But the tide eventually turned against the Islamists. In Egypt in 2013, a coup deposed the Muslim Brotherhood, leading to its current dictatorship. This year, President Kais Saied of Tunisia suspended Parliament, which was controlled by moderate Islamists, in what many countries described as a coup.
In Morocco, the moderate Islamists made little headway on any agendas of their own, with key ministries like foreign affairs and industry being controlled by other parties. When Morocco’s king decided to make a deal last year with Israel to normalize relations, there was nothing Islamists could do to stop a move they bitterly opposed.
“Most Moroccans across the country, across educational levels, have a pretty healthy dose of political skepticism” and saw that the Islamists had little real power, said Vish Sakthivel, a postdoctoral associate in Middle East studies at Yale University.
And as the pandemic swept through Morocco, the royal palace was seen as the main driver of relief programs.
“Most of the decisions aimed at alleviating the social and economic effects of the pandemic were associated with the central power, the monarchy,” Ms. Zerhouni said. “Whereas political parties and the Parliament were presented as inactive and awaiting directives from the king.”
The distrust has previously been reflected in low numbers at the polls, including in the past three elections, which averaged a turnout of just 42 percent. And this time, pandemic restrictions forced most campaigning online, alienating many voters without internet access.