Justice and Development Party: Morocco


Logo of Justice and Development Party PJD, Abmouhcin, CC 4.0

Justice and Development Party: Morocco

In this article, we will discuss the history and current activities of the Justice and Development Party in Morocco.

The origins of the Justice and Development Party in Morocco out of early Islamist movements in the 1960s and 1970s, and primarily from students as well as some within the government sympathetic to the Islamist movement (Amghar, 2007). In fact, this time period was one in which saw an increasingly Islamist movement take hold throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa. Some started to question Gamal Abdel Nasser’s emphasis on Arab nationalism–over Islam. Then, with Egypt, Jordan and Syria’s defeat against Israel in the Six-Day War came a new push back towards political Islam, and one more away from Nasser’s ideology.

The Islamist movement in Morocco began to take off in the 1960s primarily because of what Moroccans felt was an inefficient state system for providing social services (Hamzawy, 2008). However, the sorts of Islamist movements that sprung varied in their positions and ideologies. The Justice and Development Party (Morocco) traces its history back to

The PJD and the Monarchy

The PJD is viewed by many within the country as the “state” Islamist movement (Amghar, 2007). The reason for this has to do with their relationship with the King, and also how their position counters that of the other major Islamist movement in the country, the Justice and Charity movement. The PJD is willing to recognize the King as the top position in the country, and also grants the king’s position as “commander of the faithful.” Thus, for them, they are not looking to overthrow the entire monarchical system, but rather, are working within the confines of said system to increase their political positioning. This differs greatly from the Justice and Charity organization who historically has denied the supreme authority of the king. And because of the Justice and Development’s position towards the monarch, the king in turn has been much more willing to allow the PJD to operate within Moroccan civil society, and also with regards to the political governance system. Thus, as Amghar (2007) explains, “The party is pro-monarchist and does not endorse a revolutionary rhetoric of social change aimed at creating an Islamic state. On the contrary, it holds that state and society are not to be Islamicised because Morocco is already a Muslim country. It nevertheless insists on the principle of defending Moroccan society’s Islamic identity through legislative and institutional means when that identity is threatened. This involves a basic discourse of probity founded on respect for religious morality” (1).

Daadaoui (2015) explains that their attempts to increasing influence in Moroccan society is not to a complete and immediate alteration of the existing political and monarchical system in the country. Rather, “Unlike other Islamists in the Middle East and North Africa, and perhaps learning from the experiences of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia, the PJD does not seek a change in the configuration of the regime; instead, its members are focused on exerting a new practical and inclusive style of governance predicated on gradual “passive” revolutionary societal and state change.” This is indeed the greatest difference between the Justice and Development Party (Morocco) and most other Islamist organizations. They accept the rules of the game, and have chosen to operate within this space. Unlike most other cases of politics between the Islamist parties and the non-Islamist state (with arguable exceptions in Algeria, Kuwait, as well as Bahrain (Hamzawy, 2008) (at least before the 2011 revolutions), by choosing an non-direct confrontational approach that does not seem to threaten the king’s overarching authority, in turn, the PJD have carved out a space (and one accepted King Muhammad VI) in which they can rather openly operate in). In fact, Hamzawy (2008) argues that “This attitude [of the PJD not questioning the political structure], then adopted as much in spirit as in form, has led to the decline of religious-based exclusionist rhetoric, whether directed toward ruling establishments or liberal and leftist opposition actors. It has also gradually shifted Islamists away from ideological diatribes and categorical judgments toward formulation of practical political platforms and constructive attempts to influence public policy” (2).

The PJD and Elections

The Justice and Development Party has been active in the history of Moroccan elections. For example, “Under the name of the Constitutional and Democratic Popular Movement (MPDC) this coalition competed in the 1997 legislative elections and entered Parliament for the first time after winning nine seats. In 1998, the party changed its name to become the Justice and Development Party. During the 2002 legislative elections, the PJD won 42 out of 295 seats, becoming one of the country’s main political forces. In 2004, Saad Eddine Othmani became the party’s secretary general” (Amghar, 2007).

