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Counter Violence by Widening Political Spectrum
Moroccan authorities could counter the brand of Islamic radicalism blamed for the Casablanca suicide bombings by widening the political spectrum to include a currently banned opposition Islamist group, analysts said.

The Muslim fundamentalist association Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity) is allowed to operate only as a charity but through rallies and activism has been the main source of popular opposition to Morocco's monarchical government for 30 years.

It enjoys wide support among students and in low-income neighborhoods, such as Casablanca's shanty town of Sidi Moumen, home to most of the 12 suicide bombers who struck in the city last week and killed at least 29 people as well as themselves.

Al Adl Wal Ihsane's spokesman, Fathallah Arsalane, said the Casablanca attacks confirmed its long-held fears.

"We've always said that either we allow more freedoms and lift the ban on Islamist groups, the moderate ones, or violent radicals will get through the window," he said.

Nadia Yassine, daughter of the group's spiritual leader Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine, said her organization wanted "an opportunity to preach a peaceful and tolerant Islam" distinct from that of smaller violent groups.

The government said most of the bombers, whose targets included a Spanish club, Kuwaiti hotel and Jewish community centre and restaurant, belonged to a little-known Salafist group, Assirat al Moustaquim (The Righteous Path).

Both Islamists and Salafists find a breeding ground for their ideas in Morocco's poor urban areas, where unemployed young people often drift into lives of crime, illegal immigration or indoctrination by radicals in illegal mosques.

Political analyst Mohamed Darif said by opening up to Islamists, the authorities could "win back the hearts and minds of those lured by Salafists."

"We now face a new culture of violence... a culture that has always been rejected by Islamists, including Al Adl Wal Ihsane," he said. "Unlike Salafists, they (Al Adl) have no links with foreign parties and have always rejected violence."

Noureddine Benmalek, an expert on Islamist movements, cautioned that a rapprochement between Al Adl Wal Ihsane and the Royal Palace might be difficult. The group is not against the monarchy itself but opposes King Mohammed's status as Commander of the Faithful.

"They are against the kissing of the king's hand and other aspects of royal protocol. But they represent the opposite to Salafist currents, and they are much more popular," said Benmalek, a journalist at Assahifa weekly.

Only one Islamist political grouping is allowed to operate legally, the moderate Justice and Development Party (PJD).

The PJD, whose leader Abdelkarim El Khatib is said to be close to the Royal Palace, became the main opposition party in parliament in last September's legislative elections.

Al Adl Wal Ihsane, not allowed to put up candidates, urged its supporters not to vote at all.

Al Adl and the PJD do not share the same spiritual views and the latter is mainly popular among the educated middle class rather than Morocco's poor, Benmalek said.

"Authorities can probably afford to keep Al Adl out of the political game in the medium term but not in the long term. If Al Adl takes part in parliamentary elections, they will get no fewer seats than the PJD," he said.

(China Daily May 24, 2003)

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