Rafael Marchante / REUTERS At a PAM campaign rally in Mediouna, Morocco, June 2009.

Morocco's Liberal Challengers

The Rise of the Party of Authenticity and Modernity

Ilyas El Omari is on the offensive. The bespectacled 49-year-old activist who heads Morocco’s Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) has spent years honing PAM’s political message and worldview. Now, with the Kingdom heading into what is shaping up to be a decisive general election on October 7, Omari senses a political opening.

In recent months, the liberal PAM has steadily risen in prominence, emerging as the most significant sustained challenge to the prevailing conservative and religious status quo in Moroccan politics. Its success is all the more striking given its relative youth. The party was founded just over seven years ago, in February 2009. Its relatively sudden rise thus suggests that a major shift is underway in Moroccan politics.

RISE AND DECLINE OF THE PJD

In the spring and summer of 2011, Morocco underwent its own version of the Arab Spring, complete with widespread protests and petitions for change. The country’s monarch, King Mohammed VI, responded with sweeping constitutional reforms which devolved significant authority from the palace to the people. 

The reforms nudged the monarchy into an uneasy power-sharing arrangement with the Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD), which in November 2011 emerged as the country’s leading political force after it won more than a quarter of the seats in Morocco’s 395-person parliament. After that, despite its Islamist leanings and conservative values, the PJD managed to establish a modus vivendi of sorts with the Crown, buoyed by widespread popularity and an ambitious governing agenda. 

Moroccan King Mohamed VI arrives at parliament in Rabat, October 2007.

King Mohamed VI arrives at parliament in Rabat, October 2007. 

But now, the bloom is off the PJD’s rose. Although the party has ushered in notable economic progress (including a significant decline in the country’s fiscal deficit), much of the public is disappointed that it has not lived up to its early promises of soaring growth. Neither has the PJD performed admirably in the field of “good governance,” another key campaign pledge. Over the past year, several party officials have been

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