The Associations and References of the Symbolic Values of Cohesion in the Maghreb Today

Mohamed Tozy

Anthropologist, Casablanca

The purpose of this article is to consider an issue that has been studied to only a very limited degree in Maghrebi political anthropology, an issue which is related to the values that underpin political culture and which to a large extent determine the nature of the political relationship between governors and the governed. In the Maghreb, as in other regions, the political players claim historical depth. They use words and gestures at will in this search for an elaborate past that is supposed to be in harmony with the present, and to enlighten and endow it with meaning. We might at the outset hazard the view that this singular culture, which draws deliberately and often perversely on the practices of the 19th century (Tunisia and Morocco) or on a place more remote still that cannot be pinpointed precisely in time (Algeria), provides information on the nature of political relations, on strategies to legitimise and on which inherited or imported autochthonous political cultures have emerged. The way in a which a society builds its political universe and sees its relations with the authorities has a considerable influence on the shaping of the political arena, on the nature of the objectives and of the games and stratagems that are realised in this arena.

Islam, Arab nationalism, liberalism and Marxism are in effect essential mooring points for the dominant political culture.Their influence is not limited to the traditions supported by leaders, in that they are the source of their legitimacy, but the philosophical framework for thinking, where relations to do with power are structured. An authoritarian and Muslim political regime, like the regime in Morocco, automatically alludes to a principle of uniqueness that is in line with the continuation of a monolithic power, the perfect model of which is God. It is for this reason that there can be no dual relationship with power, as this implies the voiding of the representation as a practical way of taking the other into account in a contractual process in the political relationship. The absence of a technological relationship between the fundaments of power and the will of those subject to that power confers a special meaning on obedience to and support for the political system. This becomes an act of fusion/annihilation (fana’) in the common place of power. It presupposes the obligatory passage through a servile state, as being God’s slave (’abd) is inseparable from the human condition.

God’s absolute power is matched by the servitude of man, and in order to be free, man must fuse with God. Within the framework of a culture that is so markedly monotheistic, there exists a liberation theology based, paradoxically as we shall see, on Islam and on a theology of servitude. The vicariate of the one God shares in this dual logic of servile submission (al-‘ubudiyah)/freedom, if only in order to give rise to an absolute power over mankind and things. This device is also present in other countries, although the expressions vary and the references to Islam are less explicit. The horizon of non-humanity is defined in relation to non-religion, which takes us back in turn to the concept of fitna, and which frees rulers from calculating the cost of a necessarily religious civil peace. The reinvention of concepts such as the umma, the nation or the zaim give rise to homothetic readings of the political relationship, which set in motion a process to replace the conventional (contractual) political link between the governor and the governed. In this article, we will look at the historical processes that fashioned some of the political values.

Historical Journeys: the Frame of Reference of Maghrebi Values

The relationship with the past is to be found in most analyses that attempt to account for the tension pervading the political arena of the Maghreb. Analysts in Algeria today have no hesitation in establishing powerful causal links between the country’s colonial past, the excessive determination of the martyr in shaping the symbolic values of cohesion and the marking of everyday life with the violent gesture. Omar Carlier writes about this: “Certain social tensions go back a long way, but they are dramatically influencing the present situation in a totally new way. We can immediately see the secular conflict between ‘citizens and Bedouins’, which Ibn Kaldun already saw as constituting one of the main pillars of the Maghreb dynamic.

In the past, the colonial city exerted greater influence over the medina and the countryside. The population grew with the arrival in 1962 of those who had been held in concentration camps and the return of those who had fled to the countryside, but the redistributing state (1972-1984) managed to absorb most of this urban pressure.The war put the vast mass of ‘rural urban dwellers’ and above all their children at the centre of the crisis and on the front line of the civil war. Something similar occurred in the relationship between the sexes: its clash with the code of honour and, worse still, with religious rules made it a strategic bond in the conflict in times of crisis. There are other ancient problems that have merged with other newly-minted problems.The contradiction in the order of the ‘brothers’, or between ‘brothers’ and ‘cousins’, and the solidarity between cousins as a result of these blood ties and genealogical proximity, may be opposed to the fraternity of the faith, based on belonging to the umma.”

