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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06RABAT1883 2006-10-10 10:54:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

ISLAMISTS TAKE OFF ON ROYAL AIR MAROC

Tags:   KISL PTER MO 
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1. (C) Summary: The newspaper of the Islamist Justice and
Development Party (PJD) has accused Royal Air Maroc (RAM) of
"denying its employees the right to pray" and "forcing pilots
to break their fasts." The charges are a disingenuous twist
on recent administrative steps by the airline. The charges
target a national institution connected to the prestige of
the palace and the nation as a whole, and come just a month
after the wives of two RAM pilots were accused of raising
money for a radical Islamist terror cell. While this
particular controversy is unlikely to snowball, it
demonstrates the PJD's willingness to aggressively play the
Islam card in the political arena as it prepares for the 2007
parliamentary elections. End summary.



2. (SBU) Al-Tajdid, the Arabic daily mouthpiece of the
Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD) ran a banner
headline in the first week of Ramadan accusing Royal Air
Maroc (RAM) of "denying employees the right to pray" and even
"forcing pilots to break the fast." The accusations were
rooted in a decision of RAM management to close a mosque on
the premises of its Casablanca administrative headquarters,
and a memorandum circulated by RAM at the start of Ramadan
reminding pilots of an earlier fatwa allowing them not to
fast while flying.



3. (C) A Moroccan with contacts at RAM headquarters told us
the mosque had been shut down by management mainly because it
had been seen to sap the productivity of staff. RAM staff
had reportedly been lingering in the mosque beyond prayer
time to listen to sermons and exchange views on spiritual
issues, all on "company time."



4. (C) The PJD's attack on RAM was striking both because of
the explosive (and grossly exaggerated) charges that the
employer was denying its staff the right to fulfill their
religious obligations, and because of RAM's status as a
national (and state owned) symbol of development, prestige,
tourism, and links between Morocco and the wider world. The
controversy came just over a month after the revelation that
the wives of two RAM pilots were allegedly involved in
fundraising for the Ansar el-Mehdi terrorist cell. The
wives' alleged connections to the terrorists, was shocking to
the Moroccan public, both because of their standing as middle
class housewives, and because of their links to RAM.



5. (C) It is significant that these charges come during
Ramadan, a period of heightened religious awareness and
sensitivity in Morocco. While the controversy will probably
blow over quickly, it demonstrates the PJD's willingness to
aggressively play the Islam card in the political arena as it
prepares for the 2007 parliamentary elections.
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Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/rabat
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RILEY