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Salafists In Parliament? Testing Morocco's Terrorism Prevention Model

Moroccan Parliament in Rabat
Moroccan Parliament in Rabat

CASABLANCA — Morocco is no stranger to the jihadist violence afflicting other Muslim countries: In 2003, a suicide bombing killed 33 people in the country's largest city, Casablanca, while a 2011 attack killed 17 in Marrakesh. But unlike most of its neighbors, Morocco has a detailed policy to reform rather than destroy followers of Salafism, the ultraconservative movement in Sunni Islam that's often considered a gateway to jihad. According to Aujourd'hui Le Maroc, even the most extreme Salafists are now joining political parties ahead of Morocco's general election in October.

It was after the Casablanca attack that Moroccan authorities embarked on a counter-radicalization program to reform local Islam by promoting a more tolerant school of thought, including acceptance of the Moroccan king's role as "Commander of the Faithful." While ostensibly ruled by parliament since reforms passed after Arab Spring protests in 2011, Morocco is still primarily run by King Mohammed VI, who holds executive power.

The monarchy pardoned several Salafist fighters in recent years, and opened a school for local and foreign imams in 2015 to exert authority over "Moroccan Islam" and suppress radical movements. Thirteen years since Casablanca, the strategy seems to be working: Prominent Salafists such as radical preacher Abdelkrim Chadli have embraced electoral politics, and many more have pledged allegiance to the monarchy. Several parties in Morocco's parliament, including the main opposition forces Istiqlal and Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), have recruited dozens of Salafists as legislative candidates for October.

Despite holding ultimate authority, the monarchy has allowed Islamists into positions of power: The Justice and Development Party, formerly affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, won Morocco's first competitive elections in 2011 and installed its leader as Prime Minister. Now even the most conservative Moroccans may express their views at the ballot box, with two convicted but pardoned organizers of the Casablanca bombing in talks to run for parliament for a small royalist party.

If Morocco can continue on its path of reform, it may provide a model for other countries in the region — the Salafists say so themselves.

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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