Cablegate: Al Adl Wa Ihsan: Morocco's Islamist Dissidents

Published: Thu 18 Dec 2008 05:05 PM
DE RUEHRB #1169/01 3531726
O 181726Z DEC 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 RABAT 001169
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/18/2023
B. 07 RABAT 1838
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Classified By: Ambassador Thomas T. Riley for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: The banned Islamist religio-political
organization Al Adl wal-Ihsan (Adl) (more commonly known as
the Justice and Charity or Justice and Good Works
Organization) may be moving toward political participation,
perhaps as a legal political party. Adl spokesman Fatallah
Arsalane highlighted Adl's political project to PolCouns
December 11. Noting stability is Adl's key goal, he
denounced terrorism and violence, while protesting ongoing
repression. Democratic politics was meaningless, he said,
given the powerlessness of Parliament and royal absolutism,
but he did not challenge the legitimacy of the monarchy.
Arsalane echoed Adl's charismatic Sufi leader Abdelsallam
Yassine's public disavowal last summer of Adl's historic call
for a Caliphate, reinforced by the Sheikh's suspension of
outreach, reported December 15. In their often symbolic
dialogue, the authorities transmitted some positive signals
of their own, while still holding some Adl members in jail.
Were Adl to accept the monarchy and become legal, it could
enhance stability but it could also increase Islamic
influence on Moroccan politics. Arsalane closed by extending
a hand to the new U.S. administration, urging changes in
policies toward the region. End summary.
2. (C) Al Adl wal-Ihsan (Adl) spokesman and executive
committee (Majlis al Shura) member Fatallah Arsalane and
Hassab Bennajeh, the director of Adl's public relations
office, met with PolCouns and Casablanca PolOff (notetaker)
at Arsalane's home in Rabat on December 11. Arsalane was
welcoming and spoke openly and at length about Adl's
political aspirations and its difficult relationship with the
Adl: "Stability" and Good Works
3. (C) Arsalane began discussing the organization by
stressing, "Our first goal, above all others, is the
stability of Morocco." Both left and right have failed,
leaving only Islam as a model. Within Islam there are
moderates and extremists and, "we have chosen moderation."
He said Adl wanted to work with other groups and political
parties to help pull Morocco out of the political, social and
economic crises it now faces.
4. (C) Adl is best known for its grassroots organizational
abilities and for its social welfare programs among the poor
urban Moroccans. Arsalane admitted that Adl's social
programs were a source of its popularity, which was based
more on Adl's message and ideas. The government ban on Adl's
offering these services has only increased Adl's popularity.
(Note: We have heard many of these efforts continue under the
guise of Adl-related independent NGOs. Adl also has focused
on youth; it gained control of the student unions of most
Moroccan universities and the national organization of
students. Its activists on campus continue to harass more
secular students.)
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Repression and Dialogue: An evolving Approach
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5. (C) Arsalane reported that GOM repression of Adl is
widespread and includes bans on all public activities as well
as all publications. In recent years police have raided
private meetings in homes, but many of activities are
tolerated. His own house was kept under surveillance and he
was confident that his phones were tapped, but was
unconcerned, noting, "We have nothing to hide." (Note: As we
departed, an apparent surveillance team of three made a
choreographed exit of their vehicle, parked just behind our
embassy car, making sure we noticed. End note.)
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6. (C) Arsalane acknowledged that Adl had over the years
maintained informal communication with the Moroccan regime.
This was only rarely direct, and more often one-way and
symbolic. He contended that the "undemocratic regime" was
unwilling to engage in a more open and formal dialogue,
maintained political red lines and imposed conditions on
allowing Adl greater scope for activity. "In Morocco we have
the motto: 'God, Nation, King' but in fact the only thing
that matters here is the King."
