Asharq Al-Awsat, Rabat – Abbas el Fassi, Secretary-General of the Istiqlal (Independence) party became prime minister of Morocco following his appointment by King Mohammed VI of Morocco on September 19, 2007. He assumed the position after the Istiqlal party’s victory in the parliamentary elections, which were held in the same month.
Abbas el Fassi was born in Berkane, east Morocco, on 18 September 1940. His father, an Islamic jurist, was the judge of Berkane whose job compelled him to move to various cities. As a result, Abbas el Fassi grew up and went to school between Kenitra and Tangier after which he enrolled in law school in Rabat.
Freshly graduated with a law degree, el Fassi started his first job at Mohamed Boucetta’s law firm in 1963. Boucetta was the former minister of foreign affairs and the former secretary-general of the Istiqlal party. By virtue of his diligence and experience, el Fassi was elected by his colleagues as the chairman of the Rabat committee in 1975.
Running parallel with his legal career, el Fassi was an active participant in the political scene and was elected as the head of the General Union of Moroccan Students (UGEM) in 1961, which was to become the school that nurtured and reared many of the cadres who would later join the ranks of the resistance fighters of the Istiqlal party.
The Istiqlal party’s founder and former president, Allal al Fassi, passed away in 1974 after a heart attack while on a visit to Romania where he was representing the party to discuss the [Western] Sahara issue, which had been an ongoing subject of discussion since the seventies. The Istiqlal party has always remained a staunch supporter that argued in favor of Moroccan presence in the disputed territory of the Western Sahara and was a driving force behind Morocco’s struggle for independence from the French occupation.
Later elected as a member of the party’s executive committee, Abbas el Fassi continued his active contribution to the political party. He married one of Allal’s daughters with whom he has four children.
And yet, following Allal al Fassi’s death; his position remained unoccupied since the Istiqlal party members felt that no one could succeed him and thus changed the presidential title to secretary-general.
It transpired that the party was destined to witness politically turbulent times when, having always been a strong supporter to the throne, the party reluctantly found itself in a position where it was among the oppositional political party ranks ¬– from 1963 to 1977 the Istiqlal party had no representation in the government. This development had occurred as a result of various maneuvers and conspiracies that were spearheaded by Ahmed Rida Kadirah, who was a close advisor to King Hassan II.
The party’s reconciliation with the government coincided with the appointment of Abbas el Fassi as the Minister of Housing (1977-1981), after which he served as Minister of Handicraft and Social Affairs (1981-1985). In 1985, el Fassi was appointed by King Hassan II as the Moroccan Ambassador to Tunisia, in addition to being Morocco’s ambassador to the Arab League. Both terms lasted until 1990.
El Fassi found himself in a position where not only did he have to represent his country, he also had to protect its image after Morocco was accused of backing the former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and encouraging him to go to Israel and enter the Camp David negotiations, which ended in the signing of the Camp David Accords and a peaceful truce between Egypt and Israel. However Egypt was dismissed from the Arab League in 1979 as a result but would rejoin again in 1989.
Continuing his ascent up the diplomatic ladder, el Fassi was next appointed as the ambassador to France (1990-1994) under former French president François Mitterrand’s term. However, relations between the two countries were strained and as a response to the fierce French media campaign launched against King Hassan II, the monarch sent el Fassi, who was a member of a political party that was devoted to its Arabism and Islamic roots and a firm opposer to the Francophone influence on Morocco. El Fassi, moreover, was an eloquent speaker, fluent in French and was well-versed in diplomacy and law.
Some have described Abbas el Fassi as the man who gets elected between transitional phases; he was elected as the ambassador to France during a time when the relationship between Paris and Rabat was undergoing transformation. Likewise, el Fassi was elected as secretary-general of Istiqlal party in 1998 following in the footsteps of Allal al Fassi and the influential Mohamed Boucetta. In the same vein, el Fassi’s appointment by King Mohammed VI as the sixth prime minister of Morocco after Driss Jettou (2002-2007) and before him the socialist Abderrahmane Youssoufi, heralds the advent of a new phase, one that al Fassi stresses must head in the direction towards democratization and development.
The Istiqlal party won 52 seats of the 325 parliamentary seats in the September 7 2007 legislative elections. King Mohammed VI praised the new Prime Minister for his patriotism and his commitment to sacred values, furthermore describing him as, a statesman with great experience.
Undoubtedly, el Fassi must sense the magnitude of the responsibility placed upon him, especially after two parties* and a considerable number of Moroccans boycotted the elections despite the government’s efforts to draw people to the polls; in addition to the monarch’s emphasis, on two occasions, of the importance of voting as a national duty. As such, el Fassi is aware that the new government does not have the public’s support and is thus in a challenging position.
Some state that among Abbas el Fassi’s most prominent characteristics is a calmness that distinguishes him from another class of politicians in the state who are loud in declaring their opinions. They also maintain that he does not favor difficult decisions and is more inclined towards winning by scoring points instead of striking. He is known to adopt a negotiatory approach in the face of contentious issues and for achieving objectives in a gradual and progressive manner.
Abbas el Fassi led the Istiqlal party to the top after many had believed that the party had lost significant public support, proving that the voice of moderation is what is required for a state that follows a policy of moderation.
Although blessed with success and fortune throughout his previous political track, al Fassi is expected to face the press in Morocco, which was not very welcoming towards his appointment and barely gave him the opportunity to make his first statement as prime minister before launching into hostile and skeptical campaigns – especially the ‘independent’ newspapers. Some of the attacks undermined his capabilities while others wrote about his “deteriorating health” and his lack of responsibility whilst some were of the opinion that his failure is expected.
Confronted by this barrage of skepticism, the newly appointed Prime Minister is faced with two choices: either to ignore the press and let it write whatever it may, or to oppose it, not by speaking against it and defending his words and actions, but rather by implementing a prompt, efficient and successful governmental program that does not warrant any introductory words.
It is not an easy feat, especially with the tasks set before the government. Among his duties, el Fassi is expected to consult with political parties to appoint a new cabinet at the King’s behest.
“I have just emerged the smaller battle by supporting the [Istiqlal] party towards its achievement to now embark upon a greater battle with multiple fronts,” el Fassi said.
Will the concerned parties ease the pressure off Morocco’s new prime minister and offer their assistance? Will they support him so that Morocco can enter a new stage of prosperity and development?
* The ‘Annahj Addimocrati’ (Democratic Path) and the ‘al Hizb Addimocrati al Amazighi’ (Amazigh Democratic party). The former contends that political life is stagnant and contests the parliament’s legislative power, furthermore claiming that the King is the one to select the Prime Minister, rather than being popularly elected. The latter party seeks recognition for the Amazigh identity and language, moreover calling for increased integration.