Rabat - Morocco's main Islamist opposition group said the
country is run by a shadow government and warned dire social and economic
conditions could cause an "explosion" among disaffected youths.
Fathallah Arsalane, spoksperson for Al-Adl Wal-Ihsan (AWI) -
or Charity and Justice - told AFP in an interview that his movement aspires to
play a political role in Morocco where the group is banned but tolerated.
"We believe in democracy and we believe that we could
become a political party but the government does not allow it," said
The Sufi movement, which advocates the establishment of an
Islamic state through non-violent means, has been excluded from Moroccan
politics for decades for openly criticising the king's power and wealth.
Arsalane insisted his movement was not calling for regime
change, but said the coalition government, whose appointment following the
introduction of a new constitution and elections in 2011 brought real hope of
change, is toothless.
"There is a shadow government that controls everything,
and the members of the current government are nothing more than a front,"
He also slammed the authorities for failing to improve
living conditions in the North African country which is grappling with
widespread poverty and high youth unemployment.
"The economic and social situation in Morocco is
getting worse by the day," said Arsalane.
Social and economic problems
"Society has changed, there are more graduates, people
who are better educated but who have nothing to lose, because they have no
work, no house and no future.
"If the youth explode, no one will be able to stop
them, not the political parties, nor the state, nor our movement. And that is
what we fear," he said.
The moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development that
heads the government has been struggling to contain the social and economic
problems in Morocco which, being heavily dependent on European trade and
tourism, faces a bleak outlook.
AWI is considered Morocco's most powerful opposition force
and has pushed for reform but towards the end of 2011 it decided to withdraw
from mass protests fearing demonstrations could lead to violence, according to
The death in December of its charismatic 84-year-old founder
and spiritual leader Abdessalam Yassine raised speculation about whether the
movement would soften its line on the monarchy and join the political fold.
Arsalane, who was appointed deputy secretary general in
January, insisted democracy must guarantee freedom of expression, including to
criticise the king, and said that seeking to redistribute the country's wealth
remained a key policy.
"Our motto is justice in its broadest sense, [including]
justice through the distribution of wealth, since there is a group in Morocco
which owns the majority of assets," which the poorest section of society
does not benefit from at all, he said.
The Islamist movement has much support among poor
neighbourhoods, where it operates extensive outreach programmes, although the
number of its followers remains hard to gauge because they are unregistered.
Arsalane indicated the group's membership was much larger
than the tens of thousands who filled the streets of central Rabat for
"If the state had not banned certain people from
attending the sheikh's funeral, you could have got an approximate idea about
our following," he said.
Asked about Western fears of a rising Islamist tide across
the region since the Arab Spring, and the perceived failures of Islamist
parties voted to power in Egypt and Tunisia, Arsalane argued they had not been
given a fair chance.
He also accused outside powers, notably Qatar, of exerting a
destabilising influence by funding extremists.
"I don't see an Islamic experience in [Egypt and
Tunisia]. No one has given them the chance to work. And there are attempts to
thwart their efforts."
Islamist militants have made headlines in the Maghreb region
in the past year, with the January hostage crisis in Algeria, in which dozens
of foreigners were killed, the occupation of northern Mali and a wave of
attacks in Tunisia.
"We categorically reject these extremist groups,"
he said, adding that AWI was criticised by jihadists over its support for