7. (C) When asked about the historic support of Adl for a
Caliphate or Islamic state, Arsalane said this was not Adl's
position, claiming legitimacy and authority comes from the
people and the Ulema. He thus substantiated the major but
largely unremarked turnaround on this basic question by
Sheikh Yassine during an interview this summer with the
Arabic satellite TV channel Hiwar that opened the door to
Adl's potential acceptance of the monarchy -- albeit not in
its current state.
Condemning the Use of Violence
8. (C) Arsalane insisted that Adl was a political
organization, and opposition to violence was a key principle.
Adl also demanded that its members reject violence and
expelled those who did not. He acknowledged that one
participant in a failed bombing of a tour bus in Meknes in
2007 had once been a member, but claimed that the bomber had
been out of Adl for a long time before the incident.
Unprompted, Arsalane raised the detention and subsequent
release, at the end of November, of 11 Moroccan immigrants in
Italy, including members of Adl. Arsalane strongly rejected
that these members were involved in terrorism and charged the
Italian police were well aware of their activities. He
contended that the arrests took place at the instigation of
the Moroccan government, which unable to prove any
wrongdoing, falsely continued to try to paint Adl members as
terrorists. Arsalane contrasted Adl to Salafist groups truly
bent on terrorist violence. "We reject these extremists ...
they are against us and call us 'kufar' (non-believers)." He
insisted that Adl regularly condemned terrorist attacks.
9. (C) PolCouns urged that Adl be more vocal in its
condemnation of terrorist attacks, such as the 2007 suicide
attacks against the U.S. Consulate General and other sites in
Casablanca, and other terrorist attacks around the world.
Arsalane responded that Adl in fact had denounced the 2003
Casablanca attacks, all terrorist attacks in Morocco and many
Intra-party dialogue on its Political Role
10. (C) Arsalane noted that there is a constant dialogue
within Adl about the extent to which the movement should
participate in elections or the political process. He
recounted that in 1981 Adl had asked to become a political
party, but the GOM refused. In the lead up to the 2007
parliamentary elections, Adl decided not to participate
because it believed that the Parliament does not have any
real power to effect change. "It does not matter which party
is in power, even the Party of Justice and Development
(PJD)." If the GOM were now to allow Adl to become a
political party, Arsalane averred they would accept.
Relations with the PJD
11. (C) Arsalane characterized Adl's relationship with PJD
as respectful but denied that there is any active political
cooperation except on Arab/international issues, such as
Palestine and Iraq, as in their recent joint demonstrations
in Tangier against a visit by senior Israeli officials.
(Comment: It is unclear just how much the undeclared Adl
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boycott of the 2007 parliamentary elections contributed to
the abysmally low turnout. If Adl members had voted for the
PJD, the PJD might have fulfilled the many predictions that
it would emerge as the largest party, and would have been in
a position to form the government. So in the convoluted
logic of Moroccan politics, this boycott served the regime's
purpose. End comment.)
Succession of Sheikh Yassine
12. (C) We asked about what would happen after the death of
Adl's charismatic leader, "Sheikh" Ahmed Yassine, reportedly
80 and poor health. Arsalane said that Adl has internal
rules governing succession, which would be decided by an
election of its executive committee (Majlis Ash-Shura).
A Message to the New American Government
13. (C) Like virtually all our Moroccan interlocutors,
Arsalane expressed interest in the incoming U.S.
administration and asked that we convey a message to it.
First, he said, the USG should stop supporting dictatorial
regimes in the region and encourage them to be more
democratic. The USG, in his view, has spoken much about
principles of freedom and democracy but has observed them
only when there was no conflict with U.S. regional interests.
Second, he urged that the incoming administration devote its
energy from outset to helping solve the Palestinian issue
which would help solve many of the other problems in the
region. Finally, he noted that prior to 9/11 many in the
Islamic world aspired to visit the United States. Since
then, however, many across the region, particularly moderate
Islamists, are afraid to visit, because they believe that USG
will falsely accuse and imprison them at behest of their
repressive home governments. He also hoped some intervention
could be made on behalf of party members he claimed were
falsely convicted of homicide in Morocco and have gone a long
way towards serving their 20-year sentences.