Local Elections in Morocco

The Moroccan Justice and Development Party has not merely set its sights on national elections, but has continued to also run candidates in local elections. While this has been a rather consistent part of their electoral strategy, their heavy activity in the country has led them to do quite well in the recent 2015 local elections. These elections, held in early September (4), pitted the PJD against the pro-monarchy Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), as well as the historical Istiqlal party. What is interesting to note about these local elections was that while king’s party (PAM) put forward many more candidates, they did not do much better than the other parties, winning only 21 percent of the positions. This was only 5 percent points ahead of Istiqlal, who won 16 percent of the seats. However, one of the most noted election results was the success of the Justice and Development Party, who won 15 percent of all seats (Daadaoui, 2015), which included 2 of the 12 regional councils. The PJD did even better in the urban centers, winning 25 percent of all seats in these areas, 6 percentage points higher than PAM, and 8 percentage points higher than Istiqlal.

This is a big shift in the outcome of the local elections. Compare this with 2009. Merely 6 years prior, the PJD did quite poorly in similar elections, winning only 5.5 percent of all seats at the time. This time, not only did they greatly increase their seats, but they also did well in areas (such as Fez) traditionally dominated by pro-king political elites (Daadaoui, 2015).

So, how were they able to do it? As Daadaoui (2015) explains, “The PJD’s electoral gain was due largely to its formidable campaign machine and organization in urban centers. The party ran a clean and orderly grassroots campaign, with a vast mass mobilization network of supporters. In contrast, reports of fraudulent electoral practices plagued PAM and al-Istiqlal, reportedly exchanged money and gifts for vote pledges. The campaigns were especially fierce on social media where each party attempted to cast a positive image of its electoral promises.” This effective campaigning was also seen in the 2016 elections, where, despite a very low national turnout, the Justice and Development Party ran a detailed grassroots campaign (Daadaoui, 2016).

The Justice and Development Party and Islam

Despite their organization being an Islamist one, the Justice and Development Party’s relationship with regards to Islamic positions has depended on many factors. They are quite consistent in their positions on the importance of Islam in Moroccan society. However, the Justice and Development Party in Morocco does differ from a number of other Islamist parties in that they do not call for Islam being the sole law in the country. They are more active on ensuring that the role Islam already has in the public and in the state is not reduced (Amghar, 2007).

The Justice and Development Party finds related ways to promote Islam. For example, similar to many other Islamist organizations, the PJD continues to connect Islam with messages of social services. In fact, the Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has continues to point to their work on social services as some of the highlights of the organization, which have included helping widows, students, persons with disabilities (Daadaoui, 2015) among many others.

Interestingly, there are questions about the direction that the PJD in Morocco is taking with regards to politics and Islam. Given that in the past two major elections now (the 2011 and the 2016 elections), the PJD has won the most votes of any party, but not nearly enough to rule on their own. Thus, they have had to find others to work with, to establish a coalition government with. These conditions naturally lead the party to have to find ways to diversify their appeal to other parties. So, unless there are other Islamists who the Justice and Development Party can work with in government (there are no other major political Islamist parties running in elections), then they will have to find non-Islamists who are willing to share governance with them. Thus, all of this means that they have to be careful to advocate too much Islam in everyday politics.

So, what the PJD has done is distinguish their political activities from their religious, preaching-based (Dawa) activities. As it has been noted, “Decades of political learning within Morocco’s circumscribed political space created this adaptation. The PJD has realized that a rigid Islamist ideology would not be conducive to its own existence” (Daadaoui, 2016). Thus, given the ability to win elections, set up a government, and continue with their platform, the Islamists continue to maintain Islam in their party, but are careful as placing it as a centerpiece of their message. Even when Islam is there, it tends to be done so in a way that does not alienate non-Islamists in their own coalition.

