- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

RABAT, Morocco — Soon after an Islamist opposition leader became Morocco’s prime minister as the result of landmark elections, his archrival was named a top adviser to the king.

King Mohammed VI has made a flurry of appointments to his royal Cabinet in recent weeks, men who look poised to challenge the new government’s power and, critics say, threaten democratic progress unleashed by the Arab Spring.

The Islamist Justice and Development Party formed Morocco’s new government Jan. 3 promising a change to the status quo, after dominating November elections.

But analysts and activists say the king’s new “shadow Cabinet,” which includes some outgoing ministers, will really rule Morocco and prevent any real reform in this North African kingdom of 32 million.

Like many countries in the region, Morocco was wracked last year by pro-democracy protests that the king addressed by reforming the constitution and holding early elections in November.

Morocco, popular with Europeans for its exotic cities and sunny beaches, was said to have dodged the unrest elsewhere in the region, with carefully managed democratic reforms.

That impression was deepened when the opposition Islamist party, known by its French acronym PJD, won elections and the right to form a new government.

Now doubts are rising about whether the new government will be able to change anything in the face of the entrenched power of the king’s advisers, which is not set down in any constitution.

The palace announced the new adviser appointments publicly in what some saw as an intentional threat to the new government.

“In all of its big decisions, this [elected] government will not be able to take the initiative because it is not the sole decider,” said Nabila Mounib, a top official with the left-wing Socialist Union Party.

The most remarked-upon royal appointment was that of Fouad el-Himma, an old classmate of the king’s who had founded the Party of Authenticity in Modernity in 2009 with the express purpose of keeping the Islamists out of power.

Mr. el-Himma’s party did poorly in the elections - but weeks later he was named adviser to the king.

High-profile former Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi-Fihri also has joined the royal Cabinet, which includes experts in the economy, social affairs, diplomacy, foreign trade and constitutional law.

“The royal Cabinet, with its accelerated recruitment of heavy-hitting counselors, has begun to seriously resemble a second government,” said Karim Boukhari, editor of the weekly TelQuel magazine in an angry editorial accusing the palace of going back on its reform promises.

“The monarchy governs without challenge, either directly or through men it has chosen, and the popular will, embodied by the victorious political parties, is left eternally in check.”

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