The extract from a study that we will quote often raises discussion on the elements that make up identity and which colonisation turned into touchstones in order to penetrate North Africa.These ingredients in identity have also been used by states emerging from attempts to rebuild the nation state to endow themselves—with a sense of guilt—with the legitimacy of rupture/continuity with the past. This is the segmentation that takes us back to the principle of social structuring raised by Masqueray4 in the 19th century for Kabylie and formalised by Robert Montagne in order to describe Berber politics in the 1930s, or Islam, in its dual dimension as a body of brotherhoods and as a reforming religion, which is viewed as an insoluble dilemma for French Algeria or as a scenario for shared government in the case of the protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia.


The traditional society of reference in Morocco and Algeria has often been described as a society organised around family and agnatic relationships with a certain degree of equality in economic relations between family groups, and a community organisation that covers this group. It was not long before this segmentary vision was called into question, as the tribal system generated a series of hierarchies between lineages that were revealed soon afterwards thanks to the demographic imbalances between families, imbalances that were even capable of leading to geographical displacement. Certain reports that alluded to the domination of the central authority exploited these imbalances to some degree or other.

The opening up of the market (which prompted the appearance of great kaids in tribes governed by the principles of the last century) was another of the ways that this imbalance revealed itself and enabled a ‘class’ structure to develop. Nevertheless, it is important not to overplay the issue of these pre-colonial hierarchies given the importance of the degree of penetration in the central authority and the market economy. In effect, the elements of transformation and social, economic and political change in the various fundamental communities have grown and diversified since the second half of the 19th century.

The massive presence of the state on the ground has not resulted in the same level of intervention in local structures where intervention has occurred: the organisation of collectives involves a legal and political apparatus that transforms the djma’a into a transmission belt (as has happened in Rharb and its surrounding areas, which have a collective statute, in Tadla, Sousse and elsewhere) between the collective and the authorities, where officials remain in power and continue to manage areas that are thoroughfares, water, etc. All in all, and despite the differences of degree, a series of sweeping transformations has affected every one of these collectives. Demographic pressure and limited resources, monetisation and migration have all been destabilising factors and have all brought about irreversible change. Is this enough to give rise to new references and for people to abandon those of traditional society? Local culture and identification are elements of resistance through which the individual can, even though he is part of a hierarchical system, find within the group the various resources he needs to feel safe, as well as a channel of expression that is entirely particular to him.

Even though tribal bonds have become more relaxed, they can nevertheless be used to force a reflection on this trait.We are now witnessing a reinvention of the tribal tradition, as demonstrated by recent examples in Morocco and Algeria. In addition to the survival of tribes in the place names and documents that govern collective lands, tribal culture is evident in the emergence of a participative culture that aims to promote sustainable development, in the case of Morocco, and which played an important part in the revolts of the Arouche in Kabylie in the late 1980s.


None of the three Maghrebi countries analysed makes mention of religion in its basic law (see later). Religion is an important referent in the imaginary of the group and a spur for reactivating processes of solidarity. In this context of the management of the sacred, it has become a fundamental feature for the ‘canonical’ coverage of the obligation to participate in either the praise of good or the struggle against evil. This integrating capacity of the religious corpus can be seen in two groups of concepts that refer to the dogma and history of Islam. One is the importance of the group, inasmuch as religion is experienced within the community, not individually. This religious imperative of sociability can be perceived in the assimilation by Berber and Arabic speakers of the concept of djma’a (community), a word derived from the Arabic jama’a.

Only the devils remain outside of this group, and the concept serves to protect us from error, as the jam’a are never mistaken. This brings us to another set of concepts that are more political and which define the nature of the norm, the relationship with the governors and the status of sovereignty.The concept of enquiry (shura) belongs to this group. The simple man, like the man with a certain political responsibility, is obliged, even when he is sure he is right, to ask the advice of those among the interested parties who have a higher standard of knowledge. This contract between governors and the governed is called bey’a. The two concepts described earlier may have had their content modified semantically, but this does not mean that they have lost their powerful religious tone or their ability to evoke. Colonisation and nationalist elites played a part in the devising of this corpus, which has been used to write the political history of these countries and to define the conditions of their future.

Variations on the Places Where the Political Ethos Crystallises

The relationship between the processes of colonisation and decolonisation, as well as the structure of the political elites who took over the role of government after the declarations of independence, are in practice the fruit of the facts. In Tunisia and Morocco, armed resistance played a much less important role than political action. Nationalism, stirred up by the bourgeoisie in the cities or by graduates from modern schools, was able to impose itself amongst the ulemas and the ranks of the liberation army, which consisted of people from the countryside led by former officers.

