Morocco’s King Mohammed has named a top jurist to run the powerful interior ministry in a reshuffle that coincides with plans to shift some government powers to the North African country’s regions.
Taib Cherkaoui, who has served as president of Morocco’s Supreme Court, succeeds technocrat Chakib Benmoussa atop the interior ministry, which oversees elections, Western Sahara and anti-terrorism policy and wields huge influence over regional and local affairs.
King Mohammed has called for more government to be devolved to the regions, including the disputed Western Sahara where Rabat is proposing limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.
Western Sahara independence movement Polisario wants a referendum on self-determination with full independence from Morocco as one option.
The 46-year-old king, who wields supreme power as head of state and the armed forces and religious leader, announced a new consultative body last Sunday to study a shift towards more regional government and help modernise state institutions.
“The regionalisation policy could be enacted soon and it could pass more smoothly with an interior minister who is competent in judicial matters and the rule of law,” said Moroccan political analyst Mohamed Darif. “It is not a criticism of Benmoussa, who has accomplished his mission.”
Benmoussa, a security expert, oversaw a shift away from mass arrests of suspected Islamic militants in the wake of 2003 suicide bombings towards a policy of tight surveillance of suspected radical cells.
Cherkaoui, born in 1949, was a state prosecutor before he took over as president of the country’s top court.
He was named in a broader reshuffle that also saw left-wing politician Abdelwahed Radi replaced as justice minister.
Radi has tried to reform Morocco’s creaking judiciary but faced vehement internal opposition and criticism for a stop-start approach.
He was replaced by Mohamed Naciri, a former barrister seen as close to the royal palace. Yassir Znagui becomes tourism minister, replacing Mohamed Boussaid.