Moroccan Islamist opposition urges protest at subsidy cuts

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 09, 2013 10:39 AM

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

Rabat (Reuters) - Morocco's main Islamist opposition movement urged leftist groups on Monday to join a protest front against subsidy cuts as a shaky government prepares to raise energy prices as part of IMF-recommended budget reforms.

The government is planning to reduce fuel subsidies and bring energy prices closer to international market levels by reviewing them twice a month, according to country's official bulletin released last week.

Al-Adl Wal Ihsane movement (Justice and Spirituality), which does not recognize the religious status of King Mohammed, called the decision a dangerous step with unforeseeable consequences.

"We call on all the honest and committed activists to form a broad front to support and oversee social protests, which must avoid political rivalries that strengthen the regime," it said in a statement on its website.

While the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) which leads the government supports the monarchy, Justice and Spirituality rejects the king's status as Commander of the Faithful.

It is unclear whether leftist groups will respond to the call of the Islamist movement, which has been the only force capable of mobilizing tens of thousands of protesters against the government since the fall of the communism in the 1990s.

It formed the backbone of the February 20 movement in 2011, the Moroccan version of the Arab Spring protests, which led to the appointment of PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister after early elections and constitutional changes.

Benkirane has been struggling to form a new coalition since July after five ministers from the nationalist Istiqlal party, his former coalition partner, resigned accusing the PJD of hurting the poor by reducing subsidies.

A new government is expected to be named in the coming days after tough talks with the National Rally of Independents, a liberal party seen as close to the king, which has the third largest parliamentary group after the PJD and Istiqlal.

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Analysts believe the royal palace, ill at ease sharing power with an Islamist group, may have backed Istiqlal's defection and encouraged the RNI to squeeze Benkirane in order to weaken the PJD-led government.

Slaheddine Mezouar, the head of the RNI who is aiming for the finance ministry according to local media, and Benkirane denied there had been any interference in their negotiations.

The International Monetary Fund has urged the government to cut subsidies that cost 53.36 billion dirhams ($6.3 billion) in public money in 2012 or 6.4 pct of Morocco's economic output. The government aims to keep spending in 2013 within the 42 billion dirhams set in the national budget. ($1 = 8.4727 Moroccan dirhams)

(Reporting By Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Paul Taylor)