Justice and Development Party Activities

The PJD is quite active in Moroccan society. Not only do they run in elections (and hold the Prime Minister) position in the country, as well as many local seats. However, what is important to note is how they are able to do so well electorally in the country. Much of their success in elections has to do with their positions, but also activity in Moroccan civil society. They party has worked extensively on promoting social services, speaking out against corruption, and advocating for justice in Morocco. In addition, they have also been active in using media and social media to illustrate their work while in the government. For example, with regards to the 2015 elections, “The party was extremely effective at using elaborate memes, YouTube videosFacebook posts and tweets of nifty infographics to illustrate its alleged successes, notably decreasing inflation, reducing the state budget deficit, and working to combat poverty and unemployment. In the days leading up to the elections, the PJD generated significant buzz. Wherever its candidates campaigned, the party commanded huge crowds: PJD leader and president of the coalition government Abdelilah Benkirane delivered his stump speeches to tens of thousands of enraptured supporters” (Daadaoui, 2015). It was for these reasons that many believe they were able to do so well in the recent 2015 elections (Daadaoui, 2015).

In fact, some have argued that it is because of their limited activities within a system dominated by the king that has led to a more clearer distinction between direct electoral-political actions, and more non-political actions related to the promotion and preservation of Islam in society. Thus, for the PJD, they have the electoral wing, and then, through a related–yet separate organization–called the Movement for Unity and reform (MUR), they are able to embark upon more general Islamic activism. Thus, these sorts of da’wa or prosetylizaton activities are usually separate from the PJD’s more electorally-specific work (Hamzawy, 2008).

2016 Moroccan Elections:

On October 7th, 2016, Moroccans went to the polls to vote for the 395 members of Parliament. While the Justice and Development Party in Morocco continues to be popular, there were some who thought that they would not do as well as they did. Part of this has to do with Moroccan attitudes towards conditions in the country during the rule of the PJD. For example, for the 2016 parliamentary elections, ” the PJD has campaigned on a promise to continue implementing its reform agenda. It has also defended its record in office — the party can claim credit for implementing Morocco’s widely acknowledged pension reform and adopting nineteen of the twenty organic laws called for in the new constitution. But it has failed to meet several of its goals, such as increasing economic growth to 5.5% and reducing unemployment to 8%. Instead, real GDP growth over the past five years has fluctuated between 1.7 and 4.7%, and unemployment now hovers around 10% nationally and 20% among young adults. The party has also failed to demonstrably reduce corruption, which may explain why it quietly dropped the issue from its policy priorities this time around” (Feuer, 2016).

To add to this, the PJD in Morocco felt that some irregularities were present before the 2016 elections in Morroco. For example, “Mr Benkirane’s ruling Justice and Development Party (PJD) claims to have encountered big obstacles in the run up to the election. The press was plainly skewed in favour of the opposition while the king himself…seemed to many to be pulling strings in an election he is supposed, as a constitutional monarch, to stay out of. The Ministry of the Interior, run by a close friend of the king’s, was also forced to deny it had organised an anti-PJD rally” (The Economist, 2016). It was said that the King was supporting the main opposition party, the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) (The Economist, 2016) (it should also be noted that there were upwards of 4,000 of election observers) (Errazzouki, 2016).

Despite these concerns, the PJD in Morocco claimed electoral victory, winning 125 of the 395 Chamber of Representatives seats (Errazzouki, 2016). This is better than the previous Moroccan election, in which the Justice and Development Party won 107 seats. Unless there some way for the PJD to form a government without a main opposition, it will be interesting to see how the PJD will work with what will most likely be PAM, given that they came in second in the elections (PAM won 102 of the 395 seats in the 2016 elections) (Errazzouki, 2016).


The Justice and Development Party in Morocco continues to promote Islam in domestic society, advocates social economic reforms, speaks against corruption, all while working within elections and the structured confines of Morocco’s monarchy. Interestingly, this sort of calculated, gradual advancement of their positions seems to be working quite well for the party. It seems that because this seems to be going so well for the PJD, that they have no interest in changing their strategies anytime soon. In fact, PDJ leader Benkirane has said as much, saying that not only is he happy with their willingness to engage in the democratic political process (as early as 1992), but also that the party is content acting within the structure as is. He recognized that there existed multiple “levels” within the government, saying: ““one at the level of his majesty, and the other at my level as the head of the government. I am obligated to take his view on everything, but the king isn’t obliged to take my opinion since he is the head of the state, commander of the faithful, in charge of the military, and the justice system” (in Daadaoui, 2015).

