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Islamism in the Maghreb is at Crossroads

English | العربية

Dr. Haifa AlMaashi

Director, Geo-strategic Affairs Division

Tag: Middle East Geostrategic Affairs Al Qaeda Security Terrorism
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The future of Islamic groups in the Maghreb is surrounded by doubts, in light of their political status, practices, the authority and administration of the state. Following the escalation of violence and terrorist movements in the region led by radical Islamic movements such as al Qaeda and Daesh, the moderate Islamic groups attempted to assert their opposing stand. They also developed new ideas to confront the notion of radical Islam, express the grievances of the people and defend their rights and interests. Is that vision still exists in Maghreb communities?



Recently, many international observers were interested in the concept of ​​moderate Islamism and the possibilities Islamic groups show in practicing modest and peaceful violence and terrorism free politics, especially after the failure of these groups to lead the Arab Spring turning it into continuing political chaos. Besides, the negative political changes in the countries of Arab Spring questioned the ability of these groups to achieve the prospective future that they promised, which raises concerns against embracing Islam in politics.



Calls for separation between religion and politics were widespread from Islamic East to the Christian West, claiming that separation is the best remedy for the sectarian, ethnic and social divisions that turned the region into hotbed of terrorism and extremism movements. The solid ingress of political Islam into politics, strongly supported by public, encouraged Islam's radicals to practice their activities openly and transform from terrorist attacks to outright occupation and even creation of a government within the government, as Daesh for example. Accordingly, many of Islamic groups found themselves in a defense stance, especially after questioning their efficiency due to the lack of methodical work and clear strategies required to lead political action and governance the affairs of the state.



However, these groups are not completely out of the game, as the leader of Ennahda movement, El-Ghannouchi, insists that his movement has been able to face the winds of change by avoiding collisions with others. He has also emphasized on the efficiency of his methodology through practical application of his say: "Tunisia is a bird flying with two wings, the Ennahda and the Nidaa" while his rival party fails to preserve its unity, they indirectly granted Ennahda movement the required legitimacy to continue their Islamic political movement in the Maghreb region.  The same concept can be applied to the association: Al Adl wal Ihsane, which tried to employ an ideology free from extremism in order to continue in the political arena in Morocco, even if they operate outside the authority. The arguments of its late founder, Abdessalam Yassine, stressed that the fault is not in the application of Islam to democracy and civilian rule but in the application of the secular leaders in the Arab countries to approach democracy. This was confirmed by those systems which failed to embrace their people both before the start of the Arab Spring or after its launch.



Some of the Political Islamic groups believed that they have the ability to practice the proper rules of democracy, unlike secular factions, and they will achieve democracy in the Arab countries. Eventually, they did not.



The question is: Does this idea still exists or it has appeared in a new form, following the numerous failures that these groups suffered from lately.



Groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood movements in Algeria, Ennahda in Tunisia, Al Adl wal Ihsane in Morocco and the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya are looking for proper channels that help them to avoid the suspicions of radical Islam, but those channels are very difficult to find currently, especially after losing the international support for most of these groups, as a result of the proliferation of terrorism attacks all over the world. Hence, the situation of Arab Spring is no longer appropriate to empower these groups to continue in politics.



The two main factors that these Islamic groups rely on are: its peaceful strategies and its popularity. These factors allow them to stay in the political arena for a long time, and also give them a chance to rise again after the setbacks of the Arab Spring.



Arab Spring was not the start point of the Islamic movements in the Arab Maghreb but it was the first experience of union between people and the Islamic movements that formed a public revolutions rather than an Islamic ones. That what happened exactly during the events of Tunisia and Egypt. However, the turn from the concerns of citizens to the details of religion and Sharia’a, has weakened their bonds with the people. Moreover, the transfer of some of these groups from peaceful manners to political violence, has caused their legitimate to practice political actions to be withdrawn internationally. This also has caused them to lose their former supporters and to gain enemies in the frame of their countries and the frame of the international community as well.



Can multi-party, currently, be the solution for these peace claimers Islamic groups to regain the necessary legitimacy to practice political actions peacefully?



Multi-party systems in the Arab region are weak and are unable to yield to political parties which have significant roles in the political theatre, whether they are opposition parties or political organizations for the people. Such systems cannot provide an optimal solution to revive the political practice of peaceful political Islam, especially if we consider the weakness of the Islamic political parties themselves which have suffered from political divisions between members of the same party in methodology and political mean. This an essential explanation behind debilitating their political impacts and bringing down the level of public support in both short and long terms.



However, there is a belief that the situation may differ from one Islamic group to another in the Maghreb. For instance, the Islamic movement in Algeria, according to their intellectuals, failed to provide a solid speech and distinguished vision. This is due to the negative impact of the events of nineties, and the attempt of authority to minimize the threat of Islamism by adopting Islamic legislation in the civil law. While Ennahda in Tunisia and Al Adl wal Ihsane in Morocco have managed to overcome these obstacles through moderation in political work, which enabled them to win the consent of many parties within the scope of authority and the international community as well, and most importantly, gain satisfaction of the people.



However, can we assure that the call of some Islamic movements in the Maghreb for a civil state is a real call, or is it just a propaganda for these movements to have power or stay in the political arena?



The truce made by some of these movements through their acceptance of the provisions of the civil state might be a tool to bring in their own vision of democracy which is most probably inconsistent with the practices of democracy in the West. Especially in the frame of involving religion in civil state’s provision.


The current situation of democracy in the systems of Arab countries is in the favor of the mentioned Islamic movements as it confirm their claim that the democracy has failed in the Arab World and didn’t achieve its main objectives to establish the rule of the people. Accordingly, they propose searching a new vision that combines Western liberal vision and the special Islamic vision.





Many of these movements, as Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, were working secretly for long times which indicates their lack of transparency which in turns means that they might have hidden thoughts and proposals, and the ones they have disclosed might be different from their real agenda. So, it is important to deal with them with cautious and be very careful when classifying them as moderates or extremists. Such a situation may create an ongoing political tension in the Maghreb which will be reflected in the status of its countries.

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