The alliance that came late in the day between the monarchy and the national movement enabled the movement to retain its position and to emerge the victor from the process. In Tunisia, meanwhile, the character of the other, as represented by the Turks, was heightened by their lukewarm participation in the liberation movement, and their flight was merely a formality after independence was won. In Algeria, the nationalism of Ferhat Abbas was overwhelmed by armed action and the war of liberation was a burden when it came to structuring the political culture and exerting an influence over the emergence of an elite.

The Supreme Combatant in Tunisia

Habib Bourguiba, the president of the party that had led the National Movement, did not seem at the time of independence to be the indisputable leader that he was to become a few years later. The myth of the supreme combatant came into being over time, even though it was not part of the lexicon in use. Neo-Destour, the main political force in the country at that time, did not yet have a monopoly on power, but had to compete with other movements to achieve nationalist legitimacy. These other movements were the Zaituni, whose prestige was still intact, and the great families that gravitated around the court of the beys. Even within Neo-Destour, Bourguiba’s rise was not confirmed until he had gained the support of the UGTT trade union and after the departure of Salah ben Youssef, clearing the path for a new social base that was less imbued with an Arab and Islamic identity.

The Neo-Destour congress held in Safaqis in November 1955, from which Ben Youssef was absent, was the turning point, as it was here that Bourguiba demonstrated his strength. The congress legitimised Bourguiba’s leadership of the party, sealed the alliance between the party and the leaders of the UGTT, and reaffirmed the party’s determination to take over the reins of power in the country. The Neo-Destour leadership set about gradually stripping the bey of all his prerogatives in order to transfer them to the government, led by Habib Bourguiba on behalf of an Assembly that represented the people’s will, though it only had consultative powers. The fall of the bey on 25 July 1957 was a mere formality.

The constituting National Assembly took its first and last decision by proclaiming the Republic. The Constitution of 1 June 1959 institutionally consecrated the status of the zaim by establishing a presidential regime and allowing the promulgation of a state pervaded throughout by the party. The party-state infiltrated society and increased to unsuspected levels its control over individuals and groups. It restructured the country on the basis of a new model that made regional and local administrative authorities subordinate to the political centre, and which eroded community solidarity. The legacy of the constitutionalist culture added its grain of sand when it came to giving form to institutionalised authoritarianism. Legal red tape became the rule, though did not as a result of this lose its fictitious and on occasions surrealist character.

The Martyred People in Algeria

In the case of Algeria, it was the people who took on the leading role as agents of history and the wellspring of legitimacy.The people in question bear no relation to the population, but form an immaculate entity that wears the martyr’s tunic.8 A story remote from the Algeria of today, a long way from the images of Lakhdar Hamina’s film Chronicle of the Years of Embers, describes this process of the sublimation of the people, which prevented their realisation on the political plane but which served to feed the imaginary of a counterculture that imbibes the values of the martyr and of the rejection of any hogra.

Carlier describes the situation thus: “in 1954, the PPA-MTLD dominated the political scene, but Muslim society had learnt to vote for the MTLD, to declare itself on strike with the CGT and to listen to the ulemas in the madrasahs or in the mosque. In 1956, the FLN took over the representation and mediation at the height of the war. Association and trade union, worthies and men of religion all mobilised, voluntarily or not, in a fight to the death against the colonial order. In 1962, without firing a single shot, the FLN turned its unanimity in rebellion into unanimity in management. It maintained its populist formula but disguised it in a new authoritarian order in the name of all the sacrifices agreed to by the people of “the million and a half martyrs”, in the name of the ‘revolutionary’ legitimacy acquired through the participation of the ‘mujaheddin’.

The structuring of Algerian society after the war of liberation and during the 1970s and 80s used a very restrictive vocabulary, in which the concepts of shahid and mujahid predominated. The first granted a place in the sun to the forebears and descendents of the victims of war, while the second rehabilitated in increasingly larger circles the direct and indirect participants in the war of liberation.The social stratification and division of resources depended to a large extent on the war till the moment when the parameters of differentiation and stratification changed due to the impact of the oil crisis and the policy of liberalisation.

