Morocco’s Istiqlal Party in disarray over leader’s Mauritania statement

Chabat red carded by his party

More than 40 leading members of Morocco’s Istiqlal Party (PI) issued a joint statement Thursday against its Secretary General Hamid Chabat declaring him “unfit” to rule the country’s oldest party few days after he almost caused a diplomatic crisis between Rabat and Nouakchott when he called Mauritania “a Moroccan territory”.
“Hamid Chabat has shown that he is neither qualified nor able to continue his responsibility as head of the General Secretariat of the Istiqlal Party", said the statement signed by Istiqlalians, including rormer Istiqlal Party Secretary Generals M’hammed Boucetta and Abbas El Fassi.
The PI in now is disarray at a time it is negotiating with the ruling party to join a majority government almost three months after the legislative elections.
Chabat caused a diplomatic row last week when he called Mauritania “a Moroccan territory”, saying that “Morocco’s borders extend from Ceuta in the north to the Senegal river in the south.”
Morocco quickly reacted by sending its Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane to Mauritania on Wednesday to contain the fallout from Chabat’s statements a day after Morocco's King Mohammed VI had a phone conversation with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz during which they "discussed fraternal bilateral relations and ways to strengthen them to develop them."
Benkirane said that Chabat’s statements were irresponsible and not in line with the Moroccan diplomatic principles.
“These statements reflect only his personal opinion and neither the King’s opinion nor Morocco’s government and people,” he added.
“Mr. Chabat’s latest "irresponsible” statements about Mauritania have a personal character for which he assumes sole responsibility, do not reflect the party at all and do not relate to its orientations and principles," IP signatories said in the statement.
“Morocco and Mauritania have always been bound by strong fraternal relations, cordiality, friendship and respect rooted in the history of the Moroccan and Mauritanian people," they stressed, adding that Chabat’s statements "are out of context and in contradiction with the will to meet the legitimate challenges of the two brotherly peoples.”
Chabat’s days at the helm of the PI may be numbered after the signatories slammed Chabat’s actions since becoming the party’s leader, which “were unfortunately marked by versatility in political positions, weakening organizational structures and mismanagement of elections.”
The PI was badly punished in the parliamentary elections last October, coming third well behind the ruling Islamist party of Justice and Development and the party of Authenticity and Modernity.
In July 2013, Chabat caused a political crisis that almost led to early parliamentary elections after five ministers of his party resigned from PJD-led government, citing disagreements with the ruling Islamist party. His decision cost him dear in September 2015 municipal and regional elections as he suffered a stinging defeat. Few days later, he vowed to resign from his party’s leadership, a promise he still has not fulfilled.
The signatories also stressed that Chabat’s statements “have been exploited by the opponents of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom and the enemies of the brotherly Mauritanian and Moroccan people to try to pass their diabolical plans and undermine the noble objectives and orientations of wise direction in both countries.”