Cracking down on radicalism in Morocco


In a report on Morocco in The New York Times under the headline "Islamic Radicalism is Casting a Shadow on Morocco’s Liberal Beacon," authors Steven Erlanger and Souad Mekhennet begin:

Morocco has long been viewed as a rare liberalizing, modernizing Islamic state, open to the West and a potential bridge to a calmer Middle East that can live in peace with Israel. But under pressure from Islamic radicalism, King Mohammed VI has slowed the pace of change.

Power remains concentrated in the monarchy; democracy seems more demonstrative than real. While insisting that the king is committed to deeper reforms, senior officials speak instead of keeping a proper balance between freedom and social cohesion. Many discuss the threat of extremism in neighboring Algeria. Since a major bombing of downtown hotels and shopping areas by Islamic radicals in 2003, and a thwarted attempt at another bombing campaign in 2007, there has been a major and continuing crackdown on those suspected of being extremists here.

The story casts the government’s crackdown on Islamic radicalism as a setback to liberalism, noting the arrest of six Islamist politicans on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot, the detention of nearly 1,000 prisoners thought to be Islamic radicals and other anti-radicalism measures the king has taken.

But in the Arab world, where Islamic radicals too often have the upper hand and where the populations of most countries are far more radical than their leadership, cracking down on extremism may help open the door to the positive change Erlanger and Mekhennet describe in their lede, particularly a "calmer Middle East that can live in peace with Israel."

Government crackdowns on extremists in places like Egypt and Jordan have helped keep the peace both in those countries and vis-a-vis Israel. Those are countries where the population remains staunchly opposed to peace agreements with Israel.

By contrast, the more democratic Arab country of Lebanon has been torn asunder by radicals — namely, the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, which dominates southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut and is expected to be a government partner — who have stoked internal tensions, perpetrated sectarian violence and sparked a destructive war with Israel in 2006.

This is not to say that Arab countries should not institute democratic reforms, that the West should not push them in that direction or that Moroccan authorities should exercise extrajudicial authority. And this is certainly not to say that countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Morocco and pretty much every other autocracy in the Middle East should stifle dissent or imprison dissidents or activists.

But cracking down on extremism and legislating against it (like outlawing Nazism in Germany) is key to bringing more stability and eventual openness to these countries, not less.

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