The Holy King in Morocco

In Morocco, the exile of Muhammad V on 20 August 1953 put the monarchy before the nationalist movement and enabled him to make the most of the clandestine if tentative ties which Prince Hassan, the future king of Morocco, had with certain elements in the early nationalist groups. The three years from the time of the king’s exile to his return in 1956 coincided with Muhammad V’s elevation to the status of mythological hero, a personage who, in the eyes of many of his subjects, had his head in the clouds and was the object of the most peculiar devotion. Muhammad V responded to an overwhelming demand of established ‘saintliness’ with unconditional support for the national movement.

The mobilisation of a device for legitimisation, a man who was charismatic and hagiographic at the same time, took place in line with the available cultural baggage.The insistence that the dynasty to the crown of Morocco ought to belong to the family of the sharif might seem an anachronism to us, but it has played a decisive role in the political struggle between the national movement and the monarchy. Possible descent from the sharifs is not in itself sufficient to automatically guarantee the right to wield power, but it is important when it comes to determining who might be allowed into the circle of possible candidates to succeed. In fact, only those within the group of the sharifs have historically ever been able to rise to power.

The status of sharif implies direct descent from the Prophet and so has an influence on the texture of power by investing it with a particular characteristic that structures the relationship of obedience and which, in part, alters it. The constitution makes obedience a civic duty, and Sharia considers it to be a legal obligation. Sharifism, for its part, turns it into a source of blessing.

The Management of the Legacies and Negotiations Around the Corpus of Political Values

This review of history has enabled us to consider a series of important questions that have assailed the political elites in the Maghreb and which have been the focus of urges to implement reform, or which have been treated as the driving force behind a particular concept of the construction of nation states, in keeping with an almost permanent state of tension between a biased reading of history and a somewhat peculiar reception of the ideas of liberalism and the political doctrines in vogue during the 1950s. These driving forces are religion, the law and language.

The Language: the Spoils of War or Colonial Perversion?

Arabisation, if we restrict ourselves to the meaning of the term as understood in the Maghreb, is the restoration of the Arabic language. The question of Arabic as a fundamental element in the burgeoning nationalist discourse arose at an important moment in cultural decolonisation, though there was a tremendous gap between the languages people spoke and official Arabic. In Algeria and Morocco, more than in Tunisia, where the Tunisian variant dominated, people spoke their mother tongue: Algerian or Moroccan Arabic, or Berber Arabic depending on the region. These languages were not written and had numerous variants that were sometimes termed dialects. Before colonisation, the only written language was Arabic, either classical or literal, which had been introduced by Islam in the 7th century.

This observation, which many historians agree with, has a number of subtleties. Written Arabic served as a graphic support for the local Arabic and Berber languages, especially in trading and legal spheres. French, which was both written and spoken and which came with colonisation, was an imposition and was given the status of an official language. At the time of independence, the countries in the Maghreb decided to restore Arabic to the place it had occupied prior to colonisation. This decision was part of the process of national construction and resulted in an apparent struggle with French, the language of the colonisers and of the much criticised elite. French also fuelled the constant scorn for the autochthonous languages that had been banned from school syllabuses and from official activities related to the administration. In the political sphere, pan-Arabism was the vehicle used by this option, though the Arab nationalism led by Nasser’s Egypt was not received with the same enthusiasm in Third World Algeria as in Tunisia and Morocco, which, for different reasons, distrusted the all-conquering ideology.

Ever since 1962, the group that waved the flag of Arabisation in Algeria has gathered to it the Algerians from the dominant, that is to say exclusive, Arab culture, officials who studied at Qur’an school or madrasahs, and intellectuals from Arab universities, with a training that was often religious or literary, who wanted to find their niche in a fundamentally French-speaking environment. The definition they came up with for their field is as follows: ‘Arabising’ is merely an Algerian who has trained in Arab countries and who is not bilingual”. During the presidency of Ahmed ben Bella (1961-1965), his influence was countered by the progressive wing, and the president had no hesitation in saying that “Arabisation is not Islamisation”.

The second president, Houari Boumedienne (1965- 1979), led a more radical action. By means of a decree in 1968, he imposed Arabisation on the civil service and set a period of three years in which to complete the project. Officials thus had three years in which to learn sufficient Arabic to be able to work in the language. Most French speakers were unable to achieve this, and so the doors of the civil service opened to admit those who were proArabisation. Something similar was about to happen in education, which experienced a sharp rise in Arabisation thanks to the massive influx of Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian voluntary workers brought in from 1970 onwards with the support of Abdelhamid Mehri, who was in charge of primary and secondary education.A number of members of the Muslim Brotherhood managed to filter in to the country with these volunteers.

