It is safe to say that the 7th conference of the Moroccan Socialist Party, convened last week in the city of Bouznika , was the Party’s least challenging conference, so far, despite some controversies which were bound to occur.
The Socialist Party, closely linked to the Moroccan nationalist movement, has been fraught with internal conflicts, since it broke off from the Istiqlal Party, in 1959. These have been exacerbated by an unstable relationship with the monarchy, which has wavered between fierce animosity in the 1970s and tacit agreement in the last two decades.
At its first conference, in 1975, the conference saw the Party dissent from the “Casablanca Group” under the leadership of the first socialist government post independence, Abdullah Ibrahim, and add the socialist epithet to its name. The Party’s second conference, held in 1978, ushered in a period of normalization, during which the party consolidated its status, after a series of clashes, following the reunification of the Nationalist, after the Western Sahara conflict erupted.
A radical offshoot left the Party, in 1983, and founded the Progressive Party. The fifth conference, in 1989, emphasized the new ideological and political climate the Party was now operating in, away from a Marxist utopian worldview and class politics, and closer to a model of moderate social realism.
Undoubtedly, these developments were, in the main, associated with Abdul Rahman bu Ebied, the former Secretary General, who, early on, opted for monarchical legitimacy and peaceful struggle, away from the path of armed struggle, followed by al Faqih al Basri and Abderrahman el Youssoufi, both living outside of Morocco at the time.
Despite the death of bu Ebied in 1992, his continuous efforts to keep the Party united, after a period of splits and dissent, following the murder of two of its historical leaders, Mehdi bin Barakah in 1965, and Omar bin Jaloun, in 1975, succeeded. The Socialist Party became, in the early 1990s, the leading political party, with its distinguished activist past, its unionist wing, deep cultural roots, and wide connections across Europe and the Arab World.
After the disappearance of its Secretary General, the Party faced two challenges. The first regarded the possibility of a new leadership emerging, as charismatic as bu Ebied. The second challenge concerned the transformation in the Party’s mission, from a radical force of opposition, to an effective political partner and a decision maker, with the context of slow democratic reforms in Morocco , starting in 1980s and culminating in fair general elections in 1993 and constitutional changes in 1996.
With the disappearance of the first generation of leaders of the Socialist Party, except al Faqih al Basri and Abdul Rahman el Youssoufi, it was expected from members to elect the latter, since al Basri insisted on remaining in exile, was alien to local politics, and strongly disliked by the King. It was said that bu Ebied had himself designated el Youssoufi, before his death. Perhaps, he realized that this was the only man who would be able to garner the support of the four main currents inside the Party: the radical opposition from which el Youssoufi had emerged and which was on the wane, the trade unionists, represented by the worker’s confederation, the students, and the administrative structure of the party, which makes up its committees and political bureau.
Youssoufi soon became leader, despite strong competition from the government sponsored candidate, Mohamed al Yazgi. He then entered into an historic agreement with the monarchy. This most important deal between the opposition and the government put an end to an era of conflict, after the cancellation of the partnership pact, signed between the king, Mohamed V and the Istiqlal Party.
Known as “The Consensual Representation”, the deal followed the monarch’s pledge to the Youssoufi government, to ensure the Party has a strong presence in Parliament, in return for its support for political groups close to the King.
By striking this deal, the Socialist Party aimed for two things: to institutionalize mechanisms to ensure a democratic transformation in the Kingdom and embark on reforms to rescue the country from a severe socio-economic crisis the late King Hassan II had warned of.
The room for maneuver increased after the King Mohamed VI removed the Interior Minister at the time, Idris al Basri. However, the party conference held in March 2001 exposed the difficulties the Socialist Party continued to face. It was losing the support of the unions and the student bodies, across Morocco, and a new Socialist alliance, opposed to reconciliation with the government was emerging, the ”al Wafaa Bloc”.
In 2002, these difficulties were made obvious, during the parliamentary elections. Despite the Party coming first, with 50 seats in total, it had lost support in the country’s major cities, Rabat and Casablanca . It held only two seats more than its fierce competitor, the al Istiqlal Party, with the Liberal and Popular Parties just behind. Meanwhile, the Islamist Justice and Development Party emerged as a credible opposition, with a total of forty seats, making it a major player on the internal political scene.
It was obvious to everyone, at that point, that the terms and conditions of the “The Consensual Representation” had to change. The Socialist Party could no longer be considered the main party in the nationalist movement. Instead, it had to evolve into one of the many parties in Moroccan politics, with a technocrat at its helm. After much hesitation, Youssoufi withdrew from public life and al Yazgi became leader. He is credited with keeping the Party’s unity and maintaining its participation in government.
More recently, al Yazgi has succeeded in organizing the Party’s seventh conference. Undoubtedly, the twenty years he spent working in the political bureau have ensured he is qualified for the new responsibility. After the fight against colonization and the revolutionary struggle during the era of Leftist expansion, it is now the time for political pragmatism and the professional politician, a role that suits al Yazgi to perfection. Youssoufi