July 25, 2021

The Moroccan political world in the shadow of Pegasus

By Damien Leloup

Posted today at 4:00 p.m.

Ministers, deputies, party leaders… In Morocco, the numbers of a large number of political leaders have been selected for possible targeting by the Pegasus spyware. And this up to the highest levels of the State. Numbers assigned to two high-ranking ministers appear in particular in the list of potential targets of the spyware.

But the pre-selected phone numbers for a possible infection by the user of Pegasus in Morocco concern large swathes of the Moroccan political world, and in particular elected representatives of the Justice and Development Party (PJD), winner of the 2016 legislative elections, now at the head of the government of coalition. Several key executives of this Islamist party, classified on the right, have been targeted by Pegasus in recent years, including Abdellah Bouanou, the party leader, Abdelali Hamieddine, a senior official, the former mayor of Tangier Samir Abdelmoula or even Ghassan Benchiheb, in charge of training communication on social networks and considered one of the main architects of the very powerful online presence of the PJD.

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The Moroccan user of Pegasus also seems to have taken a very close interest in the divisive personalities and scandals that have affected the PJD in recent years. A number attributed to Hammad El-Kabbaj, ultraconservative and controversial candidate invested by the party, in Marrakech, in 2016, after a moral scandal within the PJD, was thus selected as a potential target. Just like an issue of Amina Maelainine, influential member of the PJD, targeted by the spyware long before she was the object of a virulent press campaign after the publication, in early 2019, of a photograph in which she posed , without a hijab, in front of the Moulin Rouge, in Paris, while his party campaigns for the wearing of the veil.

Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El-Otmani in front of the Moroccan Parliament, in Rabat, April 19, 2017.

Another Moroccan Islamist movement, Al Adl Wal Ihsane, is also the subject of much attention from the Pegasus client. The numbers of at least two important cadres of this non-violent movement, which challenges the role of commander of believers given to the king by the Moroccan constitution, were selected as potential targets, including that of Hassan Bennajeh, one of his main leaders. Al Adl Wal Ihsane does not really have a legal existence in Morocco, but the movement is tolerated there.

Read also the editorial: “Project Pegasus”: when drift becomes the norm

To this already long list are added the numbers of the founders of several completely legal opposition movements, such as that of Isaac Charia, president of the Moroccan Liberal Party, and that of Omar Balafrej, founder of the Movement ClartĂ© Ambition Courage. A number used by Mohammed Ziane was also found in the list. But it is difficult to know whether the latter interested the intelligence services as the founder of the Moroccan Liberal Party or as a lawyer, since he notably defended the press boss Taoufik Bouachrine, convicted on appeal, at the end of 2019, to fifteen years in prison for sexual violence, in a trial that he had denounced as ” Politics “. Mr. Bouachrine and all of his entourage also appear in the lists of potential targets of Pegasus.

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