This brotherhood had started up again after the campaigns to quash it by Nasser and the regimes in Syria and Jordan. Advanced education held out a long time before falling prey to reform. In the political discourse, Arabic has always been connected to the sources of legitimacy that underpin the authorities: the struggle for national liberation and the defence of Islam.The protagonists have made Arabisation a combat between the Arabic and French languages, and Arabic, as the national and official language, will inevitably come to occupy the place of French. Nevertheless, this policy is also seen as a conflict with France and, in Algeria, with those who use French at work, who are dubbed ‘hizb Fransa’, ‘supporters of France’.

In Morocco and Tunisia, the issue of Arabisation has taken a less dramatic course, but it remains at the centre of political disputes between Arab, Marxist and Berber nationalists. Arabisation has coincided with a form of Islamisation implemented by governments in which one of the partners was the Istiqlal party in Morocco. In the late 1970s, the government of Azzeddine Iraqi set in motion the Arabisation of the humanities, in particular philosophy, and decided to create departments of Islamic studies. Shortly afterwards, the government threw itself into the Arabisation of primary and secondary education. Science and economics continued to be taught at advanced education level in French, even though the children reaching this level are supposed to have been schooled entirely in Arabic.

In Tunisia, the balance between the two languages, which began with the model of the Sadiki school, was gradually being upset. Mzali’s cabinet extended Arabisation throughout the education system except at the level of advanced education. Various observers have highlighted the anomalous situation in which the Maghrebi middle class found itself, having been called on to play a fundamental part in the political change.The paradox of the language has a lot to do with this: “black skins, white masks”, said Frantz Fanon some 30 years ago. The coloniser had gone, but fracture remained in the men’s hearts and minds. The failure of the language and the destructuring of thinking cause the Maghrebis acute suffering, and they do not help the establishment of a solid democracy. How will the young in the underprivileged classes learn to express themselves if not through bread riots?

This severe opinion, this quick and peremptory short cut, is not unimportant as it reveals one of the most flagrant paradoxes of the Maghreb’s relationship with itself, an odious and destructive, almost suicidal relationship. These deadly urges are partly explained by the language issue. In principle, the young Maghrebi is bilingual and benefits from a dual education and dual literacy. Having learnt both Arabic and French, he cannot master either language if we employ mother tongue linguistic standards, something that cannot be attributed to a simple failing in the school system. There is no adequate channel in everyday life for either of the two languages, as taught at school. Both French and Arabic are spoken solely outside of school, university and professional circles. In homes and on the streets, people speak an Arabic dialect that is very different to written Arabic and which is incomprehensible to someone from elsewhere in the Arab world.

The breach opened up by language results in opposing social projects that do not resemble the reality of societies at all. The Francophile ‘modernisers’, the supporters of an Arab-Islamist ‘authenticity’ and the speakers of Amazigh have made common cause while surrendering themselves to a reductive discourse that disregards the complex social stratifications of Maghrebi civilisation. As a result, a knowledge and a way of doing things are left on the fringes of time. They argue whether the Maghreb would ever have been anything except a small advance of Latin-French civilisation or a permanent watchtower for Islam which unfortunately had to suffer French colonisation at a particular point in its history.The collective awareness is thus falsely framed within a political discourse that confronts it with its true nature. When a society approaches the abyss of unawareness, as a result of immediate questions of political and ideological convenience, then the real elements that make up its personality and its socio-cultural equilibrium suffer the consequences.

The Centrality of Islam: the Treatment of Religion

The declarations of independence unquestionably put an end to the formal rule of the European powers. Nevertheless, the elites that succeeded these powers in the Maghreb took still further their determination to break with the legacy prior to colonisation, exceeding even the efforts made by the colonial authorities.The initiatives of the elite continued the projects designed by the administrations of the former colonisers on whom they poured scorn. All of those plans exude a sense of the hurry that characterises the action of an elite convinced that it was taking its country along the path of progress. A concept of the future of society that reduced the part reserved for religion to a mere outer trapping gradually took shape, a shape that varied in solidity depending on the passion and equilibrium in each one of the three countries and on the various trends within the national movement.

