The crisis began when the Istiqlal Party, then the second most senior political force in the Moroccan Parliament, resigned from the ruling coalition government in May, citing its opposition to the government’s economic agenda. That left Benkirane’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), the most powerful party in Parliament, struggling to find a replacement coalition partner. It took several months to agree on a new government and Cabinet, with PJD formed a new coalition with the National Rally of Independents (RNI) in October and the ministerial list being expanded from 30 seats to 39.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Benkirane pointed out that good relations between the King and his government are a source of stability and strength for Morocco, particularly over the past few months as leaders from across the political spectrum worked to form a new ruling coalition.
The prime minister and PJD head noted in particular that the King’s adviser, Fouad Al-Himma, played an important role in negotiations on the formation of the new government. Benkirane added that His Majesty the King was aware of all developments and that his consent was requested at each stage.
When responding to questions about his relationship with the monarchy and the royal entourage, the prime minister emphasized King Mohamed VI’s fundamental position in the Moroccan government given his role as the head of state, Commander of the Faithful and Head of the Ministerial Council. Recalling the decades of instability Morocco experienced between 1956 and 1996 due to a dispute between the monarchy and the national movement that was resolved only after the adoption of the 1996 constitution, Benkirane stressed that he is not willing to clash with the King.
The prime minister said that Morocco has not been experiencing a crisis in government, but rather a crisis in the majority coalition. He also described what happened as “positive” for both the majority coalition and the country, given that the relationship between the coalition and its secretary-general had reached a breaking point and was hampering effective governance.
Benkirane said that in his capacity as the head of the government, he had the duty to take all opinions and political leanings into account while negotiating the formation of the new government. In a reference to negotiations surrounding the Cabinet reshuffle and the expansion of the ministerial list, in particular the decision to replace the former PJD ministers of the interior and of foreign affairs with independents, he argued that “change does not necessarily equal compromise.”
The Moroccan prime minister added that the PJD had been honored by the new government lineup because it currently has as many ministers as it did before the crisis. According to Benkirane, the only difficult decision taken regarding ministerial appointments during the seven-month crisis was to replace the PJD Minister of Foreign Affairs. However, he did note that the former foreign minister, Saad Eddine El Othmani, agreed that his resignation was in the best interests of the country.
Benkirane also stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that reforms are possible in Morocco. But he added that those reforms will come more slowly than expected due to the obstacles and resistance his government is currently facing, adding that not all impediments can be predicted before reforms begin.
Presiding over a government that came to power in the context of the Arab Spring, the Moroccan prime minister responded to questions about the post-2011 climate in the Arab world by nothing that all the governments that have come to power during this period have taken very different trajectories. Some have since fallen from power, as in Egypt. Others have announced their resignation, as we are currently seeing in Tunisia. Speaking of Morocco’s post-Arab Spring political environment, Benkirane told Asharq Al-Awsat his country has enjoyed overall security and stability and a commitment to the continuity of government.
In assessing his own performance in government, Benkirane used youth unemployment—a key issue in the Arab Spring protests—as a benchmark. He stressed that young people must not simply rely on the public sector for employment, as has been the case in the past, adding that recruitment to government jobs should be based on merit, as it is in the private sector. Nothing the importance of investment, adventure and creativity in earning a living, he said that the Moroccan state should support investment in the private sector. However, in comments evocative of John F. Kennedy, he said that Moroccans must stop asking what their nation is doing for them, and instead ask, “What have I done for my nation?”