The all-Embracing Makhzen opens a door
14. (C) For its part, the authorities have responded with
some positive signals to Adl,s overtures. While the
newspaper remains banned, there appears to be less tampering
with the well-constructed Adl website ( in
French and Arabic). Arrests continue but appear to be
diminishing in both frequency and scope. The prosecution of
Nadia Yassine, the Sheikh,s daughter, for verbal assault on
the monarchy continues to be delayed. (Note: Arsalane
described this as equivalent to judicial supervision.) In
another step, earlier in the week Minister of Endowments and
Islamic Affairs Ahmed Toufiq paid a condolence call on the
family of a recently deceased Adl Board member and close
companion of Yassine, whom Toufiq knew long ago in a common
Sufi brotherhood, a visit that likely required palace assent.
15. (U) On December 15, media reported that Sheikh Yassine
decreed that the organization would suspend all public
activity, assemblies, meetings, etc., apparently to avoid any
confrontation with the authorities. (Note: This is in
context of, and may be an attempt to insulate Adl from, a
current GOM crackdown against Islamic extremists.)
16. (C) Arsalane represents an apparently growing tendency
within Adl that is eager to engage more actively in the
political life of the country. In contrast to past
expressions of religio-political identity, he clearly
acknowledged its principally political nature and
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aspirations, pointedly making little or no reference to it
being a religious body. It is unclear to what extent Sheikh
Yassine's own epiphany is behind this evolution of the
movement, or whether he is reflecting the wishes of the
politicized next generation, be it Arsalane and his
politicized cohort or the sheikh's daughter Nadia Yassine --
who appear to be rivals. There has been widespread
speculation that after the sheikh's death there will be a
split in the organization. It now seems clear that either
way the politicos will dominate, with the religious element
possibly becoming a parallel organization, as is the case
with the PJD and its religious counterpart the Movement for
Unity and Reform (MUR).
17. (C) Although Arsalane was adamant that the GOM/Palace
has not engaged in a formal dialogue with Adl, it is clear
that an understanding is developing between them. The GOM
has tolerated the activities of Adl so long as it did not
press the question of the king's legitimacy or take steps to
mobilize its followers against regime. Some analysts believe
that Adl has played a critical role as a release valve for
social and political tensions through a non-violent
organization. Certainly, Adl exploited these frustrations to
swell its ranks. The GOM periodically alleges Adl
involvement in violent or terrorist activities, as it
apparently did in Italy, but has presented no evidence for
this. All indications appear to substantiate Adl's
commitment to avoid violence.
18. (C) Adl's potential buy-in to the system could have an
important effect on enhancing stability in Morocco, just at a
time when it is under pressure due to the global economic
downturn. It would also, however, increase Islamic influence
on politics, adding to the leverage of the PJD, but even
together, Islamists would almost certainly remain a minority.
Like most politics here, this potential "conversion" to
legitimacy will remain for some time obscure, and play out
only over time. End comment.
19. (C) Note A: The last time mission has had contact with
Arsalane was before 9/11/2001, and the government protested.
We have heard no such protest so far. We have avoided
contact with Nadia Yassine since her indictment, and have
been in touch only at a lower level.
20. (SBU) Note B: Al Adl wal-Ihsan has frequently been
translated as the Justice and Charity Organization, with the
familiar acronym JCO. In fact, the organization itself
prefers the translation Justice and Spirituality. While
perhaps the best translation of the Islamic concept of Ihsan
would be "good works," the term encompasses that notion as
well as charity and the performance of spiritual acts.
Following local press usage, we plan to continue to use Adl
(Justice). End Notes.
21. (U) This cable was drafted by Casablanca PolOff and has
been cleared with the Consulate General.
22. (U) Tripoli minimize considered.
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