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September 20, 2007

The Myth of Moroccan Democracy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

America's post-9/11 "freedom agenda" has failed miserably. The "Arab Spring" ended two years ago. Yet, Morocco is still often hailed as one of the few bright spots in the region. For a variety of reasons, we should be very skeptical about such claims. Which is a lead-in to say that I've co-authored a piece with Jeb Koogler on the "myth of Moroccan democracy" which is out today at The American Prospect . You can read the whole thing here. Here's a teaser:

Earlier this month Morocco, one of America's closest Arab allies, held national elections. Touted as a bold step toward democracy, the vote was closely watched in the West. But the elections, rather than proving a success, have raised difficult questions about the future of Moroccan democracy and highlighted the flaws in America's approach to democracy promotion.

In the lead-up to the polls, analysts painted the contest as a test of Islam's political strength. Islamists had risen to power in Iraq, Palestine, and Turkey; and many wondered whether Morocco would be next.

The main Islamist organization in the country -- the Justice and Development Party (PJD) -- was widely expected to win the largest number of seats, following the lead of religious-based groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the similarly named Justice and Development Party in Turkey. But instead of securing a projected 70 - 80 seats, the PJD won only 47, coming in second to the secular Istiqlal Party. This is the first time an Islamist party has disappointed after an unprecedented series of electoral gains for Islamists throughout the Middle East.

But the story here is not about the impending failure of political Islam. After all, Islamist parties, like their secular counterparts, will experience fluctuations in support from election to election. The larger story -- one that has rarely been discussed in the Western press -- is about the failure of so-called Moroccan "democracy" and, by extension, the failure of a paradigm that hoped gradual, top-down democratization would pave the way forward for the Middle East.


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