Casablanca - The Arab popular uprising has not only brought democracy to Arab citizens who lived for decades under the leaden weight of autocracy and corrupt practices.
Casablanca – The Arab popular uprising has not only brought democracy to Arab citizens who lived for decades under the leaden weight of autocracy and corrupt practices.
It has also cleared the way for political parties and movements that were persecuted for a long time. Seemingly, the tide of the Arab Spring will leave no stone unturned at the regional and domestic levels. For instance the Salafist movement, whose position on political participation was rather orthodox, has shown a nuance of flexibility or maybe “a new strategy,” especially in Egypt and in Morocco. Scholars who have been following Islamic movements from their genesis and through their evolution assert that all Islamic movements, irrespective of their different orientations, undertake ideological reviews. In fact, they have a high capacity of adaptability to changing contexts. The Salafist movement is a case in point.
The Salafist movement was earlier inspired partially by the Wahabi religious tradition. This trend of Islamic thought was pioneered first by Mohammed ibn Abd Al Wahab who established an unwavering alliance with Mohammed Ibn Saud co-founder of the first Saudi state in 1744. The Saudi ruler needed a dependable ideology that would rally large numbers of followers and secure him the adamant allegiance of the Saudi “subjects”.
The purity of creed (aqida) is a central paradigm to the Wahhabi thought besides the exclusive reliance on the Quran and Sunna in the derivation of Islamic provisions. Stephane Lacroix, a professor in political science at Sciences Po and associate fellow in the Kuwait Program, explains that Salafism denotes all the intellectual hybrids that sprouted from Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia in the 1960’s and thereafter. The Salafist thought was shaped largely by an Islamic scholar of Albanian origins, who found refuge in Saudi Arabia: Nasir al Din al Albani. Lacroix pinpoints that though al Albani is claimed to be a “Muslim reformist”, he has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the authentication of the Hadith before it could be declared as reliable. By authentication, he means that the sanad should be constantly scrutinized through a meticulous appraisal of the morality and the reliability of the Hadith transmitter.
Salafist scholars emerged in the midst of the revival of political Islam spearheaded earlier by the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. La Croix explains that the Salfists took a scrupulous stand towards other Islamist groups namely the Takfiris for their excessive use of excommunication (takfir) and the Muslim Brotherhood for their preoccupation with politics rather than the Sunna. Lacroix adds that al Albani criticized the Muslim Brotherhood for not having Muslim scholars in their ranks. As a result of their reluctance to take part in politics, the Salafist militants found themselves totally alienated from the political process and consequently from the state and its institutions. Nevertheless, the Salafist thought was exported to a number of Muslim and western countries through lectures, tapes and books by founding fathers and the pioneers of the movement namely al Albani and Mohammed ibn Baz.
Salfist scholars across the Arab world tend to adopt a literal approach to the jurisprudence, irrespective of the cultural, social, economic and political context. This has resulted in a clash within their own societies where other emancipated Islamic movements who also seek to establish either an Islamic state or to recover a sense of Islamic ethics, took over. This self imposed seclusion promptedmany newly affiliated members to ponder the Salafist outlook on life and society with critical minds.
There have been also ideological reviews regarding participation to politics within the Salafist movement, especially in post-Mubarak Egypt and recently in Morocco. After the ouster of Mubarak, the different Islamic fringes were spared, for the first time, persecution and they could try their luck at the ballot box. The Islamic Alliance, a coalition of Salafist parties headed by the Al-Nour party, won 123 seats in the elections for the people’s assembly.
In Morocco, a number of Salafist figures were linked to bombings that shook the Moroccan city Casablanca resulting in 45 causalities. Some Salafists benefited from a royal amnesty after human rights activists leading the uprising in Morocco called for their release and denounced practices of torture. Recently, Western embassies in Morocco reported that Salafist leader Mohammed Fizazi envisions to found the first Salafist party in Morocco whose objective is to implement a replica of sharia reminiscent of the prophet and the pious ancestors’ “salaf salih” model of governance. But the call for political participation did not strike a chord with all the Salafi sheikhs who still believe that political practice can deflect their attention from their major goal, which is the purification of creed.
The political scene in the Arab countries seems to be progressing towards a real turn over, not only in terms of power sharing, but also in the display of political ideologies. History taught us that the Islamist tenets are not that rigid and that they can shift from one paradigm to another depending on the novelty of the context. What if a hard line Islamist party like the Salafia enters the game of power?
The debate of secularism and Islamism that has been adjourned by the PJD will inevitably come back to the forefront of the political scene in Morocco. Besides, the Salafists’ adherence to the concept of democracy remains highly questionable. Salafist and conservative groups in general are more likely to take advantage of the overtures allowed by democratic practices before they can resume their conservative discourse that is not necessarily democratic.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti
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