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06CASABLANCA930 2006-08-09 14:28:00 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Casablanca
Cable title:  

Casablanca Political Party Leaders Speak Out

Tags:   MO PGOV PINR 
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1. (C) Summary: In an introductory round of calls on various
Casablanca-based political party leaders and executive board members
we heard many similar concerns regarding Morocco's upcoming 2007
elections.

--Every political activist we encountered expressed an interest in
the election poll conducted by IRI earlier this year. The majority
of those to whom we spoke were concerned about Moroccans
misinterpreting the poll, which claimed that 46 percent of likely
Moroccan voters would hypothetically vote for the PJD if the election
were held at the time of the survey.

--There was strong interest in the subject of continued
constitutional reform. Most agreed that to build a strong democracy
the office of Prime Minister, the Parliament, and the Judiciary must
be endowed with additional power and greater independance.

--We asked what they would like to see the US do to support
democratization Morocco in the future. Our interlocutors praised IRI
and NDI's good governance and parliamentary programs, and urged
greater initiative in job development in Morocco as a means to reduce
the opportunity for extremism. Finally, several urged that the U.S.
work to improve its image in the region. Strengthening American
credibility would further the process of democratization.



2. (U) During June and July we met with: Ali Belhaj, founder and
president of Allience de Libertes (ADL); Abderrahim Lahjouji, founder
and president of Forces Citoyeenes (FC); Ahmed Kadiri, longest
serving parliamentarian and political bureau member of Istiqlal;
Fatima Belmoudden, parliamentarian and member of the political bureau
of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP); and Nouzha Skalli,
parliamentarian and political bureau member of the Party of Progress
and Socialism (PPS). Post requested a meeting with Mostapha Ramid,
hard-line parliamentarian and outspoken member of the Party of
Justice and Development (PJD), Morocco's Islamist party. However,
Ramid refused to meet, citing the US presence in Iraq as the grounds
for the refusal(ref A). End Summary



--------------------------


Reaction to the IRI Poll


--------------------------





3. (C) The PJD's standing with the electorate, as described in the
IRI poll, was a prominent concern of the political leaders in
Casablanca with whom we met. The Parliamentarians from USFP and PPS
voiced dismay with the poll. Fatima Belmoudden of USFP was
concerned, not only with the results of the poll, but with how they
were presented in the press. Belmoudden claimed that the results
sent a powerful message "because the poll was from the U.S." She
claimed that, because popular culture is different in Morocco than it
is in the U.S., the poll is "too foreign a concept" and could be
easily misunderstood. She did concede that the poll might be read as
simply a "warning signal" about the popularity of the PJD. But she
was pessimistic that the PJD, if given the opportunity, would reverse
the reforms that Morocco has undertaken in recent years.



4. (C) Belmoudden went on to say that there are those in parliament
who believe that the poll results, showing a potentially strong
performance by the PJD, are the U.S.' way of supporting a moderate
Islamist party in Morocco. She expressed concern that both the U.S.
and the EU are supporting moderate Islamist movements worldwide in
order to discourage more radical Islamist parties. She cited a
recent program that the National Democratic Institute (NDI) conducted
in Morocco, funded by the USG, for female political leaders.
According to Belmoudden, the organizers asked for 20 female
parliamentarians, but she claimed they specifically stated that at
least two should be from the PJD. (Note: While USAID, who overseas
the NDI program, says this is not possible Belmoudden clearly
believed it. End Note) This behavior, she said, "sends the wrong
message." It registered with Moroccan politicians as specific U.S.
interest in promoting the PJD.



5. (C) PPS parliamentarian Dr. Nouzha Skalli expressed very similar
concerns. She claimed that many politicians were unhappy with the
poll and saw it as highly misleading. It appears to encourage people
to "join the PJD." Like Belmoudden, she believes the poll is further
evidence that the West is supporting "moderate" Islamic movements at
the expense of all others. She mentioned, as an example, the
international assembly she attended in Istanbul in April 2006,
sponsored by the Washington-based non-profit National Endowment for
Democracy. According to Skalli "the panels were all full of moderate
Islamists and there was no room for non-Islamist parties." In her
opinion the American initiatives to promote democracy were positive
but the execution was sometimes a problem for her and those like her.
In response to each of our interlocutors concerns, we assured them
that the U.S. is interested in supporting the process of
democratization and has no interest in favoring one party over
another.