Nevertheless, the adoption of a series of measures that could be described as lay (personal statute in Tunisia, nationalisation of the lands of the habous in Algeria and the initiative to neutralise the Qarawiyin in Morocco) was halted by the impassioned resistance of religious agents. Of the growth crises experienced by the various regimes, there are two moments that we can single out: the moment when the state made Islam the official religion, on condition that it limited its influence over civil society, and the moment when the state completely absorbed Islam.

Islam: a Mere Marker of Identity

It took four years, from 1956 to 1960, for Morocco to find its vocation in a stable equilibrium between a Salafist interpretation of religion, proclaimed by the agents of the national movement, in which all the tendencies merged, and a Makhzen version that made the monarch the protector of all the players in the religious sphere, including those who were, to some degree, committed to the protectorate. The zeal of the Istiqlal in promoting a single version of Islam became clear in a witch hunt against the brotherhoods and the marabouts. The king quickly took control of the situation, however, in order to proclaim the hegemony of religion, and became its supreme chief. In Algeria, the triumph of the Benbelist movement at the time of independence in Algeria cast new light on the hidden structures of the concept of power in Islam: behind the guise of revolutionary concepts, powerful demands by Islam continued to exist. This perhaps explains the fall first of Ferhat Abbas’ group, that of Mohamed Harbi and finally of the FLN in France.

The mechanism of power that was in the ascendant invoked unanimity and resulted in a reinterpretation of the idea of representation as referendum, that is to say, linked to the traditional concept of shura. Despite this, the hour of ‘Islamic laicism’ had finally come. In effect, the revolutionary legitimacy, reinforced by a war of liberation, could disregard religious affiliation given that the third-world dimension was, historically speaking, more than adequate. Moreover, from the very outset, the authorities began to focus on getting rid of a bothersome ally, the Association of Reformist Ulemas. Between 1956 and 1962, the relationship between most of the members of the national movement and Islam shifted between nonaggression (FLN statute of 1958)18 and outright hostility: the FLN Federation called for the separation of Islam and the state, whereas the PCA supported the banning of religion in any future political venture.

The pressure exerted by the ulemas (declaration of 22 August 1962) managed to turn this trend around and impose a new status quo. It was not until 1964 that the state set in motion an offensive to weaken the independent ‘religious entrepreneurs’ (brotherhoods, marabouts and the ibadite minority). The ulemas who professed Salafist values belonged to the Association of Reformist Ulemas and had access to jobs in the civil service. The state seized the public and private goods of the habous. On 1 September, this operation, organised by the Algerian authorities with a view to adopting a single version of Islam, adapted to a centralised concept of Islam, reached its apogee. In Tunisia, the regime of Habib Bourguiba systematically criticised a particular concept of Islam, a kind of mark of modernity/efficiency. In 1956, it was announced that a series of very bold measures would be implemented: the abolition of the habous (decrees of 31 May 1956 and 18 July 1957), the reform of the personal statute (decree of 13 August 1956) and the suspension of the chra’ tribunals (decrees of 29 March 1956 and 1 October 1958). In addition, there were Bourguiba’s doubts expressed in public to do with fasting, based on an almost provocative interpretation.

The Youssefite opposition and the support given him by many men of religion in part explains the harshness of the new regime against the Zituna university, a symbol of ‘revolutionary’ society and the place where an elite contrary to them, the children of some of the country’s great families, grew. The decrees of 29 March and 1 October 1958 finally gave orders for the disappearance of the Zituna, which was reduced to the simple status of a school attached to the University of Tunis. It is important to note, however, that the relationship between Bourguibism and Islam was not always as simple as official history has made out.The regime wanted to have the religious initiative, but not religion itself, under its control, however much history might echo the verbal provocations of the Tunisian president and nothing else.

Before and after independence, Bourguiba did not hesitate to manipulate Islam in a remarkably opportunistic manner. There are a number of especially significant examples of this worth recalling: his speech on 8 December 1958, in which he reproached the residents of Ghomrassen, who had no mosque; his obsession over a fatwa issued by various ulemas that would support the institution of the Republic; his devotion to the solemn celebration of Friday prayers; and the conversion of his wife to Islam after almost 20 years of marriage.The events in Qaywaran on 17 June 1961 led the authorities to pay greater heed to the feelings of the public and to avoid frontal attacks on religion, all the more so as the ulemas, once they had been neutralised, were clearing the way for a reinterpretation of Islam that would suit the needs of the new regime.

