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Reviewed by:
  • Islamist Opposition in Authoritarian Regimes: The Party of Justice and Development in Morocco
  • Jacques Roussellier (bio)
Islamist Opposition in Authoritarian Regimes: The Party of Justice and Development in Morocco, by Eva Wegner. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011. 208 pages. $29.95.

This book offers a critical contribution to the understanding of political Islam in Morocco through a case study of the Party of Justice and Development (PJD). This insightful and detailed account of the PJD’s evolution from the margins of politics to almost the core of government, however, is based on a political model whose heuristic or predictive value is less convincing. Besides the issues of applicability of mostly Western political science paradigms to Islamist parties’ organization, the model that the author uses to explain the party’s strategies and decisions include variables such as relations with Islamist founding organization(s) and institutional constraints (Moroccan system). The model in general would benefit from additional theoretical clarity as well as more exhaustive analogies with similar political parties’ organization in the Middle East (pp. xxxiii–xxxvi). Indeed, the religious dynamic that is germane to Islamist parties and Morocco’s complex interaction between religious and political spheres also re-define the PJD’s electoral and governmental trajectory.

Like any opposition party in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes, the PJD has faced a persistent dilemma when it accepted to enter the Moroccan political (and religious) arena: either participate fully in the political system (at the cost of ideological dilution but with greater visibility and exposure within the regime’s accepted norms) or remain more critical of the regime, thus preserving its identity but at the risk of being excluded from the political system. This existential tension for the PJD is presented as a critical parameter of the party’s strategy and evolution. In turn, the model the author proposes — based on the three pillars of founding institutions, party organization, and the regime’s constraints — also shaped this creative and potentially destructive dilemma for the PJD’s decision-making options and processes. However, the existence of broader and fractious Islamist communities in Morocco alone does not seem to account for the PJD’s varying electoral successes (even with an accepted self-restraint) or cautious approach to government participation (p. 118). The Arab Spring and its outcome would be a case in point. The determinants of the wider Islamist electorate’s attitudes towards the PJD and its assessment of the PJD’s credibility as opposition party as well as its ability to take part in a future government remain to be defined. What organizational or extraorganizational factors explain such contrasting electoral outcomes as 2003, 2007, and 2011? Is the founding movement acting too much as a volatile and ill-disciplined reservoir? Or, are there specific parameters that escape the heuristic model? Which factors make the Islamist constituency judge how far the PJD has leaned towards one side or [End Page 373] the other of its existential dilemma? What makes the Islamist electorate decide the risk of absorption and irrelevance for the party is too great to warrant its support or conclude that the regime is unwilling to allow a viable Islamist opposition (pp. 120–122)?

The legitimist PJD option, which the author cogently compares with its radical counterpart, the Party of Justice and Charity (PJC), could be further reassessed within the Morocco’s unique politico-religious context. Although the Moroccan sovereign combines supreme religious and national authorities, there is no absolute confusion between Islam and monarchy.2 The differences between the two Islamist movements may lie less in the PJD’s acceptation of the Moroccan king’s politico-religious supremacy than its — genuine or tactical — renunciation of defining Islam independently from the king, as opposed to PJC’s position (pp. 28–29). Furthermore, the constitutional consecration of the king’s “sacred and inviolable” position — which is not explicitly derived from its religious and political title as “Commander of the Faithful” — implies a self-justification for the king’s prerogatives in the political and social system.

The opposition of legitimist or mainstream political Islam versus radical Islamist movement refers to deeper divergences about the role of Islam, between accommodation and transformation. The reformist...


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pp. 373-374
Launched on MUSE
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