Yet, even with the recent 2016 electoral victory, it would be hard to think that the PJD is going to make complete changes to their political approach, especially as the King continues to hold significant power in Morocco. As Daadaoui (2016) argues, “The absence of a majority winner and the continuing ideological fragmentation of the political system furthers the institutional imbalance of power between the palace and the government.” Furthermore, the PJD themselves continue to be careful so as not to go to far in criticizing the King, but at the same time looking like they are tied to the King, and unwilling to challenge the monarchy policies.

Daadaoui (2016) offered a great example of the continuing politics that the PJD has had to work from in order to ensure that balance continue, when he wrote that PJD leader and Moroccan Prime Minister “Benkirane has continued to walk a tight rope of appearing loyal to the regime, while leveling a subliminal critique of unelected shadow palace government for what he calls “tahakoum” or authoritarian political control. Even in the hours before the Ministry of the Interior announced official results, Benkirane was engaged in his usual doublespeak toward the regime when he suggested the results might be subject to state manipulation. But when it was clear that his party had won the plurality of the seats, the mercurial leader hailed the results as a “victory for democracy” and public approval of his government’s performance on major socioeconomic issues.”

Despite some critiques of how the Justice and Development Party (PJD) has managed Morocco’s economy (Errazzouki, 2016), as the 2016 elections in Morocco showed, many people in the country continue to be quite happy with the work of the PJD. Some are pleased with the attempts that the PJD has made to improve the economy (through budget reductions, along with dealing with subsidies) (Reuters, 2016). Moroccans are recognizing that even though there is difficulty in working within the monarchy–given the power that the king and the king’s elite backers have, there is a belief that “The PJD is restoring some popular confidence in the ability of political parties to provide real solutions to societal problems, especially among the marginalized and alienated segments of the population in Morocco” (Daadaoui, 2015). So while full liberalization and democratization seems unlikely, for the PJD, they continue to build their influence and power locally and nationally, one brick at a time.

Justice and Development Party (Morocco) References

Daadaoui, M. (2015). Morocco’s Islamist party has just made another major breakthrough. Washington Post The Monkey Cage. September 16, 2015. Available Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/09/16/moroccos-islamist-party-has-just-made-another-major-breakthrough/

Daadaoui, M. (2016). In Morocco’s election last week, the major Islamist party won again. Here’s what that means. The Monkey Cage. The Washington Post. October 15, 2016. Available Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/10/13/what-moroccos-election-results-tell-us-about-islamist-parties/

Errazzouki, S. (2016). Islamist PJD party wins new mandate in Moroccan elections. The Washington Post. October 8, 2016. Available Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/preliminary-results-show-incumbent-morocco-party-leading/2016/10/07/7676bfa0-8cf7-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html

Feuer, S. (2016). Morocco’s Legislative Elections Will Test the Reform Process. Washington Institute. October 6, 2016. Available Online: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/moroccos-legislative-elections-will-test-the-reform-process

Pruzan-Jørgensen, J.E. (2010). The Islamist Movement in Morocco: Main Actors and Regime Responses. DIIS Report, 2010: 05. Available Online: https://www.diis.dk/files/media/publications/import/extra/rp2010-05_islamist_movement_morocco_web_1.pdf

Hamzawy, A. (2008). Party for Justice and Development in Morocco: Participation and Its Discontents. July 2008. Available Online: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/cp93_hamzawy_pjd_final.pdf

The Economist (2016). Elections in Morocco. The Economist. October 15th, 2016. Available Online: http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21708688-challenge-provide-more-modernity-and-authenticity-elections-morocco

Leave a Reply