From October 19 to October 20, 2017, Helsinki Commission staff participated in a visit to Rabat, Morocco organized by Morocco’s upper house of Parliament—the House of Counselors—and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) to discuss the so-called “Moroccan Approach” to countering violent extremism. In a series of meetings with legislative and government leaders and a special seminar hosted by the House of Councilors, the OSCE PA delegation learned about the role that Morocco’s constitutional monarchy, religious institutions, democratic reforms, and comprehensive migration strategy play in combatting the attraction and recruitment of youth by terrorist organizations.
The delegation was led by OSCE PA Vice President Marietta Tidei (Italy) and featured the participation of MP Stephane Crusniere (Belgium), Vice-Chair of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, and Senator Pascal Allizard (France), OSCE PA Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, among others. Parliamentarians and staffers from the legislatures of the participating States of the OSCE exchanged views with the President of the House of Counselors Hakim Benchamach, President of the House of Representatives Lahbib El-Malki, Minister Delegate to the Minister of Interior Nouredine Boutaib, Catholic Archbishop of Rabat Msgr. Vincent Landel, and Director of the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams Abdessalam Lazaar.
These meetings and the attendant seminar underscored the centrality of Morocco’s constitutional monarchy to ordering religious belief and practice in the country. Morocco’s monarch, Muhammad VI, is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and possesses the title “Commander of the Faithful.” This title confers on him preeminent religious authority in the country and the responsibility to preside over the issuance of all religiously binding judgments, or fatwas.
In his lecture during the conference, Professor Ahmed Abbadi, secretary general of the leading organization for Muslim scholars in Morocco, highlighted the Moroccan King’s religious authority as an antidote to the “cacophony of fatwas” he said afflicted much of the Islamic world beginning in the 20th century. Professor Abbadi described how the advent of cable television, the internet, and social media facilitated the proliferation of these religious judgments from religious scholars of all ideological persuasions and levels of education.
Additionally, several authorities attributed Morocco’s success in countering violent extremism to the work of a network of ministries, religious organizations, and institutes that propagate the moderate interpretation of Islam championed by the King. Mr. Boutaib, Minister Delegate to the Minister of Interior, was among several officials who highlighted the focus in Moroccan religious institutions on promoting maqasid in scriptural explication, an approach that emphasizes the spiritual, moral, ethical, and social goals of religious belief and practice above literalist interpretation and formalistic piety. The delegation visited the Muhammad VI Institute for the Training of Imams where hundreds of imams and male and female religious guides—murshidin and murshidat—from across Morocco and Western and sub-Saharan Africa are brought on full-scholarship to deepen their understanding of this interpretation of the Islamic faith.
Moroccan interlocutors also praised the King’s initiative to undertake significant democratic reforms during the Arab Spring as key to promoting social development and countering the attractiveness of extremist ideologies.
“While other countries delayed reforms because of security concerns, Morocco persevered,” said House of Counselors President Benchamach. Among the most significant constitutional changes approved by referendum in 2011, the King is now required to name a prime minister from the largest party in parliament and the prime minister enjoys greater authority in running the government.
The president of the lower house, Lahbib El-Malki told the OSCE PA delegation, “No security is possible without democracy and no cooperation is possible without security,” emphasizing the centrality of democracy to achieving these other strategic aims.
As part of its effort to mitigate risk factors for radicalization, Morocco has focused on economic development domestically and in surrounding countries. These development efforts feature as part of the country’s self-described “comprehensive migration strategy” that directs development assistance to countries of origin, provides services and ensures the rights of migrants who take up residence in Morocco, and works to prevent irregular onward migration. Minister Delegate Boutaib and others touted Morocco’s “regularization” campaign in 2014 that allowed approximately 25,000 migrants to become legal residence of Morocco and to access services, education, housing, and the labor market. A second wave of this campaign began earlier this year and is ongoing.
Despite overall confidence in the strength and sustainability of this multi-faceted approach to countering violent extremism, Moroccan officials expressed concern about continued challenges. In particular, several interlocutors described the danger posed by ungoverned expanses in the Sahel made worse by the ongoing conflict in Libya. They further cautioned that the territorial rout of ISIS in Syria and Iraq would likely only usher in new and more complex manifestations of the global jihadist threat.
House of Representatives President El-Malki also warned of broader cultural and social trends that must be addressed in order to mitigate the attractiveness of extremist ideologies. He observed that modernity had succeeded in achieving great economic and technological advancements but left a more complicated legacy on the cultural and social level. El-Malki cited contemporary crises of identity and meaning that are playing out in many societies. Specifically, he counseled that the world cannot adopt a single culture; instead, he contended that “a plurality of cultures is a factor in stability.”
By hosting the OSCE PA delegation, the Kingdom of Morocco took an important step in advancing communication between the participating States of the OSCE and the six North African and Middle Eastern countries that comprise the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. While there are several opportunities every year for intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary exchanges with the Mediterranean Partners, this event provided a unique opportunity to examine at length the best practices and experience of one of the Partner States.
In addition, the inter-parliamentary nature of the exchange suggests a promising avenue for further engagement. While many initiatives relating to the Mediterranean Partners have been stalled by a lack of consensus among OSCE participating States, the OSCE PA is not subject to the same consensus rule, placing it in a promising position to deepen communication and cooperation across the Mediterranean in the years to come.