Islam, a State Religion

Chronologically speaking, this period does not fall strictly after the early periods of the temptations of laicism and the restriction of Islam to the private sphere. The efforts to reread Islam and to exploit it were already present in the use of religious symbolism by Maghrebi nationalist movements as a means to strengthen their opposition to the West. The novelty lay in the fact that, having begun the institutional construction of the state, the groups in power were obliged for two reasons to take religion into account.

Firstly, once the nationalist strategy had embraced the religious factor, the national and the Islamic dimensions became confused in the eyes of the populace, excluding the elites; and secondly, because the construction of a centralised nation state requires a huge mobilisation of people and has as its ultimate objective the search for unanimity (wahda), something that is only conceivable within the framework of Islamic values. Between the early 1960s and 70s, however, the concept of the role that religion ought to play in the construction of the state changed.

Islam was used initially because of its value in imparting a sense of identity and the notion of belonging to a community (the Muslim world), with limited consequences as far as politics was concerned, but as a result of the various rereadings it became a founding element in political praxis and the source of the authorities’ legitimacy, while at the same time discrediting their political adversaries. In Morocco, the Muslim religion as a body of rules has followed numerous paths to become part of the institutional mechanisms of the Kingdom of Morocco, affecting the legal corpus as well as being a political practice that uses Islam as a means of legitimisation.

A rapid reading of the various Moroccan constitutions, the personal statute code, several of the provisions that appear in the fundamental laws, the juridical structure and the descriptions of an entire sector of justice assistants will suffice to convince us of the relative importance of the Malakite rite in structuring these mechanisms. In turn, the place of religion in the characterisation of the political system and the central role that it occupies in the person of the sultan is indebted to a reinterpretation of the theory of power in Islam. The sultan’s search for a rewritten, aseptic religious legitimacy draws together hagiography, the law and theology with a certain degree of skill.

This search for legitimacy took a political direction (by weakening the clerics and providing support for religious pluralism), and a doctrinal direction (by monopolising the power to interpret religion and by making the person of a descendent of the Prophet holy). The restoration of the bey’a, the oath of loyalty, and its introduction as a constituent element of political power, made it possible to diminish the weight of positive law and turn it into a simple institutionalisation of a historical legitimacy. Hence in the early 1960s, the young and recently crowned King Hassan II affirmed, thanks to a bey’a, “The constitution that I have forged with my own hands, that will be circulated around the entire kingdom and that will be submitted to the people for their approval in 20 days, is first and foremost the renewal of the sacred pact that has always linked the people and the king” (Hassan II, December 1961).

For political science, sacred status in this context is not comparable with a cult object. It means much more: the existence of an order in the hierarchy of norms and political personages, the ability to be the representative of a diachronic symbol and a reference through whom laws are promulgated and repealed: it is as much supremacy as veneration. In both cases, the king’s sacred status entails respect and submission and has legal and political consequences of supreme importance: the form of the regime has the same status as religion; it may not be questioned; the royal person is sacred and inviolable and cannot be the subject of even the slightest criticism, nor can he be portrayed in a comic manner (art. 38 of the Dahir with the status of law of 10 April 1973); and the decisions of the king may not be appealed (Ronda sentence, Supreme Court, 1960) and are higher in status than all the rules promulgated by the state).

In Algeria, the virulent denunciation of Boumedienne’s socialism by Sheik Soltani (the future Islamist hero of the 1980s), published in an article in Morocco in 1974, bears witness to the difficulties the Algerian authorities had in trying to reconcile Islam and socialism, even though the leaders always advocated a socialism that was devoid of any reference to the class struggle or explicit criticism of private property. One of the first obstacles Boumedienne’s regime faced came about as a result of the agrarian reform in lands that belonged to the religious brotherhoods (Ouled Sidi Cheik).

