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Jewish Candidate Eyes Morocco Parliament

58-year-old Maguy Kakon is a Jewish woman running in the elections in Morocco. Will there be any change in the country?
By Elad Benari, Canada
First Publish: 11/25/2011, 10:23 PM

As Moroccans hit the ballot boxes in a parliamentary election on Friday, the Jewish people had representation as well.

One of the parties in the country has chosen, for the second time, a Jewish woman to head its national women’s list for the parliamentary elections.

58-year-old Maguy Kakon, a real-estate consultant, was born in Casablanca to Moroccan Jewish parents. Also known as a writer who describes the lives of the Jews in Morocco, she previously ran in the 2007 elections and managed to generate 30,000 votes.

Speaking to the Al Jazeera television network on Friday, Kakon said that “first of all I am a Moroccan citizen. Yes I am a Jew and very well-known as a Jewish woman, but I have never had problems because of my religion. I was involved in many associations, including Islamic associations, and my religion was never a source of any kinds of problems.”

She admitted that “it is not easy for me to run for elections. Not because I am Jewish but because I am a woman. Moroccan women, however, are present in all walks of life and I think I should give it a try.”

Kakon said she decided to run for the election because of the excellent relations she enjoys with fellow Moroccans and her desire to serve them in parliament.

She is not the first Jewish Moroccan to enter politics, however. Al Jazeera noted that in 1956 when Morocco attained independence, there were three Jews in parliament and one minister, Leon Benzeknin, who served as Minister of Postal Services and Health.

In the 1980s, Serge Birdigho served as the tourism minister. Currently another Jewish Moroccan, Andre Azoulay, is a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI.

Before Israel was founded in 1948, Al Jazeera noted, there were about 300,000 Jews in Morocco. By 1971, the Jewish population was down to 35,000 and at present fewer than 7,000 Jews are believed to remain, mostly divided between Rabat and Casablanca.

Morocco, like other countries in the region, was swept with pro-democracy protests at the beginning of the Arab Spring, but unlike in EgyptTunisiaLibya and Syria, the protests lost momentum.

King Mohammed VI, who remains popular in Morocco, announced in March that his country will revise its constitution for the first time in 15 years.

He appointed a commission to make recommendations for constitutional revisions and said that any plan would be put to a referendum by Moroccan voters and will ensure the prime minister is selected by the majority party in the parliament.

A report on Israel’s Channel 10 News on Friday noted that while signs throughout Morocco called on citizens to “fulfill their civic duty”, the public was unimpressed.

"The parties have been presenting the same candidates in the last 30 years," Hassan Rafiq, a vegetable seller in the capital Rabat, was quoted as saying. “They could have at least changed some of their candidates," he added, noting that he would not be voting.

Some of the country’s political parties were also not optimistic on election day, with Abdullah Baha, the deputy secretary general of the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, being quoted by Channel 10 as saying, “Moroccans feel that apart from the constitutional reform, nothing has changed. In other words, the elections in 2011 will probably be a copy of the election in 2007 and therefore there will be lower voter turnout."

Other political parties, however, expressed greater confidence that the public would come to the polls in large numbers.

“I’m sure voter turnout will be high,” Finance Minister Salaheddine Mezouar was quoted by Channel 10 as having said. “During the campaign we saw how much the public is interested in the elections, significantly more than it was in 2007.”

Some 31 political parties are fielding 5,392 candidates to compete for 395 seats in parliament, according to a report in The Associated Press, but a complex proportional system of representation means no party is likely to take more than 20 percent of the seats.

Under the new constitution, the king asks the party with the most seats to form the government. While this could be the Islamist Justice and Development party, there is uncertainty over whether it can truly change anything in the face of the palace's power.

Mezouar's Rally of Independents party, which leads an alliance of seven other pro-palace parties, is the Islamist party’s biggest rival for the top spot, AP noted.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)