Monarchy Means Stability

May 29, 1994|By BEN BARBER

CASABLANCA, MOROCCO — Casablanca, Morocco. -- With Islamic fundamentalists across the border in Algeria gunning down journalists, foreigners and government officials, Moroccans are grateful for their peace and stability, even if it comes at the cost of living under an absolute monarch.

Indeed, King Hassan II has just built the world's largest mosque here and constantly invokes his spiritual role as defender of the ,, Islamic faith, perhaps hoping to undercut the appeal of anti-Western Islamic teachings spreading rapidly across Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria.

Nevertheless, even in this pro-Western country of 26 million just 9 miles across the straits of Gibraltar from Europe, Islamic fundamentalists have already seized control of 10 out of 12 university campus student organizations.

Islamic candidates also did well in several local elections last month, and the mosques have become hotbeds of political activity, even though it is largely focused on Palestine and, for now, avoids local politics.

"We may dress in jeans and T-shirts and we may speak French and Spanish," said a young tailor in the sultry maze of the Tangier medina, or Arab quarter. "But inside we are all for the Islamic movement. We want our women to dress in the Islamic way. And we want an Islamic state."

The man and his friends all pointed to a poster of a bearded Islamic candidate for local government they said had won the election but been barred from taking office through fraud.

There is a Robin-Hood-like admiration for the Islamists who are poor and live simply -- in contrast to the royal family, with its many palaces, and the high-flying elite who dominate the nation's economy.

According to a teacher of literature, "The colonial period has left a legacy, and we need to get rid of it. All my students -- everyone wants the Islamic way."

"The West does not understand that Islam is not like Christianity," said Abdel-lah Baha, secretary general of Arraya, a leading Islamic fundamentalist organization. "Christ says to give God what is his. But according to Islam, everything is God's."

In an interview, Mr. Beha said that his movement supports the Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria and hopes to institute in Morocco the Islamic law or Sharia. "I would apply stoning to death as penalty for adultery," he said.

He also said that "we believe you in the West are not real Christians and not real Jews -- you do not have the authentic biblical texts, and only the Koran is authentic." According to Younes Mjahed, a Moroccan journalist who spent 10 years in prison for belonging to a leftist organization that called for a republic to replace the absolute monarchy, "there is complicity with the state to let Islamic fundamentalism grow.

"The government wants to use the fundamentalists against the democratic movement." He says that every few months Islamic supporters attack other student groups while police refuse to interfere or prosecute.

Ironically it was France, which ruled Morocco as a protectorate until 1956, that paved the way for democratic reforms that led to the Islamic revival in Algeria and Morocco. French President Francois Mitterrand said in 1989 that there is no development without democracy, leading a dozen ex-French colonies in Africa to increase freedom of the press and allow multiparty politics.

Algeria then held elections. But when the Islamic fundamentalists won, the ruling party stopped the election process, setting off violence that has killed more than 5,000 people. Girls have been killed for failing to cover their heads. Now France and Morocco both fear an Islamic takeover there could spur a sudden refugee exodus of a million middle-class Algerians.

King Hassan also responded here to the French push for democracy in the past two years with greater press and political freedom.

"In the past two years," said a Moroccan farmer having a morning coffee in a downtown Casablanca coffee shop, "these newspapers have gotten a lot better." He pointed to three newspapers he had been reading: Liberation, Al Bayane and L'Opinion -- all linked to opposition parties. The government, however, is run by technocrats appointed by the king.

"A few years ago, when a policeman wanted, he could push us around and we were like mice," said the farmer. "Now, it's no longer true. If we have two witnesses that a policeman has hit someone, the cop can go to jail.

"And we used to be afraid to complain. The bureaucrats were the boss. Now, when an agricultural extension adviser failed to show up for an appointment, I wrote to his chief and within 24 hours I was called to a meeting at which the adviser was reprimanded."

But the new freedom and accountability fall within strict limits.

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