Middle East

Democracy in Morocco advancing slowly but surely: PM

Morocco's Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane wipes his forehead during the closing news conference after a summit of Mediterranean neighbours at Verdala Palace outside Valletta October 6, 2012. (REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

RABAT: Morocco's Islamist premier Abdelilah Benkirane insisted on Tuesday that democracy in his country was advancing slowly but surely, in an interview with France 24 television channel.

"We are in the process of taking small... but decisive steps," Benkirane told the French television channel on the sidelines of the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg.

The Arab Spring "set the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt on fire, and ours was scalded. It was because of that that we had a new constitution, that we had elections and that a party once harassed and marginalised" was voted to power, he said.

Benkirane's moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development won historic elections last November that followed constitutional changes introduced by King Mohammed VI to curb his near-absolute powers, in a bid to stifle protests.

He was appointed to head Morocco's coalition government in January, but it remains unclear how much real power he holds.

The prime minister rejected the suggestion that there was any conflict between his party and the palace.

"In Morocco, the king is the head of state and ... the head of the council of ministers, in which I am the head of the government. He is therefore my boss," Benkirane said, while stressing that he had his own "prerogatives."

"It is a system regulated by the law," he said.

The former physics teacher described the unfolding democratic process in the Arab world, following last year's mass uprisings that deposed long-standing dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, as an "irreversible path."

And he denounced Western critics who, he said, judged the intentions of the Islamists who had risen to power in north Africa since the Arab Spring.

"Even when we don't do anything wrong, those of us who are called Islamists are judged for our intentions... But in any case, the people don't listen to that... They vote for us."

If the West "wants democracy and if it respects the voice of the people... then it must respect their choice," Benkirane added.





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