Moroccan Prime Minister Abderramán Yusufi (right), together with José María Aznar in May 2000..

The historic Moroccan socialist leader Abderramán Yusufi died early Friday morning at a clinic in Casablanca at the age of 96. The word “historical” takes on its full meaning before the man who served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002 and served as a bridge between the reigns of Hassan II and Mohamed VI.

Yusufi was born on March 8 in the colonial Tangier of 1924, the son of a polygamous father, a bank employee. He militated for the country’s independence while studying law in Rabat, he opposed Hassan II’s authoritarian reign (1961-1999) and paid for it with two years in prison and fifteen years of exile. At the age of 74, Yusufi accepted Hassan II’s outstretched hand in 1998 to preside over the so-called “Government of alternation”, where the two great Moroccan parties coexisted, the Istiqlal and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), of which he was founder Yusufi.

Yusufi was the great hope of the Moroccan left, after the disappearance in 1965 of his friend and socialist partner Mehdi Ben Barka, kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Paris without his body having yet appeared. Yusufi had described the Moroccan monarchy since his exile in France as “an absolute power, aggravated by the pseudo-function of God’s representative on earth [el rey de Marruecos es Comendador de los creyentes, la autoridad religiosa de mayor rango], which lacks religious or legal legitimacy ”.

Hassan II, criticized abroad for his iron hand and for the poverty in which the country lived immersed, it was good to sit in the Government to the most famous face of the opponents. Yusufi, for his part, hoped to organize the country’s first truly free and democratic elections.

For some Moroccans, with that agreement between Hassan II and Yusufi, the monarch was giving the bear a hug to a left that would from then on be part of the gear of power. Today, the USFP is one of the five parties that make up the government coalition that presides over the Islamist Justice and Development Party.

Hassan II passed away in 1999 and the current king ascended the throne. The monarch kept Yusufi in office and gradually got rid of Hassan II’s main collaborators, such as the dreaded Interior Minister, Dris Basri. But Yusufi had to learn very soon to face difficult decisions for a freedom fighter.

In December 2000, in the process of opening up rights and freedoms, it closed three of the country’s main weekly newspapers, Le Journal, Assahifa and Demain. He yielded to pressure from high-ranking officials in the country who feared accountability for his actions during the repression of the so-called lead years, in the reign of Hassan II.

Regarding Western Sahara, his opinion fully coincided with that of the Royal Palace and with that of most Moroccans. In an interview with this newspaper in 2000, Yusufi made it clear that Morocco would only accept a referendum on the independence of Western Sahara if he was sure of winning it:

Q. Is it impossible to think of a transitional autonomous regime for the Sahara? Do you think the international community is going to stop pressuring you?

A. We are establishing a system of decentralization and regionalization in our country. Morocco wants to be a democratic and decentralized country …

P. I speak of autonomy at the level of the Spanish, for example, not a mere decentralization.

A. I think we are running out of interview time.

Finally, Yusufi managed to call elections in 2002 and his party won. But Mohamed VI put Driss Jettu, a technocratic businessman, in charge of the Executive. After a year, Yusufi would say goodbye to public life with this phrase: “I have decided to withdraw from political action and, consequently, resign from the Socialist Union of Popular Forces and from any position in relation to the party.” making further comments, his withdrawal was then experienced as a resignation of the monarchy to continue the path of democratic transition.

From there, Yusufi maintained a silence only broken by the publication of his memoirs, in 2018, which have not sparked any controversy. Yusufi never criticized Mohamed VI.