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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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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Turkey-Israel Relations? It's Complicated — But The Gaza War Is Different

Turkish President Erdogan has now called on the International Criminal Court to go after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for war crimes, as the clash between the two regional powers has reached a new low.

Photo of ​Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walking

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Elias Kassem

Since the arrival two decades ago of now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been a mix of deep ideological conflict and cover-your-eyes realpolitik.

On the one hand, Erdogan has positioned himself as a kind of global spokesman for the Palestinian cause. His Justice and Development Party has long publicly and financially supported Hamas, which shares similar roots in the 20th-century Muslim Brotherhood movement.

And yet, since 2001 when Erdogan first came to power, trade between Turkey and Israel has multiplied from $1.41 to $8.9 billion in 2022. Moreover, both countries see major potential in transporting newly discovered Israeli natural gas to Europe, via Turkey.

The logic of shared interests clashes with the passions and posturing of high-stakes geopolitics. Diplomatic relations have been cut off, then restored, and since October 7, the countries’ respective ambassadors have been recalled, with accusations flying between Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Still, over the past 48 hours, Turkish-Israeli relations may have hit an all-time low.

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