led the governing coalition in parliament since November 2011. The PJD is generally considered a moderate Islamist party and pursues an agenda of economic reform, gradual democratic transition, and the promotion of Islamic values.

Roots and Formation

The PJD evolved from the clandestine Moroccan Islamist organization Chabiba Islamiya, founded in the late 1960s. This group gradually dissolved after its founder and members were implicated in the assassination of the prominent Marxist figure Omar Benjelloun in 1975. Some remaining activists then founded the Jamaa al-Islamiya which condemned violence outright. By contrast, Vish Sakthivel notes “the former Chabiba had seen the state and society as in a period of jahiliya [the period before Islam, it refers, in connotation, to a period of pre-Islamic ignorance, or lack of enlightenment], permitting the use of violence” (p. 29). The Jamaa later became the Harakat Tawhid wal Islah (Unity and Reform Movement, hereafter TI). It is worth briefly noting that Abdelkarim Mouti, the founder, was exonerated years later, and has since given interviews on his time in prison, and on his wrongful imprisonment. In addition, the group’s extent of violence is contested by former members.

TI and its earlier iterations operated without legal sanction, primarily because they opposed the monarchy. In the interests of political participation, TI soon reversed this position, accepting the political legitimacy and religious primacy of the monarch. They continued, however, engaging in apolitical da’wah—defined generally as religious community outreach or education—in order to advance their principles of education, morality, and gradual Islamization at the grassroots level. TI’s bid to form a party was rejected in 1992, but it was later permitted to join the dormant Constitutional Democratic Popular Movement (MPCD), where TI leaders were appointed to ranking positions in the party. The MPCD initially depended on TI for resources and funding, but the newly revitalized party gradually began to distance itself from the latter, and in 1998 it was rebranded as the Partie de la Justice et du Developpment (PJD) (Sakthivel 2014).

In order to maintain legal recognition, the fledgling PJD was not allowed to have explicit links to TI, as the latter is technically a religious group. Shortly thereafter, a complementarity agreement divided roles between the PJD, responsible for political causes and representing Islam in state institutions, and TI, responsible for da’wah and education. While the PJD-TI border remains rather porous, the two continue to be officially divided. The PJD now appears less ideological, signaling loyalty to the palace, while TI remains doctrinal and somewhat critical of the monarchy. The arrangement is not without controversy, and according to Abdelali Hamieddine of the PJD, some prominent TI members have defected, citing PJD’s political participation as problematic (author’s interview).

Notably, from the 1960s through the 1980s Islamic politics were largely seen as a safe counterbalance to more threatening socialist parties. The fall of the Soviet Union and the militarized Islamists of Algeria’s civil war shook this image however, making an emergent, popular Islamist party (the PJD) appear more threatening to the regime. Analysts broadly agree that the PJD’s political emergence represented a tacit agreement with the monarchy, first to adjust platforms (toward the center) as the only way of retaining a participatory role; and second to be gradually incorporated into the political system, compelling it to publicly share accountability for unpopular elite decisions. This process has notable precedence, as it was also applied to the Socialist Union of the Popular Forces (USFP) and the Istiqlal (Independence) Party in the early 1990s.

Ideology and Platform

The PJD has been accused by some—including so-called “rival” Islamists—of literal, fundamentalist interpretations of the Qur’an, and been criticized for rigid religious reading. In this sense, while the PJD is politically “moderate,” there is a continued debate surrounding the extent of their ideological and religious moderation, in spite of political flexibility. With regard to politics, the PJD asserts that democracy (having abandoned an explicit commitment to the establishment of a state based on of Shari’a law) is the ideal form of government, and their internal organization is in fact relatively transparent compared with other Moroccan political organizations, Islamist and secular.

