Morocco's king names head of Islamist party new PM

The Justice and Development Party won the most votes Friday in a national election prompted by the pro-democracy demonstrations that swept this North African kingdom of 32 million earlier this year as part of the regionwide Arab Spring.

King Mohammed VI received Abdelilah Benkirane, the secretary general of the Justice and Development Party, in the mountain town of Midelt today and named him head of government with the task of forming a governing coalition.

It would have been unthinkable just a year ago for a member of the opposition PJD to lead the government, but the Arab Spring movement forced the king to reform Morocco's constitution and hold early elections.

Under the amended constitution, the prime minister is now a more powerful "head of government" and he must come from the party that won the most votes in the election. The PJD took 107 seats out of the 395 in Parliament, almost twice as many as the second-place finisher.

With its outsider status, the PJD is expected to test the limits of the newly empowered prime minister's position.

The party is considered quite "moderate" on the spectrum of Islamist groups and it has not focused on issues like the women's headscarves or the sale of alcohol in a country that relies heavily on tourism from Europe.

The party has instead talked about fighting the rampant corruption, reforming the education system so it readies people for the job market, and combating the widespread unemployment.

With the fall or weakening of Western-backed secular dictatorships, people across North Africa have been turning to Islamist parties that have been in the opposition as an alternative.

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