Moroccan king names Islamist-led cabinet


King Mohammed awarded cabinet posts to moderate Islamists for the first time on Tuesday, giving the foreign, justice and social affairs ministries to the party that came first in a November election, the official MAP news agency said.

Abdelilah Benkirane, leader of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), was earlier designated by the king as prime minister to head a power-sharing cabinet after his party won 27 percent of parliamentary seats in the election.

The king brought forward the election by nearly a year in an effort to pre-empt a popular revolt similar to ones that have rocked the Arab world, toppling four longtime ruling autocrats, Reuters reports.

King Mohammed hopes fresh faces at the top of government, and at least the appearance of change, will deflate popular pressure for a more revolutionary transformation inspired by the Arab uprisings.

Benkirane has forged an alliance with two conservative parties close to the monarchy — Istiqlal (Independence), which came second, and the Popular Movement — as well as the smaller left-wing Progress and Socialism Party.

Istiqlal member Nizar Baraka was named Finance and Economy Minister, replacing Salaheddine Mezouar whose party, the National Rally of Independents, opted to go into opposition.

PJD member Mohamed Najib Boulif, who has initially been strongly touted for Baraka’s role, was named minister in charge of general affairs and governance, putting him in charge of thorny issues such as reforming the burdensome subsidies system.

Mustafa Ramid, a prominent lawyer and human right activist from PJD who has often been critical of the security services’ record, was named Minister of Justice and Public Freedoms.

Bassima Hakkaoui of the PJD took over the social and women’s affairs ministry as the only woman in the 31-member cabinet.

Saad-Eddine El-Othmani, another PJD member, was appointed foreign minister while Popular Movement leader Mohand Laenser was appointed interior minister.

A reform programme presented by the palace aims to reduce the king’s sweeping powers in favour of elected officials in response to protests pressing mainly for a British or Spanish-style constitutional monarchy, an independent judiciary and improved curbs on corruption.

The reforms won overwhelming support in a July 1 referendum but protests have continued. The new charter subjects any government appointment to the king’s approval.

The new charter was widely expected to limit interference by the royal court in appointments of personnel in justice, religious affairs, interior, defence, foreign affairs and the general secretariat, a legal adviser to the government.

Non-party figures close to the king were named in charge of defence, the general secretariat, religious affairs and the agriculture and fisheries ministry.