Morocco’s new Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch
Menas Associates, Morocco, 23 September, 2021
Morocco’s elections on 8 September delivered a shattering defeat for the ruling Parti de la Justice et Development (PJD) and brought an end to almost a decade of rule by political Islam.
Although the party had been widely expected to fare worse in these polls than in the previous two elections, the size of its defeat came as a major shock. The PJD came eighth, winning only 13 of the 395 seats in the House of Representatives, and losing 112 seats compared to 2016. Nine of the seats that it did receive were gained through the women’s quota system. Equally embarrassing for the party, the outgoing Prime Minister and PJD Secretary General, Saadeddine Othmani, failed to win his seat and so did other former cabinet members.
The PJD was convincingly beaten by the Rassemblement National des Indépendants (RNI) which stormed to victory and won 102 seats. Once his government is voted in by parliament the next prime minister will therefore be the RNI’s leader Aziz Akhannouch.
Akhannouch was born in Agerd Oudad in Tafraout in 1961. He studied in Canada, gaining a diploma in management from Montreal’s Sherbrooke University in 1986. After his return from Canada, he joined his father’s business — which was the first fully Moroccan-owned fuel company — and that was established in 1932. The Akwa Group, which he was running before the age of 30, is now a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that has interests in petroleum, and also has chemicals through the publicly-traded Afriquia Gaz and Maghreb Oxygene.
Akhannouch got into politics in the 2000s when he was elected as an independent in the local council in Tafraout. He went on to become a member of the regional council before becoming head of the Sousse-Massa-Draa region between 2003 and 2007 when he was appointed Agriculture Minister in the government of Prime Minister Abbas Al-Fassi. He retained this post throughout the governments of Benkirane and Othmani.
Akhannouch froze his membership in the RNI in 2011 after it refused to join the PJD-led government following the PJD’s triumph in the elections. This enabled him to stay on as agriculture minister under Benkirane. However, he was instrumental in orchestrating the blockage against Benkirane after the 2016 elections, which explains the huge personal animosity between the two men.
Akhannouch returned to the RNI in October 2016 and took over as party leader. He went on to take part in Othmani’s government. However, he has not been shy about his dislike for the Islamists and more recently about his desire to oust them from power.
Akhannouch boasts an extensive network that includes local notables, officials and businessmen. He is known for his skills in business more than his political acumen. He has also held posts on the board of the Bank Al-Maghrib and the Banque marocaine du commerce extérieur (BMCE). In September 2021, Forbes estimated that he had a personal wealth of US$2 billion. In March 2020 he donated US$103.5 million to the Coronavirus Pandemic Management Fund through his company, Afriquia, which is a subsidiary of the Akwa group.
Yet Akhannouch’s network also extends to the Palace. He is close to the King, who reportedly visited him in his home in Casablanca one Ramadan for Iftar. According to some Moroccan sources, he is considered to be among the ten most important figures relied upon by the King for his reform initiatives.
However, Akhannouch’s path has not always been smooth. In 2018, his fuel distribution company was targeted by a boycott, which prompted the parliament to launch an investigation into competition in the fuel market. The parliamentary report that resulted from the investigation allegedly concluded that his company and two others had made what is described as, ‘immoral profit.’
He also caused a stir in December 2019 when he gave a speech in Rome at which he said that Moroccans need to be re-educated. In general, however, he is considered to be capable and competent, but with the head of a businessman or a contractor more than that of a political leader.
He is married to Selwa Akhannouch, the billionaire businesswoman and founder and chief executive officer of the luxury retail Aksal Group, who also runs the RNI’s Joud Development Foundation.