The difficulties entailed by the process could not be resolved by a simple religious reference (negative, as happened in the case of the Algiers Charter) or by means of a forthright exegesis, as Boumedienne privately wanted to do, as becomes clear from his speech at the Islamic Conference in Lahore: “I would not like to set about philosophising on Islam […], many eminent wise men have preceded us in such an undertaking […]; I believe that if there is a material bond between us, we must find it and it must be invested with material content […].A hungry people has no need of religious verses, with all respect to the Qur’an, which I memorised when I was ten years old […].” An ideological undertaking was required. And it occurred, taking two major directions. After the war of liberation, there was a witch hunt against hostile religious figures, who were removed. Now, the state vented its anger on the most popular manifestations of Islam, the Muslim and marabout schools. On occasions it was religious groups close to the authorities, such as the al-Qayim (the values) prior to their prohibition in 1966 and dissolution in 1970, that took on the role of pursuing these popular Muslim institutions.

The purpose of such action was to ensure that the state held the monopoly on structuring the religious corpus of reference and on its interpretation. To achieve this, it opted for two reforms: one, which was relatively if only temporarily successful, was a policy of Arabisation, in which all the members of the political elite initially took part before it spread to the education system; the other reform was the setting up of administrative authorities responsible for controlling and reflecting on religion. A decree of 13 February 1966 created the Islamic Council, the function of which was to issue fatwas and advise the government of infractions and falsifications of the law. The National Charter was adopted in 1976 after ten years of pragmatic government.

It was to institutionalise relations between socialism and Islam to a certain extent. Those who drafted this fundamental (supraconstitutional) document were at great pains to demonstrate the absence of contradictions and even the complementary nature of the two sources of legitimacy.The working goes much further than the laconic references found in most Muslim countries’ constitutions (“the Algerian people are a Muslim people” and “Islam is the state religion”).

The Charter provides a theoretical framework and a rereading of history that reveal the possible ‘symbiosis’ between religious values and socialist values. Islam, so the Charter states, is “one of the strongest defensive walls against the efforts of alienation”; the Islam that aligns itself with socialism can be understood thanks to a particular rereading of the Qur’an and is by and large far from clerical concepts, thereby setting up a state monopoly on the interpretation of dogma: “The Muslim world has only one way to regenerate itself: to overcome reformism and take the path of social revolution […]. The revolution shares the historic perspective of Islam. Islam, understood properly, is not linked to any particular interest or specific creed […]. The reconstruction of Muslim thinking, if it is to be credible, must of necessity refer to a much broader undertaking: the complete refounding of society […].”

In Tunisia, the first article of the country’s constitution, which states that “the religion of Tunisia is Islam”, makes reference to Islam as an identity rather than a political practice. Even so, in the cities religion has always been viewed as caught between communism, a constant threat in the eyes of the elite in power, and pressure from a sector of public opinion that is excessively pious. At no time has anyone thought to openly question Islam. It is even possible that those initiatives that observers see as a direct attack on religion can be explained within the context of a rereading that exploits religion rather than eliminating it.

Bourguiba, for example, deployed all his hermeneutical skill in presenting his interpretation (ta’wil) of Ramadan, the month of fasting, to justify his campaign in favour of breaking the fast on economic grounds: “it is an effort of reasoning based on the objective that fasting pursues and the grounds for exemption [from this obligation], and I invite the Tunisian people, the ulemas and the sheiks to adopt it. Everyone must familiarise himself with the problems that the healthy interpretation of divine law raises. If God has given man intelligence, He has done so so that man might distinguish between good and evil.”

His exposition, however ‘demagogic’ it might seem, stays within the values of Islam. His reasoning by assimilation and by analogy (qiyas) is transformed into a kind of conflict or jihad against underdevelopment, which enables him to justify the exemption: “At a time when we face poverty, when we are designing programmes and drawing up plans to escape from underdevelopment, when we are proposing to call to account those who do not produce enough and to limit the freedom of the press, at a time when our lives are at stake, the ability of this country to get back on its feet depends on our brave labours, and I invite you to take advantage of an exemption clearly defined by a healthy concept of the religious laws.”

This is very close to the reasoning that Boumedienne presented in his speech in Lahore. Islamist defiance would later lead Maghrebi leaders to respond by means of excesive zeal in their respect for Islam and with a policy to appropriate the media and the arenas in which religious discourse is forged. At no time have these regimes decided to counter Islamist demands by adopting a secular decision. It is true that they were not prepared for the task of managing in the same way and with the same effectiveness the rise of Islam to something more than a state religion. They have all, however, used virtually the same approaches: acceleration of the training of religious personnel within the state, the control of mosques and repression.