6. (C) In contrast to the other parliamentarians' sentiments, Ali
Belhaj, the American educated founder of the liberal ADL, saw the
poll as a much-needed instigator of public debate. Belhaj was far
less concerned with the results of the poll than with the idea of the
poll itself. He concluded that the elections are over a year off and
the situation was likely to change in the coming months. (Note: Like
Belhaj, the Ministry of the Interior may have been inspired by IRI's
poll since it is currently undertaking its own polls which will be
published regularly on its soon to be launched internet site,
according to contacts in the Ministry's Communications Office. End
Note)



--------------------------


Democracy and Political Reform


--------------------------





7. (C) Looking beyond the 2007 elections, each politician agreed
that additional constitutional reform is necessary for Morocco to
progress, but there was little consensus as to how or when those
changes could occur. While all saw Morocco as a budding democracy,
many conceded that giving real power and greater independence to the
Prime Minister, parliament, and judiciary, is the only way to form a
true democratic state. Some expressed concerns, however, about
corruption and lack of good governance that could hinder reforms.



8. (C) FC stood alone in its assessment that perhaps "the people of
Morocco are not completely ready for democracy just yet," although
they agreed in principle that "ultimately the people need to have the
power." FC is a small party of liberal businesspeople and
intellectuals who have recently signed a compact with the PJD. What
the FC gets from the relationship is a broader base because of its
association with a large and influential party in exchange for
providing the PJD with economic/business expertise. In addition, by
collaborating with the FC the PJD may be seeking to broaden its base.
(Note: Recently there has been speculation that the FC and ADL may
also form an alliance. In this pre-electoral environment
partnerships and alliances between parties remain fluid as changes to
the electoral code are presented. End Note)



--------------------------


What Can the U.S. do for Morocco?


--------------------------





9. (C) Toward the end of each meeting we made it clear that the U.S.
strongly supports the democratic process in Morocco and asked what
more the U.S. could do to support the country's efforts in that
direction. A number of the political activists immediately pointed
to IRI and NDI's good governance and parliamentary programs as
particularly effective. Our interlocutors also encouraged more
investment in economic development to help curb unemployment and
fight poverty and extremism.



10. (C) By contrast to the other party representatives, long time
parliamentarian, Ahmed Kadiri, of the Istiqlal party, had perhaps the
most traditional "to do" list for the U.S. From his opulent
traditional Moroccan home, Kadiri faulted the U.S. for not taking an
active enough role in the Western Sahara issue. He claimed that the
U.S. has a responsibility because of its understanding of the issue
and must be more active in helping Morocco find a "political
solution." At the same time, he made it clear that the Western
Sahara is part of Morocco and always will be. In addition, he stated
that the U.S. has a strong role to play in economic development and
reform in his country. "The US must make more financial investments
in Morocco and less in Israel," Kadiri declared. Another step that
the U.S. should be taking, he stated, is to increase the number of
Diversity Visas available for Moroccans, as well as making other
types of immigrant and non-immigrant visas more easily attainable.
(Note: Kadiri was accompanied in the meeting by his son, a recent
graduate of the Casablanca American School student who will soon be
leaving Morocco to attend university in the U.S., where other family
members are already settled. End Note)



11. (C) Another prominent topic of conversation was the U.S. image
in the Middle East. Abdurrahim Lahjouji of FC claimed the best thing
that the U.S. could do for Morocco was to "fix" its own image. He
declared "you are a true democracy" but in order for others to want
to follow your example you need to "improve your credibility."
Lahjouji pointed to U.S. involvement in Iraq and claimed it would
help the US image enormously to leave the country as soon as
possible.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





12. (C) Our conversations took place before the recent developments
in Gaza and Lebanon, and probably would have been quite different if
held in the past week or two. While those we met were still mildly
critical of some U.S. policies, they were also clearly keen to
express their interest in expanding and strengthening the
U.S.-Moroccan relationship. The politicians' apprehension, however,
over the IRI poll and its misunderstood "prediction" of a PJD win
stood out as a matter of concern. We have heard similar sentiments
from others in Casablanca and will continue to monitor local
political and business reactions as the elections approach.

GREENE