In Morocco, Islamist and Jew have embraced

By Andrew Rosemarine, February 2, 2012
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Serge Berdugo, the ebullient Secretary-General of Moroccan Jewry, is upbeat as the first-ever Islamist-headed government takes office in Morocco. A former minister of tourism - a crucial sector of the economy here - and a lawyer, he well understands all that is at stake.

"We have to adjust to the new constitutional and political realities," he tells me.

He has good reason to be optimistic. When, on election results day, Abdelilah Benkirane, the bearded and usually tie-less head of the winning Islamic Party of Justice and Development (PJD) and Mr Berdugo caught sight of each other, they embraced one another before the cameras.

They were both seeking to demonstrate that Islamists and Jews can get on well together, and that the West has nothing to fear from this Islamist prime minister, as he became shortly afterwards.

Indeed, the new constitution recognises the "Hebrew" contribution to Moroccan identity, and the PJD did not seek to veto it. Muslims are taking an interest in Judaism and Hebrew, and even helping Jews maintain their cultural heritage. "The [PJD] prime minister says he sees Jews as full citizens of the state," Mr Berdugo told me after the formation of the government. "We are confident for the future."

Has Morocco become fully Islamist? No. Less than a quarter of those old enough to register to vote, actually voted; of those who did vote, only 27 per cent voted for PJD; many of them were really voting for change.

Having not been in power previously, the PJD is untainted by complaints of corruption and bad governance, which damaged the image of the old governmental parties. Mr Benkirane pledged to combat these practices, as well as poverty and unemployment.

The popular and West-friendly King, Mohammed VI, remains all-powerful, and ensures a strong element of experience, and continuity in Foreign Policy, even though the new foreign minister is also a PJD man.

Martine Abergel, a Casablancan headmistress, comments: "The new premier is full of good resolutions and the people trust him. But it will take time and much money to implement reforms."

Last updated: 3:14pm, February 2 2012