It was odd that Morocco’s former interior minister, Driss Basri, passed away as the campaigns for the parliamentary elections to be held September 7 were being launched. For 25 years, he was known as the “creator of the Moroccan parliaments”, however, he is accused, by the nonparticipating partisan formations in government of forging elections and seizing the will of citizens through intimidation and repression.
Basri died in Paris where he lived the last five years of his life away from the spotlight; nonetheless he tried to cling to it in exile as if he was not the influential man of power who dominated the reins of governance, particularly in the last days of the late King Hassan II. There was nothing qualifying the son of a prison guard from the small city of Settat to assume this outstanding position in the hierarchy of power during a tumultuous era of Morocco’s history. Throughout this period, the young police officer had managed to retain the most difficult ministerial portfolio for a quarter of a century.
In fact, this man was a unique contributor to the structure of the Moroccan political field in which he was an active player during the last three decades. However, he is not an extension of General Mohammed Oufkir, the powerful interior minister [who preceded Basri], who is frequently likened to him with respect to approach, role and presence.
Despite the many common characteristics that bind the two men, they are intrinsically different. Oufkir, who was known as the remainder of the colonial inheritance, had long worked as part of the French military security before being able to infiltrate the new state that was founded on an extensive coalition between the “revolutionary king” and the “resistance movement”.
Oufkir had exploited the rift between the king and the Left in the mid-1960s, as he became the powerful figure of the regime, both repressive and grim-faced. His military intelligence make-up and relationship with Western security agencies helped him to set up a significant network of loyalty outside the monarchy’s realm of control. Therefore, he sought to seize power by deception and force. Although Basri had graduated from Oufkir’s security school, he descended from a different background and created a distinct approach. What is interesting in Basri’s character is his keenness to combine the “man of power” – which was the title of his PhD research in law at a French university – with the image of a specialized university-educated individual who was keen to influence the intellectual and academic field, although he did not succeed in obtaining the recognition of the Moroccan educational circles that only perceived him as a violent police officer.
During the long years in the ministerial position, Basri continued his lessons in law in Casablanca. He seemed a diligent and active teacher. He wrote books on political science and law and supervised many research symposia.
Basri established wide connections with reporters and media figures especially when he combined the two ministries of interior and information.
Basri, who was reluctant to appear in the media, was proficient in utilizing information and image as a tool of power. Unlike Oufkir, who had no relationship with politicians, not only did Basri encounter his opponents, he also sought to wrestle them within the political field by forming political axes, with which he grabbed the lead in the elected assemblies, and maintained successful channels of communication with the whole spectrum of the Moroccan arena. Therefore, despite his outcast image within the national bloc parties that led the first coalition government headed by Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssoufi, he was quickly able to adapt to the new equation and established strong friendships with some leftist figures that considered him the ghost of Oufkir.
Throughout his years in exile, during which he talked frequently to the Moroccan and foreign media, Basri interpreted this compound image with reference to his conception of authority by saying, “The successful man of power is he who is aware of being just a tool of governance that can be steered and disposed in changeable conflicting paths and directions.”
For him, free will has no meaning as long as state affairs do not relate to his consciousness, the keys to which should be delivered to the ruler. Those who knew Basri well have affirmed that he mastered the performance of this role. He used to say that he handed over the keys to his consciousness to the king. But indeed, he was not just any official entrusted with duties as he was a partner in the decision making process in the last years of King Hassan II’s rule. The experiment of reconciliatory succession was postponed for three years because the former opposition stipulated removing Basri from the Ministry of Interior, recognizing that this man is a symbol of the past’s heavy legacy. Therefore, Basri’s removal from government, four months after Mohammed VI had come to power, was a major political turning point in Morocco.
In fact, no one expected that Basri’s footprints could be easily erased. The man, who was renown, spent his bitter and sorrowful last days in his luxurious apartment in Paris away from Morocco’s limelight and its political clamor. Although he took part in frequent television and press interviews in order to be noticed, and clashed with his opponents who threatened him with his past, in the end, he inclined to the quietness of exile and the cruelty of expatriation.
In order to obliterate his past, it seems as if the Moroccan politicians chose to settle the violations of human rights with openness and reconciliation in a step to launch a new era away from the ghosts of the past.