The PJD’s economic policy platform resembles that of Morocco’s business-friendly nationalist parties, with the exception of a more explicit focus on the introduction of aspects of Islamic banking according to Brown and Hamzawy (2010, p. 95), redistributive social welfare (progressive taxes), and subsidies on goods consumed by the poor. Social/governance platforms have concerned social justice, anticorruption, equal access to jobs for veiled women, and reducing the role of big business (a difficult feat in a country where the king and his friends are the most significant corporate shareholders). The revival of Islamic tradition is positioned, by the PJD, as the necessary antidote to corruption.

In relation to other Islamist organizations, the PJD’s philosophies and political aims are not aimed at transnational goals or Islamic state manifestos. Instead, it sticks to internal economic and political platforms, while promoting its definition of Islamic values.

The extent to which the PJD is linked to transnational organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, is contested. While it maintains that it is influenced by Muslim Brotherhood philosophy, and indeed has strong ideological links, the party has denied any organizational ties. Moroccan secularists and monarchists however often call into question the degree of organizational separation of the two groups, seeing the PJD’s distance from the Brotherhood as opportunistic. The basis for this view is typically that the two are part of the same pattern and period of Sunni revivalism, and that many PJD leaders still reference Sayyid Qutb; many (such as the late Abdellah Baha and Prime Minister Benkirane) are former Chabiba Islamiya members, which explicitly drew upon Qutbist thought. In this vein, and due to other limits on Morocco’s regional influence, the PJD is often seen as a recipient of regional political Islamic discourse, rather than generating or exporting it beyond Morocco.

Recent Developments

In 2011 King Mohammed VI quickly quelled Moroccan popular protests by announcing a constitutional reform referendum. The revisions to the constitution brought direct election of the parliament’s lower chamber and assigned selection of the country’s prime minister—previously the king’s prerogative—to the majority coalition. In November of that year, the PJD won a plurality in parliament and put forward the country’s first Islamist Prime Minister, Abdelilah Benkirane.

In mid-2013 the nationalist Istiqlal party pulled out of the PJD’s governing coalition, citing disagreement over economic policy, but seeking primarily to seize upon regional attention to the protests against, and ouster of, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to similarly discredit the PJD. To solve the crisis, the PJD agreed to a cabinet reshuffle that gave important posts to the palace-aligned National Rally of Independents (RNI), effectively removing PJD from these posts. (The RNI was formed in the late 1970s by the brother-in-law of late King Hassan II, to galvanize pro-palace politicians under one party.) In what was widely seen as determination to show their pro-king accolades, the PJD at this time remained silent about any links to the Egyptian Brotherhood, and it refrained from various Islamist-led protests against the coup (in which even TI participated), and stood behind the king’s official statement in favor of the Egyptian military.

In past decades the late King Hassan II used inclusion to discredit parties while also gaining legitimacy by generating a veneer of pluralism and power-sharing, a dynamic that has continued today. Indeed, by some accounts, the paralysis that has come to characterize parliament, its coalition and party politics more broadly, have legitimized the king’s position and provided a cover for stalled reforms. However, in recent years, a debate has arisen around the extent to which the PJD is actually empowered to bring about its vision, and even challenge the palace.

As of 2014 the PJD has slowly been able to exercise a level of independence from the palace. The PJD continues to have a great deal of influence over its constituents and supporters, and is widely popular. According to some observers, the PJD’s leader, Prime Minister Benkirane, has recently taken advantage of the combination of political openings and party popularity to express to the public that any shortcomings as regards policy and reform cannot be attributed to parliament alone—that the real power, in fact, lies with the monarch. This has given it some latitude in its inability to effect policy change in parliament, and indirectly implicated the king in its failure to pass pro-poor reforms, such as that of subsidies. At the same time, however, the PJD’s foreign policy is as ever aligned with the regime’s, even if it has had some liberty in the formulation of its domestic platforms. This balance can be seen as the PJD’s political savvy. Part of the protraction of the PJD’s popularity can be attributed to populist reforms as well as a broader lack, on the part of the polity, of the same history of laïcité as seen in neighboring countries.


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